Category Archives: Peace

Another kind of peace: reading Quaker faith & practice Ch. 24

A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it… It is as great presumption to send our passions upon God’s errands, as it is to palliate them with God’s name… We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive, or gain by love and information. And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us then try what Love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.

William Penn, 1693 – Quaker faith & practice 24.03

In these difficult days, when elections seem to have been won on promises of intolerance and injustice, when supporters of both sides are calling for more and more extreme opposition one to another, and violence is looked upon as a normal and inevitable response, it is good to read this chapter on our Quaker peace testimony.

We all too often, it seems to me, fall into the world’s ways of looking at disagreement, and fall into the world’s use of words in speaking of it. We talk of struggle, of victory and defeat, of things lost and won. The left does this as well as the right; and occasionally, Friends fall into the trap also. Perhaps we need, as we contemplate a world with Brexit on one side of the Atlantic, and a Trump administration on the other, to reread Kathleen Lonsdale, writing in 1953:

Friends are not naïve enough to believe that such an appeal ‘to that of God’ in a dictator or in a nation which for psychological or other reasons is in an aggressive mood will necessarily be successful in converting the tyrant or preventing aggression. Christ was crucified; Gandhi was assassinated. Yet they did not fail. Nor did they leave behind them the hatred, devastation and bitterness that war, successful or unsuccessful, does leave. What can be claimed, moreover, is that this method of opposing evil is one of which no person, no group, no nation need be ashamed, as we may and should be ashamed of the inhumanities of war that are perpetrated in our name and with our support.

Quaker faith & practice 24.26

As I wrote a few months ago,

In the face of massively publicised and widespread cruelty and injustice, violence and deceit, it is increasingly hard to avoid the current zeitgeist of taking sides, adopting entrenched positions, and demonising the “opposition”. We Quakers easily fall into the prevailing patterns, however much we attempt to be gentler and more tentative in expressing them. (I recall a conversation with a Tory MP who had met with a group of Quakers, and who told me, “They didn’t look to me much like Conservative voters…”!) We all too often automatically assume certain political and social positions, and too readily take an adversarial stance over against the other side. In this we are no different to the members of any other pressure group, and we can tend to take and to project the attitude that the Society of Friends is little more than a kind of portal for any number of political, peace, environmental and other concerns that share a broadly pacifist, left-wing, climate-sensitive stance.

The problem, of course, is not that we are concerned, and active, with righting wrongs in the world around us. Quakers throughout our long history have done this, and an extreme quietist agenda would be no more helpful than a solely activist one. The problem, it seems to me, lies in the source of our actions. When we react from our emotions and from our convictions, rather than from the Spirit’s leading, we miss the point of being a Religious Society of Friends, and “outrun our guide”.

Our activism as Friends is an outcome, an outworking, of our experience of the Light. We do not hold meeting for worship in order to strengthen ourselves for action, or to seek God’s blessing on a course of action we have wilfully decided upon; we meet in order to encounter the presence of God. As a result of this encounter, and of our encounter with that of God in each other, may may find ourselves called, inevitably, to action of some kind – but this is humanly a side effect, and divinely a leading: something God leads us into.

But this leading may not be to success, to some kind of victory. As Kathleen Lonsdale points out above, “Christ was crucified; Gandhi was assassinated.” The list of Quaker martyrs is long: James Nayler, William Leddra, Mary Dyer – many others. And yet, as Lonsdale says, they did not fail.

We must, I am sure, beware of judging our actions, or their causes, by the standards of the world. The trouble with thinking of ourselves in terms of politics is that we come to think of ourselves as successful or unsuccessful in our political endeavours. But it is our endeavours to love as God first loved us that may have effects, some of them perhaps political it’s true, beyond anything we may see in our own lifetimes. As Roger Wilson wrote (Qfp 24.24), “…it is ultimately the power of suffering in love that redeems men from the power of evil.”

Holding…

A few years ago I travelled with a group of Friends and others from the Campaign Against Arms Trade to the BAE Systems AGM at Farnborough. The aim of the trip was to protest the company’s supporting of repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and elsewhere through arms sales and unethical business practices, by means of what CAAT described as ‘[f]orensic questioning combined with high farce’.

All through the planning meetings, and on the train to Farnborough, I was deeply unsettled, and unclear about my own involvement. I was entirely in agreement with CAAT’s objectives, and yet I could neither see myself in the role of questioner, nor in the organised catcalling and general lunacy of the ‘high farce’ brigade.

Once the meeting commenced, though, I found I dropped into silence at the edge of a block of seating, and remained alert but silent throughout the proceedings. I found myself, to my surprise, holding in the Light not only my fellow CAAT supporters, but the BAE Systems board members, the security staff, and everyone else involved as well. I listened to every word, every exchange, with rapt attention, and watched as security ejected eight of the most vocal catcallers, and as each person – CAAT member or BAE shareholder – stood to ask their question. In fact, I was holding the space for the AGM, and for all who took part, without judgement, without influence, without prejudice and without even the desire for some particular outcome. Those things happened (I found to my immense amazement) without my willing them. In fact, I discovered I was unable to will; I was there purely as a channel, an aerial if you will, for the ground of being in which we all were held, and from which we and all else had come.

A few days ago our Area Meeting held a residential weekend on eldership, using material from Jenny Routledge’s book, Living Eldership, and from her Being Friends Together resource. Using Jenny’s material, of course, brought us up against the concept of accompaniment, which she had encountered so powerfully during her time at Pendle Hill. As Jenny writes,

Recently the practice of an elder accompanying a travelling minister has resurfaced. Jan Hoffman’s travelling ministry in the States has led to a resurgence of accompanying elders, bringing a mutual growing in the Spirit for the minister and the elder, and growth in the power of the resulting ministry. Those who travel in this way speak of a deeply spiritual friendship which results from ‘knowing each other in that which is eternal’…

For those experiencing accompanying eldership as minister, elder or as a member of the meeting, the presence of the elder makes a significant difference. Those who ministered spoke of their sense of being upheld and of being able to go deeper ministry coming closer to their true calling. Those who accompany them also experience a rich and rewarding journey in which they learn much. One Friend expressed what she had gained: ‘My conclusion to the group was that I felt that upholding is really about trust – trusting the process, trusting the Spirit, trusting each other and trusting ourselves.’

Members of meetings for learning at which accompanying elders were present have spoken of being taken to a different level by their presence. An accompanying elder often transforms what might be described as a secular presentation or workshop into true ministry. Helen Gould’s account of being accompanied by an elder vividly illustrates her ministry in delivering the Backhouse Lecture: ‘I found that I was able to pray that I would speak all and only what I was given to speak, and that the worshipers/listeners would receive benefit. From that moment I was not actually aware of myself. I’m not sure how to put this at that point I was, I believe, simply a channel for God’s love.’

It had not really been clear to me that my experience at Farnborough was an experience of accompanying eldership, but of course that’s precisely what it was. In section 21 of Living Eldership, Jenny Routledge quotes a Friend, Angela Kyte, who stepped into the role of her accompanying elder on a clerking course at Woodbrooke:

I kept a journal as a reference tool, and to help me clarify my own role. I felt the most important thing was to trust the process, and to maintain the intention to succeed, although I still had no clear idea of what success might look like…

Like Angela Kyte, I too had the opportunity to experience being an accompanying elder for our Area Meeting on the Sunday. The sense I had had at the BAE Systems AGM, of precise alertness, and a kind of actinic clarity, was there again, in perhaps even greater measure, now that I was aware of what was going on. Once again, I found myself holding the space, and within that even my own person, with his reactions and his prejudices, was held just like the Friends at the table and throughout the room. To give oneself to the process, however little understood, seems to be all that’s required. The rest becomes a matter of presence and attention only; the love that underlies the intention, that indeed underlies the meeting and all else, is enough.

It will be interesting, and more than interesting, to see where this goes. Angela Kyte’s suggestion of a journal is perhaps particularly good. Whether the practice of accompanying eldership will be as transformative for area meeting as it has been for me remains to be seen(!); and whether the practice will spread across our local meetings, or become ‘standard equipment’ for area business meetings, is by no means clear. In this all I can do is wait, and trust the Spirit – for myself, I am fascinated to see how things work out in the months to come…

Business as Usual

There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath different names; it is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation soever, they become brethren.

John Woolman, 1762 – Quaker Faith & Practice 26.61

At Meeting last Sunday, a Friend objected to the usual reading from Quaker Faith & Practice on the grounds that she felt reading from the book was “business as usual” – and with the Government decision to involve the UK in the bombing of Syrian targets, the climate crisis, the refugee crisis – it was not time for “business as usual”.

Of course the reading from John Woolman was intended not to cry “peace, peace where there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6.14), but to address the very situation where, as Woolman had, Friends find themselves living in a deeply compromised and immoral society, and have to find a way to live out their faith under troubled circumstances, and with troubled hearts. As another Friend ministered, the words of Psalm 120 ring true: “Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.”

All week I have pondered the events of Sunday morning, and it was not until yesterday that I happened on the words of Fr Laurence Freeman OSB, of the World Community of Christian Meditation. In his Advent Address this year he wrote, and I quote his address in full:

The preparation for the incarnation begins with a ‘voice crying in the wilderness’. In today’s gospel it is John the Baptist, who first recognises what we have all been so anxiously waiting for. He is the voice. Jesus is the word. The voice that the voice communicates through the pure air of the silent wilderness.

The word ‘wilderness’ in Greek is eremos, an uninhabited place. This gives us the word hermit, one who lives in solitude. In meditation we are all solitaries.

Meditation leads us into the wilderness, into a place uninhabited by thoughts, opinions, the conflicts of images and desires. It is place we long for because of the peace and purity it offers. Here we find truth. But it also terrifies us because of what we fear we will lose and of what we will find.

The more we penetrate into the wilderness, the solitude of the heart, the more we slow down. As mental activity decreases, so time slows until the point where there is only stillness – a living and loving stillness. Here, for the first time, we can listen to silence without fear. The word emerges from this silence. It touches and becomes incarnate in us. It incarnates us making us fully embodied and real in the present.

Only here, where we cut all communication with the noisy, jeering, fickle crowds inhabiting our minds do we see what ‘fleeing from the world’ means. What it does not mean is escapism or avoidance of responsibilities. It means to enter into solitude where we realise how fully, inescapably we are embodied and embedded in the universal web of relationships.

In the desert monasticism of the fourth century the monks plunged deeper into the wilderness as they got older. Then the world followed them, drawn by the incomparable and tangible beauty of what awaited them.

At last I had found words for what was troubling me. I find I am called in this season of my life – if I am honest, I probably always have been, even since childhood – to prayer and contemplation, rather than to political action or public protest. And yet, as I have so often written here, I find myself accusing myself, if I am faithful to my calling, of “business as usual”.

Fr Laurence’s clear words answer that doubt, that self-accusation. We cannot silence the clamour of the warmongers, whether here or in deserts of Western Asia, by shouting louder ourselves. We cannot bring peace through anger, or combat the darkness in which we find ourselves by darkening our hearts still further.

In the silence there is true peace, a peace which can spill out into healing for the wounds of our time, if we are faithful, if we let it. If action is needed, then coming from this true peace, it will be true, right action, and not merely reaction. The call to the heart’s solitude is not a call to inaction, to mere avoidance of uncomfortable truths: it is a call to embrace the courage to “realise how fully, inescapably we are embodied and embedded in the universal web of relationships” – the courage, despite all the clamour to the contrary, to “[be] with God, putting [ourselves] in his presence, being hungry and thirsty for him, wanting him, letting heart and mind move towards him; with the needs of the world on our heart.” (Michael Ramsey)

Remembering

All over the UK this morning acts of remembrance have been carried out. We should remember – not only the dead of all nations in both world wars, but of all wars; and not only the dead, but those whose lives have been broken by war – the bereaved, the disabled, those who have lost homes, land and all they worked for and valued, those who gave their lives to prevent war, but war came.

War is not something ever to celebrate, but rather to mourn. We should mourn every day, really, since there is not a day when some war somewhere is not killing and destroying innocent lives, as well as the lives of the combatants themselves. There never has been a just war: not because the cause has never been just, but because war is in and of itself unjust. Those killed and hurt are rarely those by whose decision war was commenced, and in many cases they are mere bystanders, people across whose peaceful land wars are fought.

Peace should be the most fundamental of human rights: peace to live, to create, to learn, to heal. Peace should be the rule, not the exception. It is appalling that I should have cause to wonder at having lived all my life so far in a country untouched by war at home.

In 1916 Britain Yearly Meeting minuted, “…freedom from the scourge of war will only be brought about through the faithfulness of individuals to their inmost convictions, under the guidance of the spirit of Christ.” (QFP 23.92)

Remembering, and the grief of remembering, must be the centre of my prayer. Unless I remember, I am in danger of accepting the peace in which I have lived my life as normal. It should be, but it isn’t. That is a most horrible thing. Please, let us remember, and out of that remembering, refuse entirely war and the acceptance of war, and of the means of war. Let us “study war no more…”

Perhaps we have all come this way…

If you would know God and worship and serve God as you should do, you must come to the means he has ordained and given for that purpose. Some seek it in books, some in learned men, but what they look for is in themselves, yet they overlook it. The voice is too still, the Seed too small and the Light shineth in darkness. They are abroad and so cannot divide the spoil; but the woman that lost her silver found it at home after she had lighted her candle and swept her house. Do you so too and you shall find what Pilate wanted to know, viz., Truth. The Light of Christ within, who is the Light of the world and so a light to you that tells you the truth of your condition, leads all that take heed unto it out of darkness into God’s marvellous light; for light grows upon the obedient. It is sown for the righteous and their way is a shining light that shines forth more and more to the perfect day.

William Penn, 1694

Perhaps we have all come this way. The Seed is too small for our thinking and our imagination. It is far easier to attempt great things.

it’s not quite dark, and the steadily deepening blue is finding its way through the trees outside the window. There is stillness enough in the darkening garden, and even the very leafiest topmost twigs are quite still – no wind at all. Only a last blackbird is trying over the day’s songs, I think. Here, in the small things and the quiet intervals God is so deeply present that words slip from the heart’s opening, and only listening remains…

On giving up…

It must be an act of grace, or of something beyond the individual will, which enables certain people to give up at certain times. Whether the giving up occurs gradually or swiftly, with great fanfare or absolute stillness, giving up is not something that can wilfully be done. It can be allowed or it can be resisted, but it cannot be done. And that is where hope lies. Not hope in continuing effort, but hope for some kind of mercy. Hope that today or next month, or five years from now there will come a time when the struggle will be sacrificed…

There is always room for great hope. For at every level of despair there is the possibility of giving up. In the midst of every dimension of delusion there are sparkles of sanity…. In the early years of life, giving up usually takes the form of faith. A leaping forward into a belief that one is loved, accepted, forgiven and redeemed just as one is, with nothing special needing to be done. In later years, giving up more often comes from despair. From the wisdom of realizing that no amount of continuing effort, no amount of fixing, will enable one to ‘get it all together.’ Despair then is forever a doorway to life.

Gerald May, Simply Sane: The Spirituality of Mental Health

We so often in our culture view giving up as the last thing we should be prepared to do. “Never give up!” we advise the cancer sufferer, the depressive. “Never give up!” we encourage the one struggling with the failing marriage, the failing business. “Of course, I never gave up…” says the hero returning from the war, the survivor hauled from the shipwreck.

But if we are honest, we know the state of not-giving-up is not something we can always achieve, nor is it healthy to try cling to it regardless. Life is given to us only for a while, and to give up in the face of terminal illness is sometimes a victory far more than a defeat. There are times in any endeavour when our only access to grace is in surrender – where we have to accept that try as we may, the marriage is over, the business is going to the wall.

Of course I am not advocating spinelessness. Of course we try. Of course we do our very best to keep going, to keep afloat in the storm, to save our life’s work, our life’s partnership. But sometimes it can’t be done. Sometimes even our own life cannot be saved – in the end that will come to us all – and then what shall we do?

There are seasons. “a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted… a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance… a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away…” (Ecclesiastes 3.2ff) But we don’t want to accept the seasons: we want to buy fruit out of season, eat strawberries at Christmas, parsnips in high summer.

We run on desire, so much of our lives. We “want/don’t want” as Toni Bernard puts it. This refusal to give up can so often come down to this hunger, this wanting, and the suffering and dissatisfaction that come inevitably with wanting, with the sense that if only we can have this, or avoid that, then everything we be all right, that then we shall be peace.

Peace is grace. Grace is love, “strong as death” – far stronger. Love, grace, peace – these will outlast death. Even despair, if it is released, becomes a different kind of hope. Let it go, whatever it is, for only then can it be given back, “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over…” (Luke 6.38)

Celebrating Quaker Work

A film about the work of Quakers in Britain, as seen through the eyes of Friends from Northumbria Area Meeting.

This moving and involving short film looks at selected examples of centrally managed Quaker work in 2013 from the perspective of Friends from Northumbria Area Meeting. The film also looks at the relationship between local Quakers and the central staff and committees, and features personal reflections on the joy of being a Quaker, and what it means to be part of a Quaker community.