L is for Little Lights

Ocean of light

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.

George Fox, Journal, 1647

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.

Namaste

K is for Kaiser Bill, Kitchener and Killing (and Conscientious Objection)

quaker alphabet project

Here we are again at the Quaker Alphabet. I have committed to posting 26 entries at least for each letter of the alphabet on my life as a Quaker in 2014. You can read other blogs in this project by going to the tab at the top of the page.

It’s taken me a while to get this post sorted out. I had quite a time thinking of a K. I toyed with Kinship, but bored myself writing it, so be grateful that that particular draft will not be seeing the light of your screen. I feel quite strongly about the Quaker Family but don’t seem to be able to express anything about it in less than mind-numblingly tedious terms. What else could I choose: kaleidoscopes, knitting, knights or knickers? I looked up the index of phrases in Quaker Faith and Practice for inspiration and found the only K was about Keeping the Meeting. I could cover that I suppose but probably rather less successfully than Kinship.

Then I suddenly remembered there is an anniversary of something this year which means that many people are focusing on Killing, although some are instead trying to focus on the alternative to that, by talking about Conscientious Objectors. A number of these people are, of course, Quakers, who have strong words to say about Peace and not fighting each other and finding more grown up ways to sort out differences.

The Quaker Peace testimony dates back to the beginnings of the Society, in the seventeenth century, and its first formal expression is usually associated with a lengthy document addressed to King Charles II following his Restoration. Entitled

“A DECLARATION FROM THE HARMLES & INNOCENT people of GOD, called QUAKERS, Against all Plotters and Fighters in the World”

a snappy title that rolls right off the tongue, it was delivered on 21 November 1660 and was intended to make clear that the king was not going to be at any risk from plots and insurgency against him by this particular group of religious reformers so would he stop banging them up in prison please.

Most memorably it includes the phrase

All bloody Principles & Practices … we do utterly deny, with all outward wars & strife, & fightings with outward Weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our Testimony to the whole world.

This phrase is frequently used as the short-hand for the testimony itself, and encapsulates a firm and unequivocal opposition to bearing arms. Life is rarely that straightforward of course.

Let us scroll forward through history to the early 20th century.

20,000 men were conscientious objectors in the 1914-18 war in Britain, following the implementation of conscription in March 1916. They included socialists, religious groups such as Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others with an ideological opposition to the war and its causes. The story of conscientious objection is told on the Peace Pledge Union website, so for more details please start there.

At the time of the 1660 Peace Testimony it was considered appropriate to wear a sword by default, if you were a gentleman, and so giving up swords was a contentious issue. Famously, William Penn is often quoted as advising his fellows to “wear it as long as thou canst”, meaning “until you feel unable to do so”. In a sense this was the dilemma facing Friends as the war in Europe loomed and then erupted. Friends played an active role in the protests against conscription, but I learned recently this was by no means a unanimous approach. A significant number were willing to serve in the armed forces; the Society was split in its views for and against the war. Some buckled on their metaphorical swords.

Other Friends established the Friends Ambulance Unit, being willing to serve in non-combatant roles. The FAU was a volunteer ambulance service, founded by members of the Society of Friends as a practical expression of the Quaker peace testimony. It operated from 1914 to 1919, 1939 to 1946 and 1946 to 1959 in 25 countries around the world, and its members were chiefly registered conscientious objectors.

Even this was viewed in some circles as tacitly supporting the war effort and so a third group opposed to supporting the war in any form served in prison or were executed.

Conscientious objection is more fully recognised now than in 1916, although not easily and certainly not universally. For myself I have never had to make the choice, and hope I never will, as to whether I accept military service or not. I would like to think I would be brave and stand firm but I don’t know and am now fortunately possessed of sufficient age probably never to have to decide. The Offspringses may yet have to make their choices.

Although I don’t agree philosophically with those who did wear their swords once more, nevertheless it pleases me that the Society of Friends was able to work out its differences around what is a fundamental principle of its belief system. Quakers can be a tricksy lot to get to grips with. As a former Bishop of Durham is quoted as saying “I wish Friends would preach what they practise.” We can be a bit vague at times and too often answer with “it depends…”. That is because we are Seekers of Truth not Purveyors, and, as we all know, the Truth can be complicated.

Namaste.

 

 

J is for Justified

Throughout the year I have committed to producing blog posts for each letter of the alphabet about Quakerism, in my case primarily my own experience and interpretation of being a Quaker rather than any piece of beautifully researched or well-read prose.

The Quaker Alphabet project has now reached J here in EBL Towers. In honour of this wonderful letter, I decided to write about Margaret Fell’s 1666 (or 1667) pamphlet arguing that women should be allowed to preach. You can read the full text of it here.

womens-speaking-justified

Margaret Fell was involved in founding the Religious Society of Friends through her work with George Fox and others. Her pamphlet setting out the view of women’s right to preach and speak in church was extremely influential. Quaker women were often literate, and indeed research into the lives of women of this period, such as by Antonia Fraser in “The Weaker Vessel“, may depend upon their journals for insights into people’s daily lives and routines of the period.

The role of women in the life of a religious community will differ from church to church. However, the Anglican Church (Church of England and its related churches around the world) and the Catholic Church are still struggling with the question, some 350 years after Margaret Fell summarised it. It’s not just Christian faiths either that are finding the question challenging.

Clearly I have my answer provided thanks to Margaret Fell, although I might use slightly different language, arguments and examples updated for a more modern audience; in retrospect that might be the wrong approach for churches still mired in historical and apparently antiquated mind-sets.

For me, and as I suspect for a number of other Quakers, the question of women’s speaking simply does not arise. Some years ago, when the Church of England was discussing appointing female ministers, I attended a workshop on feminism and spirituality. It was led by a woman who planned to become an Anglican priest if the vote was carried in favour of such appointments. She sat down with our group of Quaker women and gave a deep sigh and said, “I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be with a group of women who aren’t talking about female ordination!”

We all looked a bit bemused and admitted it was not something we really thought about.

“You don’t have priests…” she started.

“We are all priests,” someone corrected her gently.

And that is the way of it; without a recognised and separate clergy, we all have the responsibility and the opportunity to be priests to and for one another. Essentially every individual has a direct relationship with the Divine and we learn and worship together as equals. Of course there may be barriers preventing people standing up in a meeting for worship and speaking the message they feel they have received. We also are all members of a wider society with its own rules and challenges.

I know and recognise that Quakers are not exempt from sexism (or any other -ism) in thought or word or deed. I know we are not perfect. It’s just that for me I have a community of seekers of the truth who are open to trying not be discriminatory to the best of their ability and in at least this area have done a fair job of it so far.

It’s so easy to slip into self-recrimination, and so I want to celebrate our commitment and value its longevity as well as appreciate and exult in more recent witness (around eg same sex relationships and marriage).

Namaste

 

H is for Honesty

In my ongoing mission to complete the Quaker Alphabet Blog Project in 2014 today I bring to you Honesty.

800px-Lunaria_annua_flowers

There is an old joke in Quaker circles that you always find Honesty in a Quaker garden. Give us a break – we’re not professional gag writers for the most part.

However, one of the attractions, and possibly also scary bits, of being a member of our small but beautifully-formed community is that we try to speak honestly in all our dealings. Naturally we aren’t always good at it, and tie ourselves in knots trying to avoid being hurtful while keeping to the truth. A recent meeting was a good example.

I have mentioned in previous posts on this project that it can be quite demanding being a Friend, because there are so few people and so much work including managing our crumbling meeting houses, conforming to charity law and simply maintaining the day-to-day business of our worshipping groups. There are so many things to do that we have a rather esoteric process called “Nominations”. There is a committee, naturally, whose job it is to find people to do other jobs, from treasurer to conference goer. [As an “interesting” side note there are also Nominations Committees to appoint people to Nominations Committee and, in our geographical Area at least, a Search Group to find people to serve on Elders and Overseers, separate from the Nominations Committee, whom you might expect to be asked to do that. As it is, Area Nominations Committee has to find over 60 names a year to do all the things we want to do so the Search Group is intended to spread the load.]

Yesterday was Area Meeting, the time when we get together with folks from all the local worshipping groups in our geographical Area, to share, learn, celebrate and even do business. One of the items of business was Nominations, and how we can improve the process so it is clear to everyone. The current committee had asked us to think about treating their recommendations more thoughtfully, rather than rubber-stamping them, and to be ready to discuss a person’s suitability for a role.

Well, that was all well and good when we wanted to hear about how wonderful each other are. How many skills, how much experience, how long-standing and dedicated a commitment. But what about when someone felt obliged to stand up and say those fateful words “that name would not have occurred to me”? This dread phrase, or something like it, is the equivalent of “Good grief! Are you barking? You can’t let Gladys do Catering, not after the incident last year which resulted in several hospitalisations for listeria-induced comas and food poisoning!” Worse yet, the name may be for something even more sensitive than catering, such as Children’s arrangements or Safeguarding or Finance and Property.

Quakers seek to find the best in everyone, to recognise the Light within, and to accept the whole person, but we aren’t stupid. We also practise tough love and will face up to behaviours and actions which are hurtful, and will hold the person to account in a loving and supportive way. At least, at our best we do and the rest of the time we try to do so. It’s a thing I like, even though I like it a bit less when I am the recipient of that tough love. After a while I get over it and am grateful someone was caring and brave enough to tell me.

As a result we may have people among us whom you would never put in charge of certain functions, such as children or money, while still loving them as cherished members of the community. You might put the embezzler on Children’s Committee so long as they didn’t manage the budget for wax crayons and glitter sticks, but you would do it knowingly.

Here’s the rub. How much of a discussion should be expected in an open forum about why the worried Friend has stood up and uttered this phrase? You have to be sure and you have to be quite brave to do it; but you also have to be justified.

We want to be honest and open. We need to know if there is a reason someone should not be appointed, but only one or two people may be aware of that reason. In a meeting I used to belong to last century we had a rule that you could only be invited to help with children, not volunteer. It seemed best to introduce a rule before there was any issue about suitability, rather than make it up on the hoof. It didn’t stop anyone making known their willingness to help out, but it did give peace of mind to all concerned in a large group where not everyone knew everyone else well.

Back to our Area Meeting then. We sat and thought about it for quite some time, trying to discern the right way forward. We wanted to be able to raise concerns but there was a balance required between confidentiality and transparency.

I’m not saying we are geniuses in settling this old debate. In fact we fudged it quite a bit and agreed we would not expect to go into detail but would discuss the issue between the person raising it and the Nominations Committee. If the objection was over-ruled it would come back to next Area Meeting, unless there was a time constraint in which case the committee could make the decision. It’s a bit fuzzy. People may still be upset. We are in danger of making the process slower and more complex than necessary. For me the important thing is we faced up to it and talked it over and generally tried to work out what love required of us.

I think we were honest because we recognised that we need to be able to say that a candidate for a job is not right in a safe and supportive way. We need to be able to be able to have and deal with disagreements. We need to be honest about decisions and not just take the easiest path in the name of not hurting feelings. By setting an expectation that our decisions are not automatic, that we take them seriously, and that we will welcome challenges, we make honesty the norm.

I am reminded of a cartoon I saw recently, probably a meme. It was about someone being interviewed.

“Tell us what you think is your worst quality,” said the interviewer.

“Honesty.”

“I don’t think that’s a negative quality!”

“Honestly, I don’t care what you think.”

Namaste.

F is for Flowers

Have you ever had one of those nights when you just can’t sleep? Well, I did the other night so I passed the time by pondering what I was going to use for the F post in the Quaker Alphabet series.

It was far too obvious to go with Friends and I avoided Fun, Fripperies and indeed Frittilaries. Likewise Frivolity, Freedom and Faith. I ended up with that staple of the Sunday Quaker meeting for worship: Flowers.

Let me explain. Quakers disdain rituals and outward symbols, yet forgetting the flowers is punishable by disownment (if you are lucky), or possibly death. What can I say? I don’t know of anyone who has forgotten flowers and who is still a member of the meeting. Coincidence? I think not.

Last week Sigoth and I had signed up to be Welcomers. The job of the Welcomer is broadly to be there slightly early and greet everyone as they arrive. This is a charming custom; it is also intended to pick up on any visitors or newcomers so that they can be directed to the location of the coat hooks, the meeting room, the toilets and any leaflets they may find useful if they have not been to a meeting before. A brave Welcomer may feel up to giving an introduction to what meeting for worship is about; generally I follow normal custom and practice by thrusting a leaflet at the hapless first-timer and gabbling something like “read this – it will explain everything” in a panicked voice. British Quakers at least are frequently bad at saying what they believe without at least a month’s notice and a following wind.

In our meeting, the Welcomers have a long list of jobs to carry out and I’ll be honest – it can be hard to remember everything. We also have to deal with teas and coffees after meeting, so there are cups to set out, kettles to fill and boil early, milk and sugar to find, biscuits to make ready, all the odd teas (fruit, herbal, loony tunes) to retrieve from the cupboards. Before meeting begins we have to check the hearing loop is switched on, the water carafe and glasses are ready, the meeting room is in good order. Then we stand outside about 15 minutes before meeting until about 15 minutes after meeting has started to catch early and late comers. We slip out of meeting as notices start in order to brew tea and be ready to serve drinks to parched and talkative Friends. We wash up and put away. We make sure any post is handed to the right people.

Most importantly we provide the flowers.

Quaker meetings don’t have altars or symbolic paraphernalia. Our meeting houses can be used by many religious groups including Jewish and Buddhist, because they do not sport Christian symbols. The seats are arranged in a circle and in the centre there is a table. On the table there should be flowers (or in winter, tasteful leafy substitutes). Many Friends use the flowers to help them slip into the state of silent waiting in which a meeting for worship is conducted. They act as a focus for the attention as minds clear and listening begins.

Imagine the Armageddon when the flowers are missing!

Last week we forgot the flowers.

Sigoth had set up the hearing loop and I was checking the water carafe. I looked at the table. It seemed a tad under-dressed. Something was missing. I could hear steps on the gravel path as the first Friend approached. What else was usually on the table?

Oh.

“Flowers!” I squeaked at Sigoth. He looked confused, then horrified.

Sometimes you have to have faith in a Higher Power.

As I heard the hooves of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping towards me, my desperate gaze fixed upon a pale glimmer on a side table. Someone had left a single flower in a vase. It was bit brown on the edges but otherwise usable. I lurched forward, grabbed it and slammed it onto the central table as the door inched open.

“Morning!” said the Friend, smiling as the hoofbeats faded away and the Balance of the Universe was restored. “People are starting to arrive! Are you Welcoming today?”

“Definitely!” I replied. Sigoth smiled at me conspiratorially and we went outside to shake hands with people in the cold, bright sunshine.

From the meeting room I heard a faint voice.

“What a pretty flower….”

Meeting for worship went off without a hitch. We enjoyed that deep, silent hour with a sense of gratitude and an acknowledgement of our frailties.

Well, at least we treated everyone to chocolate digestives.

Namaste.

 

 

E is for Expectations

Some letters of the alphabet are greedy aren’t they? I can think of so many entries in this alphabet project for E that I am entirely exhausted. I do keep coming back to this one though, so I am going to choose it as my second E entry.

Beware-Expectations-on

Expectations.

Well, Charles Dickens wrote a book on them, didn’t he? This is not going to be about escaped convicts in marshes, or deranged brides. It’s disappointing, I know, but Charlie did those better than I could. This post is going to be about the expectation of being a Quaker, or at least, my two penn’orth on the subject.

It was as I settled into meeting for worship last Sunday that I realised I get a little jolt every time I sit down in a Quaker meeting. The reason for that is because we are there to try to find our way together and actually no one can be quite sure what will happen. We sit in quiet expectation of hearing an inner voice guiding us. One moment you may be thinking of those around you and those absent, or of snowdrops and catkins and early spring sunshine, or what to make for dinner that evening. The next you are propelled into a stream of refugees escaping Homs, or to Death Row, or to supporting the family of a teenager who has killed themselves, or the excitement of a new gransparent quivering with the possibilities of a new life. Meeting can be an adventure, a trauma or a celebration and occasionally all of those things and more in one hour.

Meeting can also be subversive. It can be as dull as dishwater. It can be joyful. It can be cold. So my expectations of it are a little like a child on Christmas Eve, hoping for a miracle, and not sure whether I’ll receive a puppy or a magic ring or my third copy of “The Wind in the Willows” or an umbrella (I was only nine – an umbrella? What was she thinking?). Perhaps socks and knickers from M&S.

So there you have it: expectation and a little frisson of uncertainty. Eternal possibilities.

Last Sunday it occurred to me that as well as the holding of meeting there are expectations on the people present. It wasn’t a very original thought but I became aware that people at meeting view me very differently from colleagues at work. I behave differently too.

When I left home and went to university I was absolutely certain I did not want my former school friends to mix very much with my new university friends. The reason it was going to be difficult was because I had tried to reinvent myself a little, and I acted differently as a result. I wasn’t being deceitful; I was just experimenting with different parts of my personality. I was seizing the day. Once I had the new bits in place and felt comfortable, like a new pair of shoes worn in, I was perfectly happy to mix both groups together.

I’m at the gawky stage with meeting. The keeping things separate stage. The trying out stage.

When I’m at work everyone knows I am a miserable, irritable, but successful project manager. I may get a little terse and not do human very well, but I know how to plan, organise and deliver application developments, and I do it very well. Just don’t expect me to remember your birthday or compliment you on your hair or ask about your son’s exam results.

At meeting it’s different. People think I am supportive and thoughtful, a little reserved but basically fairly kind. I am still good at getting things done, but I do it differently. The reason I do it differently, I realised, is because everyone around me seems to expect me to do it differently. They hadn’t decided to make assumptions about me based on stereotypes of IT professionals for example. At work I am often told what “you techies” are like. This is despite the fact I do not conform to many (if any) of those perceptions.

Meanwhile at meeting I am a Quaker with some years of experience behind me. Therefore I am seen as supportive, helpful and thoughtful. I am credited with tact and diplomacy in a way that would frankly astonish my co-workers. I am viewed as having insights and contributions which are creative and positive rather than technical and process-driven.

I don’t think I am doing anything very different. I think much of it is because of the expectations of those around me that I am told I am good at apparently very different things. But the result is that I am starting to change my approach a little. I am seizing another day.

Way back in 1968 Rosenthal and Jacobsen carried out a study into the effects of teacher expectation on children. When teachers were told that certain (randomly selected) children were actually “late bloomers” who would improve over the school year, it was shown that those children did improve significantly. I won’t bore you with all the studies and arguments back and forth since then, but essentially the phenomenon of teacher expectation was recognised. It applies in other areas of our lives, at work and at play as well as in the classroom.

Quakers believe in “that of God in everyone” – you can use your own definition of God here. Essentially they expect the best of people and for myself they are bringing out perhaps the better parts of me. I have been away from meeting for a few years as family life took over, but when we attended regularly I was a kinder person on the whole at work as well as at meeting. As I rediscover that person again, the fluffier softer EBL if you will, I remember how to behave in more positive ways while still achieving the targets being set by management.

Most importantly perhaps I start to expect it of myself again. I start to expect love.

And if my meeting can affect me, perhaps I can go out and affect those around me in other situations. Good grief – it could become a Movement!

So how about you? Do you find yourself behaving differently in response to the expectations of those around you? Or am I just a candle in the wind?

Namaste

 

E is for experience

It seemed about time to make another Quaker Alphabet Post, but I was stuck for a while on which E to use. There seem to be quite a few. Then I decided to get back to basics and chose “Experience”.

Experience is a concept at the heart of Quakerism. It is summarised in the expression of “What canst thou say?” meaning never mind your fancy book learning or clever arguments, tell us what you know from your own experience.

You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this: but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?—George Fox

http://qfp.quaker.org.uk/passage/19-07/

The Quaker emphasis on direct experience of God (whatever they mean by God, and trust me, there is no single answer) is powerful for me. It holds me to account. I can’t quote the defence of following orders. I can’t sit back and let a priest do the heavy lifting. Quakers are seekers of truth, and everyone has to come to their own understanding.

Now, that can sound like hard work, and sometimes it is. Sometimes it means admitting confusion and uncertainty, when no one will tell you an answer. They will, however, share their own experience.

For myself I find this liberating. I have never been very good at following the party line for the sake of it. I was never the kid who had to prove Pythagoras’ theorem from first principles, but I was the kid who wanted to understand how faith reconciled with science, for example. It got me kicked out of Sunday School.

There I was, a precocious ten year old who had just heard at school about how the earth would one day be swallowed up by the sun. I was unconcerned because by then we would all have built brilliant spaceships and flown off to other planets to live. When the teacher at Sunday School started talking about the Second Coming I had questions.

“You know the earth is going to crash into the sun? What happens if Jesus doesn’t come back before then?”

“Well, he will.”

“But what if he doesn’t?”

“But he will.”

“But how do you know? He might be late?”

Maybe I thought he would get stuck in a traffic jam or miss his train. I’m not sure.

“You have to have faith he will come.”

“But how do you know?”

And so on. She lost her temper and threw me out. When I got back early my mother asked what had happened. I told her I wasn’t going to church any more.

When I discovered Quakers at university I discovered people who loved to ask questions and spend the night debating them. They talked about their experience of God, and what they didn’t know and why they wanted to find out more. They also played music and danced and played mad games and made up stories and cooked huge pans of soup and laughed a lot. Frequently all in one evening.

Basing a personal faith on your own experience is a potentially dangerous route to travel. To put it bluntly, it can lead to all kinds of whackiness and theological absurdity. The reason I am a Quaker is that my individual craziness is tested against the experience of the rest of my community. We seek together, and surprisingly often we find a nugget, something we all recognise as true.

Other times we make soup and laugh. Either way is good.

If you are interested in spiritual or religious questions, do you prefer a tested orthodoxy or the uncertain way of a seeker?

Namaste.