Occasionally I post about life as a British Quaker under the structure of the Quaker Alphabet Project 2014. I haven’t done so for a while and am in danger of falling behind schedule, so here is a post for the L of it.
There is a perception often quoted, not unreasonably as it turns out, that Quakers are a bit on the mature side. It’s true we have “Young Friends” who are pretty active. However, they remain sadly outnumbered by the Silver Horde, at least in my neck of the woods, and in keeping with many other religious congregations in this country. There was great excitement the other month when a bona fide young person of the teenage persuasion applied for membership of the Society. It was like getting a letter from Elvis c/o the Loch Ness Monster and delivered by a leprechaun riding a rainbow. What I mean to say is, it was a bit unusual and slightly thrilling.
Some years ago I was fortunate to be a member of a relatively large Quaker community with three (count them!) age groups for under-16s. It was not the usual experience of Quaker groups up and down the length of the land. Since moving Up North I am now a member of a small and chronologically-well-endowed group. Yet we do not despair at our reducing horizons because we now have two young people among us – a male toddler and a female school person. They bring their parents along about once a month and keep company with various members of the meeting who enjoy playing with toys and drawing pictures and singing songs while the parents snooze in the main meeting room. It’s an act of kindness really.
The best bit of all is when they join everyone for the last fifteen minutes of the meeting for worship. In Britain, Quakers usually hold silent meetings for worship (not having “programmed” services like, say, Anglican churches, with sermons and singing and standing up and sitting down all and repeating words out loud). The people present sit quietly, apart from the Rumbling of the Stomachs, and wait for ministry to find them. Most people think it is a bit odd, but nevertheless the end result is a usually a quiet room filled with slightly sleepy people who have been sitting for 45 minutes and are beginning to feel it.
Enter our Youngest and Brightest! We hear them clattering along the passageway, with their retainers encouraging them to be quiet by making lots of loud shushing noises. The children usually are making no real noise at all, but never mind. The door swings open and in comes the first child, beaming from ear to ear to see all the old folks grinning at him, and often reaching out hands to welcome him inside. Then his sister, a little more self-aware and so slightly shyer, comes in behind him, composed and clutching some treasured picture to share with us. It may go straight on the table in the middle so we all crane to see it, or she may wait until Notices are read out at the end and then wave it at us. Meanwhile her brother sings to himself or stumbles around from one arthritic knee to the next, smiling up at the faces and dribbling a little. Sometimes we dribble back. It depends on the medication.
Quakers are very fond of using the imagery of the Light Within or Inner Light to talk about their relationship with God. Nowadays we don’t generally describe ourselves as Jesus’ little sunbeams, just talk about Light in a more general, non-denominational way. Early Friends in the 17th century were more direct in their writings about God and Jesus, but still the imagery of Light was fundamental to much of their thinking.
I was under great temptations sometimes, and my inward sufferings were heavy; but I could find none to open my condition to but the Lord alone, unto whom I cried night and day. And I went back into Nottinghamshire, and there the Lord shewed me that the natures of those things which were hurtful without, were within in the hearts and minds of wicked men… And I cried to the Lord, saying, ‘Why should I be thus, seeing I was never addicted to commit those evils?’ And the Lord answered that it was needful I should have a sense of all conditions, how else should I speak to all conditions; and in this I saw the infinite love of God. I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in that also I saw the infinite love of God; and I had great openings.
But when our children join us in meeting for worship they bring that infinite light and love with them and in abundance. It is a gift to us and one for which we are humbky thankful.