Although my childhood was spent in West Sussex, on the coast, and later inland, I was born in Manchester, which may explain the fondness I have felt for the North of England since I first moved there to work at Sunderland Arts Centre early in the 1980s. I lived in Sunderland, and later in Durham, before moving to the Midlands and returning to farming ten or eleven years later.
I’ve been reading Stuart Maconie’s wonderful Pies and Prejudice, a very funny but really lyrical and touching book about the North, and it’s been opening up all kinds of trains of thought. There is something clean and yearning about the North, which affected the young CS Lewis greatly, bringing him his first experience of what he called Joy, “the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing” he felt encountering Norse mythology for the first time.
When I first became interested in Quakerism, I naturally looked up its history. It somehow failed to surprise me that George Fox had had his Pendle Hill vision of “a great people to be gathered” in Lancashire, and that the early growth of the Quaker movement was largely in Northern England, and it was from there that it spread out across the world.
I am not quite sure where this post is supposed to be leading, except to say that I am finding more and more that threads are drawing in from all over my life, leading to the one convincement that brought me to Friends
I wrote then,
The concrete expression of the Holy Spirit is a strange thing, and perhaps lies at the root of all that is meant by the word incarnation. Traditionally the word is used of Christ, who “came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” (Nicene Creed) But God’s Spirit indwells us too (Luke 11.13; John 16.12ff) and works through us (Mark 13.11; Galatians 5.22-25); and it is the Spirit who fills us in worship, and changes us.
In just the short time I’ve been attending my local Quaker Meeting, the sense of stepping into a community has been palpable. I’ve encountered all kinds of Christian community over the years, of different sizes and degrees of intentionality; yet Quaker community, as I’ve begun to experience it, is something different again.
In the Meeting, under the spiritual leading that arises out of shared silence, the Spirit can weave that fabric called community in an extraordinarily concrete and palpable way…
I often wonder whether the impulse to explore, revisit, one’s past is mere nostalgia or self-regard, or whether it conceals a deeper impulse towards reconnecting with threads that were dropped years ago, and may now be picked up and re-woven in. I don’t know…