Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Poem for the New Year…


Celebrate: to observe (a day) or
commemorate (an event) with ceremonies or festivities…

Something in me hides at the word,
climbs down into the conning tower
of its own perceptions

and bangs shut the hatch.

(Sound of battening,
whatever that is,
and the tightening of bolts.)

Revelry: revelling; boisterous festivity…

That’s even worse.

Crash dive.

Air shrieks through the vents.
Plumes of vapour hang over the swiftly sinking deck.
Bow planes
pivot from stowage,
prepare to bite the pale sea.

Twenty fathoms down
the submarine Resolution,
on course for the deep ocean,
shifts to silent running.


© Mike Farley, 2013


Micah Bales is a founding member of Friends of Jesus, a new Quaker community in Washington, DC. A communications and web strategist by trade, he is employed by Friends United Meeting.

Micah has written a most interesting post, very much of course conditioned by the US experience, but applicable directly across the capitalist, industrial, wealthy, developed countries, as well, to a degree, to pretty much everyone else in the globalised society. His thesis, that the trust on which society depends for its viability is increasingly under threat, is as relevant in the UK at the moment as it is across North America. He writes:

Because I can trust others, I generally don’t sweat every detail of life. I am able to focus on my most important tasks, rather than worrying about whether the mechanics did an adequate job repairing my car, or whether the mail will arrive on time and in good condition. Because I trust my mechanic and the postal service. Because I trust them to do their jobs to the best of their ability, I can do mine.

But what happens when trust breaks down? How will it affect me if I no longer feel confident in the safety of the food I buy at the grocery store, or the quality work of my mechanic or postal delivery? I’ll worry more, for one thing. If I can afford it, I’ll probably also pay extra for assurance that those I depend on will come through for me, if only out of a sheer profit motive. A world without trust is one filled with contracts and lawsuits, high fees and deposits; it is a world of constant stress and second-guessing.

Micah’s conclusion – that in God we can trust – is one that we liberal Quakers in Britain Yearly Meeting, and perhaps also in Friends General Conference, may find hard to accept at face value. But I would suggest that trust is at the root of who we are as Quakers, whether we self-identify as liberal, evangelical or conservative. We sit in the Light, and we trust that we receive in the silence vastly more than we could ever give. The very first of our Advices and Queries (1.02) reads:

Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.

Our lives are not our own: they are far more than that, and ultimately our very breath is trust. We came into this world, and we shall leave it, anything but under our own steam, and the processes that keep us alive for our few years on earth are far from fully under our own control. By trust is our very existence made possible, however we may explain to ourselves the recipient of that trust…

An Advice & Query

Some time ago, I wrote an Advice & Query as part of the Woodbrooke College Becoming Friends online course. Since then, it seems to have caught one or two people’s attention, so I thought I might post it here:

Be aware that there are tides in silence, an ebb and flow of our hearts’ openness to the Spirit. Know that your heart, as all our hearts, is uncertain, and in need of love. Be open to these tides as to the Spirit; let your attention rise to the Light that is in each of us, and not to what sets us apart.

Are you defenceless enough to do this? Do you trust that in the silence, in the friendship of the meeting, our worship is indeed in Spirit and in truth?

Contemplative Software

The early but learned pattern of dualistic thinking can get us only so far; so all religions at the more mature levels have discovered “software” for processing the really big questions, such as death, love, infinity, suffering, and God. Many of us call this access “contemplation.” It is a non-dualistic way of seeing the moment.  Originally, the word was simply “prayer.”

It is living in the naked now, the “sacrament of the present moment,” that will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad, or ugly, and how to let them transform us. Words by themselves invariably divide the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is.

When you can be present, you will know the Real Presence. I promise you this is true.

And it is almost that simple.

Richard Rohr, The Naked Now

Sometimes Richard Rohr sounds just like a Quaker!

More things are wrought by prayer…

In the current issue of The Friend, Patricia Gosling writes:

In her 2013 James Backhouse lecture – A Quaker Astronomer Reflects – Jocelyn Bell Burnell commented that, in another age, she would probably have been regarded as a mystic.

I think the same could be said of many who find their spiritual home within the Religious Society of Friends. Indeed, within the community of the Christian Church, I see Quakers as the group who, nowadays, most embody the mystical tradition. That is not to say that one cannot find mystics in other denominations – I have personally known a few such – but the significance of the Quaker Meeting for Worship is that it is, essentially, a group experience.

Mystics have always had an equivocal role within the church. They are not comfortable people. The Roman Catholic Church, historically, has often found them tiresome and difficult, and tends to wait until they are safely dead before honouring them. Meanwhile, the individual mystic, reared within a certain tradition and valuing it, often struggles with both the church hierarchy and the conventional language and forms of the day. Oliver Davies wrote about this in God Within: The Mystical Tradition of Northern Europe, which was recently republished…

Contrary to the common view, mystical experience does not lead to a life of pietistic quietude. Indeed, what it seems to bring with it is a sharp, clear perception of things as they actually are. With that comes a powerful urge to either actively confront and change manifest wrongs or to stay with what is and strive to create a better mode of functioning. Either path requires courage, and an unsentimental stoicism of purpose.

What of the future for Friends, this unlikely band of nonconformists whose numbers are always threatening to be terminal but, in practice, are surprisingly constant? More to the point, where will the Spirit lead us?

Not for the first time, I was struck by the age-old dichotomy of action and contemplation, even as the writer refutes the “common view, [that] mystical experience… lead[s] to a life of pietistic quietude.” Even while we are affirming the ability of mystical experience to empower confrontation with “manifest wrongs”, or to encourage the transformation from within of existing systems, we are setting the contemplative life over against the active life. It is one thing to say that contemplation empowers, or supports, action, even within the one person; it is quite another to realise that contemplation may in itself be action.

Let me explain what I’m trying to get at.

The psychologist CG Jung, in a paper published in 1952, outlined what he described as Synchronicity – An Acausal Connecting Principle. The concept has been much misunderstood – and often misused – in popular psychology and pseudoscience, but it would be a useful corrective just to read the Wikipedia article. I shan’t attempt to paraphrase Jung too much here; suffice it to say that “synchronicity is the experience of two or more events as meaningfully related, whereas they are unlikely to be causally related. The subject sees it as a meaningful coincidence, although the events need not be exactly simultaneous in time… The concept does not question, or compete with, the notion of causality. Instead, it maintains that just as events may be connected by a causal line, they may also be connected by meaning. A grouping of events by meaning need not have an explanation in terms of cause and effect.” (Wikipedia)

Jung was fond of quoting the White Queen, from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backward…” It seems to me a poor sort of prayer that only works by inspiring the pray-er to good works.

I’m aware that some Friends’ backs may be bristling here at the thought of a magical Santa Claus God who trots out miracles in response to the “right words”, but I’m honestly not thinking of any such myth, which is why I dragged Jung into the discussion. In my experience there is a connection between the spiritual life and the exterior, material life that is far more than mere inspiration, and yet far grittier and more practical (for want of a better word) than mere superstitious praying for God to do things for us.

Buddhism has another much maligned and widely misunderstood concept, that of karma.

Sogyal Rinpoche states:

In simple terms, what does karma mean? It means that whatever we do, with our body, speech, or mind, will have a corresponding result. Each action, even the smallest, is pregnant with its consequences. It is said by the masters that even a little poison can cause death and even a tiny seed can become a huge tree. And as Buddha said: “Do not overlook negative actions merely because they are small; however small a spark may be, it can burn down a haystack as big as a mountain.” Similarly he said: “Do not overlook tiny good actions, thinking they are of no benefit; even tiny drops of water in the end will fill a huge vessel.” Karma does not decay like external things, or ever become inoperative. It cannot be destroyed “by time, fire, or water.” Its power will never disappear, until it is ripened. Although the results of our actions may not have matured yet, they will inevitably ripen, given the right conditions.

Of course, “whatever we do, with our body, speech, or mind,” includes spirit. Without even considering, for the moment, the Light in which we Quakers wait, and in which we hold those for whom we care, our silence has its inevitable result. But it is in the Light we sit, and it is that light we seek, and recognise, in all our fellow beings, human and otherwise; and it is the presence of that Light we bring with us from meeting as our gift to the world.

Ultimately, as Patricia Gosling points out, “all our various Quaker concerns are… attempts to bring healing.”

Elsewhere in her article, Patricia Gosling includes some quotations from Hilary Painter, also writing in The Friend. Hilary goes on to write:

The Friends Fellowship of Healing works with the inner world. This can have visible and obvious results in the outer world, but this is not our specific intent; our intent is simply to make that connection between the Divine and our familiar daily world and, by consciously holding others in that Light, to enable that connection for those others. We know that the inner world is as real as the outer world and that change starts in people’s hearts; and that change comes by grace. We try to be a part of facilitating that grace.

Grace. We exist in and by grace, all of us. The air we breathe, and the perfectly designed lungs we breathe it with, are gifts. We own nothing. Each thing, each event, that comes to us is passed on to us. We live, curled in our karma like snails in their only shells, formed by and forming fine and endless layers of dependent origination. All we do, dream, ache for and hold touches all else, all of it. How can the love that lives in our silence not touch those to whom it is given?

Alfred Lord Tennyson touched the edge of this, if I read him right:

More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of…
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God…

Morte d’Arthur