While I was too young to have any religion of my own, I had come to a home where religion kept its fires always burning. We had very few ‘things’, but we were rich in invisible wealth. I was not ‘christened’ in a church, but I was sprinkled from morning to night with the dew of religion. We never ate a meal which did not begin with a hush of thanksgiving; we never began a day without ‘a family gathering’ at which mother read a chapter of the Bible after which there would follow a weighty silence. These silences, during which all the children of our family were hushed with a kind of awe, were very important features of my spiritual development. There was work inside and outside the house waiting to be done, and yet we sat there hushed and quiet, doing nothing. I very quickly discovered that something real was taking place. We were feeling our way down to that place from which living words come, and very often they did come. Some one would bow and talk with God so simply and quietly that He never seemed far away. The words helped to explain the silence. We were now finding what we had been searching for. When I first began to think of God I did not think of Him as very far off. At a meeting some of the Friends who prayed shouted loud and strong when they called upon Him, but at home He always heard easily and He seemed to be there with us in the living silence. My first steps in religion were thus acted. It was a religion which we did together. Almost nothing was said in the way of instructing me. We all joined together to listen for God, and then one of us talked to Him for the others. In these simple ways my religious disposition was being unconsciously formed and the roots of my faith in unseen realities were reaching down far below my crude and childish surface thinking.
Rufus Jones, 1926
When I was about seven years old, I announced that my favourite text was ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped me’. The elders were amused, but I am not so sure that it was funny after all. The distance from one birthday to the next seems infinite to a small child, and ‘the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts’. Looking back over many years, I fancy my choice now would be much the same. I am not prepared, here and now, to analyse and define the reasons, but I can only say that this quiet certainty has run all through my life linking up babyhood and youth and middle age with the latest stretch of the road and ‘hitherto’, though sometimes almost slipping through one’s fingers, that golden thread has never wholly escaped my grasp.
Elizabeth Fox Howard, 1943
And you, young convinced ones, be you entreated and exhorted to a diligent and chaste waiting upon God, in the way of his blessed manifestation and appearance of himself to you. Look not out, but within… Remember it is a still voice that speaks to us in this day, and that it is not to be heard in the noises and hurries of the mind; but it is distinctly understood in a retired frame. Jesus loved and chose solitudes, often going to mountains, to gardens, and sea-sides to avoid crowds and hurries; to show his disciples it was good to be solitary, and sit loose to the world.
William Penn, 1694
[Our] work is based on the thought that ‘What you have inherited from your forefathers you must acquire for yourselves to possess it’. That is to say that each generation of young Friends by its experiments must discover for itself the truths on which the Society is built if it is to use those truths and to continue and enlarge the work of the Society. Hence the occasional separate meetings of younger Friends and our desire to have means of expressing corporately our own experience.
Young Friends Committee, 1926
Occasionally, reassuring memories drift across my consciousness during my times of weakness. One of these is an impromptu meeting for worship that took place during a Leaveners’ tour of Moscow. It was the time of perestroika and great change, everything we did was ‘the first’ and we were constantly in the limelight. By the fourth day we were emotionally shattered, we needed a break. We sought out some quiet together as a company, hidden away in a small derelict room on the top floor of a college building away from the constant attention of our new friends. Our meeting was charged with emotion; we cried, we laughed, we ministered, we healed. Every person (Quaker or not) ministered and together we re-forged our shattered emotions. That meeting was momentous in my spiritual development, and always reassuring when I am low.
Roger Davies, 1994
Junior Yearly Meeting gave us the opportunity to step back and look at our lives from a different perspective. As Quakers we are often preoccupied with global issues and as young people we are only too often preoccupied with the pressures of work. We had the space to stop, to listen and to think about ourselves…
Through our discussions we recognised our anxieties and fears. We realised that we are individuals and that we are alone but, as part of a loving community, to be alone does not necessarily mean to be lonely. We discovered that it is acceptable to have confused feelings, to be different, to do things our own way. We should not feel guilty when we are wrong, and appreciate that there must be room for mistakes. There are people who want us to be exactly as we are.
Epistle of Junior Yearly Meeting, 1991
Knowing and accepting ourselves
It is by our ‘imperfections’ that we move towards each other, towards wholeness of relationship. It is our oddities, our grittiness, the occasions when we hurt or are hurt, that challenge us to a deeper knowledge of each other. Our sins have been said to be stepping-stones to God.
Kenneth C Barnes, 1985
We are all, yes, I believe, all a mixture of good and bad, and we are not always good at recognising in this magpie mixture what is bad and what is good. Our need is to accept ourselves as a whole, and offer that whole to God, leaving it to God ‘unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid’ to evaluate the good and bad in us. The glorious miracle is that, if we can do this, God can still use us, with all our faults and weaknesses, if we are willing to be used.
The knowledge that I am usable, and sometimes used, is to me a source of love and gratitude and strength far deeper even than joy and happiness.
Anna Bidder, 1978
My life has been one of great vicissitude: mine has been a hidden path, hidden from every human eye. I have had deep humiliations and sorrows to pass through. I can truly say I have ‘wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way, and found no city to dwell in’; and yet how wonderfully I have been sustained. I have passed through many and great dangers, many ways – I have been tried with the applause of the world, and none know how great a trial that has been, and the deep humiliations of it; and yet I fully believe it is not nearly so dangerous as being made much of in religious society. There is a snare even in religious unity, if we are not on the watch. I have sometimes felt that it was not so dangerous to be made much of in the world, as by those whom we think highly of in our own Society: the more I have been made much of by the world, the more I have been inwardly humbled. I could often adopt the words of Sir Francis Bacon – ‘When I have ascended before men, I have descended in humiliation before God.’
Elizabeth Fry, 1844
In this century we have been newly filled by the conscious knowledge of our own darkness – that we carry this darkness within us. We no longer need to project our darkness outward into demons or scapegoats – or, if we do, we know we are evoking disaster. It is by encounter with our own darkness that we recognise the light. It is the light itself which shows us the darkness – and both are summoned within us.
Lorna M Marsden, 1983
Those who have difficulty in accepting the idea of a personal shadow as far as they themselves are concerned, whose knowledge of human nature is two-dimensional (that is, without depth), all too easily think that morality attaches to feelings, that hateful, hostile, cruel or greedy feelings are immoral. They do not, perhaps, realise that the feelings that arise in us are neither moral nor immoral, but neutral. The supreme importance of morality is the way we choose to act on our feelings. And we shall not be free to choose if we do not know what they are.
Jack H Wallis, 1988
Trouble of soul can teach us things that raptures never could – not only patience and perseverance, but humility and sympathy with others.
Edward Grubb, 1933
When we descend from our towers, and come out from our sanctuaries, and take our place in ordinary homes, and workshops, and are surrounded and jostled by our fellow-creatures, we find that our sensitive souls shrink from some of these contacts: that this man humbles our pride, and that one offends our aesthetic sense: that this woman takes our words amiss, and that one misconstrues and resents our actions. It is so much easier to feel enthusiasm for humanity, than to love our immediate neighbours.
Phyllis Richards, 1948
We know, with varying degrees of acceptance into awareness, our own weaknesses, and there is a tendency to think that others – who seem, on the surface, to be very sure and confident – do not struggle in the way we do. But many of those who appear to cope and be strong and tireless are indeed very different behind their masks. We are all wounded; we all feel inadequate and ashamed; we all struggle. But this is part of the human condition; it draws us together, helps us to find our connectedness.
June Ellis, 1986
I have found in my life that from time to time when revelling in new-found joys or faced with decision, problem or grief, there must be for me a listening ear. Even if my listener says little but sheds over me a feeling of rejoicing with me, of being alongside me as I strive, of sorrowing with me in my hour of distress, then I can better appreciate or face the situation. I believe this is true for most of us. There are moments when we need one another. If this sometimes unuttered cry is answered, then truly we meet, and do not grope or slip past each other. But if two individuals share at an even deeper level from out of their own experience in their search for ultimate reality in life, then the divine in the human shines through and a new creation is born for both.
Margaret S Gibbins, 1969
In a speech at the end of the United Nations Decade of Women, in 1985, Alice Wiser said:
Each of us is responsible for our own actions and our own reactions. We are not responsible for someone else’s actions and reactions. This is very important for women especially because most women have been taught that they are responsible for the happiness of everyone in their family. They are taught that all family unhappiness and discord is their fault. But responsibility rests within each individual.
True godliness don’t turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavours to mend it: not hide their candle under a bushel, but set it upon a table in a candlestick.
William Penn, 1682
Do you cherish that of God within you, so that love may grow in you and rule your life?
Questions and counsel, 1988
When I left school I set out into the world determined that nothing as small as the Society of Friends would hold me. ‘I want the real world’, I said. ‘Friends are good people, aunts and uncles and cousins, they are friends of the family to whom I must always be polite. They do not drink or smoke or swear, they do not lose their tempers. They do not love money, they do not worship success (well, only a little bit), they do not compete, they do not gamble, they do not fight. They do not do what they want to do. If they want to do something very much they deeply suspect it is not the right thing to do. But I am not like that at all. I would like to drink and smoke, to make money, to be successful. I want to fight and to win; I want to please myself, to enjoy myself, to be myself. I am talented and clever and malicious; I will escape, for I am clearly not a Quaker, and find out what it is I am. I am no-one’s daughter and no-one’s granddaughter’, I said defiantly, ‘I am myself.’ And I marched down Shaftesbury Avenue waving my banner with only a casual glance at Westminster Meeting House.
What I am telling is a classic story but we must admit that every cliché contains profound truth and a story is classic because so many people recognise it as true. ‘Father’ I said, ‘give me my inheritance and I will go out and seek a fortune.’ So I took my inheritance and went out and spent it. When it was all gone I came to myself and, finding myself somewhat diminished, faced with demands I found difficult to fulfil, I went to meeting.
‘Here I am’, I said.
‘That’s all right.’
‘Just for a bit of a sit-down.’
‘Whatever you need.’
‘You mustn’t expect anything from me,’ I said, ‘I can only bring a need.’
‘Whatever you have.’
Dorothy Nimmo, 1979
Isolation of spirit … comes to most – perhaps all of us – at one time or another. There are times in our lives when the tides of faith seem far out, times of dryness, times when we do not feel the comfort and guidance of God’s hand. At such times we may stay away from meeting feeling that it does not give us the spiritual help that we need; or it may be that we continue to go and are to outward appearance actively engaged on the meeting’s life and business, while, within, we feel the agonies of isolation and the longing for light to lighten our darkness. I can think with thankfulness of Friends who have brought light to my darkness – perhaps a single sentence, a friendly letter, a walk on the downs: their help was perhaps given unconsciously, but it was because they were sensitive to God’s leadings that they were able to do it. Do we seek to be the channels of God’s love and caring? ‘Caring matters most.’
Edward H Milligan, 1951
Living a full life
The art of living must be studied, as must every art. It calls for imagination, so that every advance, every change, is not merely a difference, but a creative act. Achievement, at any level above the lowest, calls for courage to hold on, in spite of current moods, and for exacting self-discipline. The art of Christian living calls for the same self-preparation; but its reward is not merely aesthetic satisfactions. The soul, hungry for God, is fed. Life itself takes on new meaning. Thus it is that we break from the confines of the prisons we have built about ourselves. Thus it is we are brought into the freedom of the Kingdom of God which, every day, through the wide world, is being realised in the hearts of men.
Horace B Pointing, 1946
There is, it sometimes seems, an excess of religious and social busyness these days, a round of committees and conferences and journeyings, of which the cost in ‘peaceable wisdom’ is not sufficiently counted. Sometimes we appear overmuch to count as merit our participation in these things… At least we ought to make sure that we sacrifice our leisure for something worthy. True leisureliness is a beautiful thing and may not lightly be given away. Indeed, it is one of the outstanding and most wonderful features of the life of Christ that, with all his work in preaching and healing and planning for the Kingdom, he leaves behind this sense of leisure, of time in which to pray and meditate, to stand and stare at the cornfields and fishing boats, and to listen to the confidences of neighbours and passers-by…
Most of us need from time to time the experience of something spacious or space-making, when Time ceases to be the enemy, goad-in-hand, and becomes our friend. To read good literature, gaze on natural beauty, to follow cultivated pursuits until our spirits are refreshed and expanded, will not unfit us for the up and doing of life, whether of personal or church affairs. Rather will it help us to separate the essential from the unessential, to know where we are really needed and get a sense of proportion. We shall find ourselves giving the effect of leisure even in the midst of a full and busy life. People do not pour their joys or sorrows into the ears of those with an eye on the clock.
Caroline C Graveson, 1937
Jesus’s question in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘If ye salute your brethren only, what do ye to excess?’ What do ye to excess? How often he showed his approval of extravagant generosity when it arose from a simple and pure impulse of the heart. He defended the act of the woman who broke the alabaster box of precious ointment so that she might pour it over his feet. ‘If thy brother ask of thee thy coat, give him thy cloak also’ – in other words, more than he expects to receive. In his parable of the Prodigal Son, the father does not wait to welcome his son at the door of the house; he runs to meet him, and it is the best robe which he puts on him. It is this excess, this extravagance, which we find in God’s love for us, that for me shows the meaning of the word ‘Grace’.
It is for this grace that we pray; that we, too, may love to excess even though it may appear foolish in the eyes of the world.
Phyllis Richards, 1949
All our senses are given to us to enjoy, and to praise God. The smell of the sea, of the blossom borne on the wind, of the soft flesh of a little baby; the taste of a ripe plum or bread fresh from the oven, the feel of warm cat’s fur, or the body of a lover – these are all forms of thanksgiving prayer. I am sure that it is as wrong to fail to delight in our bodies as it is to misuse them through excess. Not to be a glutton does not mean that we may not delight in good food: not to be ruled by lust does not mean that we must not enjoy the exquisite pleasures of sex: not to be slothful does not mean that we must never lie in the sun, not doing, just being. When Jesus said, ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly’, I do not think He was speaking only of spiritual life – I think He meant us to have positive delight in all the good things in this wonderful world which his Father created.
Bella Bown, c.1980
Perhaps the most neglected of all the advices is that we should live adventurously. If there is one wish I would pray the Spirit to put into our Christmas stockings, it is warmth, openness, passion, a bit of emotion that doesn’t mind making a fool of itself occasionally.
Gerald Priestland, 1977
It is ‘life’ only that can lead to life, and no forms are availing without it. Seek the life in all things, and cherish it by all authorised means.
Hannah Kilham, 1831
See also chapter 22 Close relationships
A sudden concentration of attention on a rainy August morning. Clusters of bright red berries, some wrinkled, some blemished, others perfect, hanging among green leaves. The experience could not have lasted more than a few seconds, but that was a moment out of time. I was caught up in what I saw: I became a part of it: the berries, the leaves, the raindrops and I, we were all of a piece. A moment of beauty and harmony and meaning. A moment of understanding.
Ralph Hetherington, 1975
There is a daily round for beauty as well as for goodness, a world of flowers and books and cinemas and clothes and manners as well as of mountains and masterpieces… God is in all beauty, not only in the natural beauty of earth and sky, but in all fitness of language and rhythm, whether it describe a heavenly vision or a street fight, a Hamlet or a Falstaff, a philosophy or a joke: in all fitness of line and colour and shade, whether seen in the Sistine Madonna or a child’s knitted frock: in all fitness of sound and beat and measure, whether the result be Bach’s Passion music or a nursery jingle. The quantity of God, so to speak, varies in the different examples, but His quality of beauty in fitness remains the same.
Caroline C Graveson, 1937
Robin Tanner (1904–1988), for much of his life an inspector of education responsible for arts and crafts in primary schools, was himself a gifted teacher and an artist of great distinction.
The history of the protest of early Friends against excess and ostentatious superfluity is fascinating. It is easy to ridicule their apparent denial of the Arts; yet it must be admitted that, certainly visually, out of it there was born an austere, spare, refreshingly simple beauty… What is hopeful is that in the Society there is no finality; we can laugh at ourselves and go on learning. As long as we are given to constant revision there is hope for us. Special pleading for the Arts is no longer needed. They are not viewed, as they once were, as a distraction from God. Rather they are seen as a manifestation of God.
A hesitation about the traditional policy of the Society towards the arts was expressed by Elizabeth Fry in 1833:
It appears to me to be one important means of helping the human mind in a healthy state, that in recreations which are needful for it, it should be trained as much as possible to look to those things that bring profit as well as pleasure with them. My observation of human nature and the different things that affect it frequently leads me to regret that we as a Society so wholly give up delighting the ear by sound. Surely He who formed the ear and the heart would not have given these tastes and powers without some purpose for them.
The acceptance of the practice of music as a legitimate activity for Friends has been difficult because of the clear views expressed by early Friends. Solomon Eccles, a professional musician from a family of musicians, tried to burn his ‘virginals, fiddles and all’ and when the crowd tried to prevent him ‘I was forced to stamp on them and break them to pieces [because I saw] a difference between the harps of God and the harps of men.’ Similarly our founder, George Fox, says in his Journal that he was ‘moved to cry also against all sorts of music … [for it] burdened the pure life, and stirred people’s minds to vanity.’ With such a strong lead it took Friends until 1978 before Ormerod Greenwood could name this attitude an apostasy. Now we can say that Friends do not merely accept music, but that composing, performing and listening to music are, for many, essential parts of their spiritual lives. Evidence for this can be found in the experience of the Leaveners. The Quaker Youth Theatre has not only delighted but challenged us; and the first performance by the Quaker Festival Orchestra and Chorus of The gates of Greenham in the Royal Festival Hall in 1985 produced the largest British Quaker gathering – musical or otherwise – this century. Acceptance of music has gone through a number of stages: firstly it became acceptable for Friends to practise it in their daily lives; secondly they felt able to practise it together; and thirdly they have felt able to include it in their worship. There are a number of meetings now which recognise that music beforehand, whether listening or singing together, can help Friends prepare their hearts and minds; and some Friends feel that to perform in worship, whether spontaneously or in a prepared way, can enable the meeting to reach the deep centre which characterises meetings held in the light. Friends now acknowledge that we can hear God’s harps being played through ‘the harps of men’.
John Sheldon, 1994
Along the paths of the imagination the artist and mystic make contact. The revelations of God are not all of one kind. Always the search in art, as in religion, is for the rhythms of relationships, for the unity, the urge, the mystery, the wonder of life that is presented in great art and true religion.
Horace B Pointing, 1944
Waldo Williams (1904–1971), who joined Friends in 1953, was one of the foremost Welsh poets of the twentieth century. His poem ‘Mewn dau gae’ finds a place here, not because it reflects on creativity, but as a vivid example of the power of words to evoke the deep mysteries of life.
Mewn dau gae
O ba le’r ymroliai’r môr goleuni
Oedd a’i waelod ar Weun Parc y Blawd a Parc y Blawd?
Ar ôl imi holi’n hir yn y tir tywyll,
O b’le deuai, yr un a fu erioed?
Neu pwy, pwy oedd y saethwr, yr eglurwr sydyn?
Bywiol heliwr y maes oedd rholiwr y môr.
Oddifry uwch y chwibanwyr gloywbib, uwch callwib y cornicyllod,
Dygai i mi y llonyddwch mawr.
Rhoddai i mi’r cyffro lle nad oedd
Ond cyffro meddwl yr haul yn mydru’r tes,
Yr eithin aeddfed ar y cloddiau’n clecian,
Y brwyn lu yn breuddwydio’r wybren las.
Pwy sydd yn galw pan fo’r dychymyg yn dihuno?
Cyfod, cerdd, dawnsia, wele’r bydysawd.
Pwy sydd yn ymguddio ynghanol y geiriau?
Yr oedd hyn ar Weun Parc y Blawd a Parc y Blawd.
A phan fyddai’r cymylau mawr ffoadur a phererin
Yn goch gan heulwen hwyrol tymestl Tachwedd
Lawr yn yr ynn a’r masarn a rannai’r meysydd
Yr oedd cân y gwynt a dyfnder fel dyfnder distawrwydd.
Pwy sydd, ynghanol y rhwysg a’r rhemp?
Pwy sydd yn sefyll ac yn cynnwys?
Tyst pob tyst, cof pob cof, hoedl pob hoedl,
Tawel ostegwr helbul hunan.
Nes dyfod o’r hollfyd weithiau i’r tawelwch
Ac ar y ddau barc fe gerddai ei bobl,
A thrwyddynt, rhyngddynt, amdanynt ymdaenai
Awen yn codi o’r cudd, yn cydio’r cwbl,
Fel gyda ni’r ychydig pan fyddai’r cyrch picwerchi
Neu’r tynnu to deir draw ar y weun drom.
Mor agos at ein gilydd y deuem –
Yr oedd yr heliwr distaw yn bwrw ei rwyd amdanom.
O, trwy oesoedd y gwaed ar y gwellt a thrwy’r goleuni y galar
Pa chwiban nas clywai ond mynwes? O, pwy oedd?
Twyllwr pob traha, rhedwr pob trywydd,
Hai! y dihangwr o’r byddinoedd
Yn chwiban adnabod, adnabod nes bod adnabod.
Mawr oedd cydnaid calonnau wedi eu rhew rhyn.
Yr oedd rhyw ffynhonnau’n torri tua’r nefoedd
Ac yn syrthio’n ôl a’u dagrau fel dail pren.
Am hyn y myfyria’r dydd dan yr haul a’r cwmwl
A’r nos trwy’r celloedd i’w mawrfrig ymennydd.
Mor llonydd ydynt a hithau a’i hanadl
Dros Weun Parc y Blawd a Parc y Blawd heb ludd,
A’u gafael ar y gwrthrych, y perci llawn pobl.
Diau y daw’r dirháu, a pha awr yw hi
Y daw’r herwr, daw’r heliwr, daw’r hawliwr i’r bwlch,
Daw’r Brenin Alltud a’r brwyn yn hollti.
Waldo Williams, 1956
For a translation of this text into English see English translations of passages in Welsh
One of the most vivid experiences [of individual worship] on my part was sitting quietly for at least an hour before a picture by the Dutch painter Vermeer, and absorbing its sheer beauty… The room was crowded with people, but I was oblivious of them, as I was equally oblivious of the passage of time. As a result of this act of concentration the vision of this particular masterpiece is indelibly stamped on my mind which has forever been enriched by it. I know that my ordinary acts of seeing and observation have been sharpened by that experience. There was drawn from me an acknowledgement of the greatness of the artist and his painting and I caught, with awe, the light of his inspiration and creativeness. Further, something was given to me that I can only describe as, literally, a transcending of the normal everyday world. This quite simple secular act was for me a truly worshipful experience.
George Gorman, 1973
Worshippers are like the spokes of a wheel. The nearer they come to the centre of all Life the nearer they are to each other. Having reached the centre they become united in a single life through the creative love of God.
Howard H Brinton, 1931
I believe in the powers of ordinary men and women; in their immense potentialities; in their capacity to rise higher than themselves; in their essential creativeness; in them as artists. I do not believe in the ‘chosen few’: I believe in us all.
I believe we were brought into this world to live and to enjoy it; to take out of it all that, in our full stature, we are able. I believe it then falls to every person to reach that state of fecundity and richness that makes him long to put back into life something uniquely his own.
I believe and glory in the uniqueness of every child and every man and woman. I believe that it is that uniqueness that above all needs to be cherished, protected, nourished and helped to grow and flower and come to fruition. Our job is to discern and to promote this uniqueness. In greater or lesser degree we each bear the privileged responsibility for using the artist in us. Yes: I believe in having the best of both, of all, worlds!
I believe that everyone should be successful. I believe, therefore, in the giving and accepting of praise. Praise and appreciation are necessary to us all. I believe that if all is well with the human element in our environment we are prepared to make the sustained effort that is necessary to ensure success.
I believe in work. I believe in play. On the whole I see no distinction. Let us not be afraid of work! Play – games – poetry – music – movement – all the Arts, are unnecessary yet absolutely essential. They make possible the impossible and reconcile the irreconcilable.
I believe in the absolute necessity for the arts. Man cannot live by bread alone.
Robin Tanner, 1963
‘What’s that on the shelf?’ my artistic friend asked. ‘A turbine blade. I designed it’, I replied proudly.
Visiting three weeks later she asked, ‘Why is that still there?
‘Oh’, she said.
My friend enthused over the beauty of a cathedral, a Rembrandt, a Turner, a sonnet. I find none in a cathedral, little in Rembrandt or poetry, a lot in a Turner.
I find great beauty in Concorde, a Norton, a modern suspension bridge, in calculus and a good computer program – especially if I have written it! She little or none. I thrill to the sound of a racing car, the sight and smell of a machine shop, the noise and balletic movement of men and machine shaping white hot steel in a forge – and in my turbine blade. She does not.
We could both be moved to tears by mountains, Beethoven, Britten, clouds … and by friendship.
Graham Clarke, 1994
In a broadcast Good Friday meditation given by an ex-colleague I was surprised to hear him speaking about the way in which listening to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos had been the crucial factor in his recovery from a near fatal heart attack. He said that whenever he listened to them, on the Sony Walkman his son had given him, at whatever time of day or night, he could feel the atoms in his body rearranging themselves in response to the glorious order and freedom of Bach’s music. From the moment he began to listen to them his healing had begun.
For weeks after hearing that meditation I found myself reflecting on the way in which music acts as a restorative for me. I listened to the Brandenburg Concertos again and was aware of the stimulation to my own central nervous system. But then I noted that Frank Sinatra singing ‘New York, New York’, or Shirley Bassey singing ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ could have a similar effect. The raw energy of Tina Turner singing could, if I gave myself up to the rhythm, produce a responding surge of energy in me. I understand that students doing tests after listening to Mozart are reported to have better scores than when they do the tests without the warm-up.
The Holy Spirit can indeed restore us to health (or stimulate us to work well) through the medium of music as well as prayer or antibiotics! And why, indeed, should I be surprised that this is so? Creativity is the gift that we were given on the eighth day of creation. In naming and re-making the world we are co-workers with God, and whether we are making a garden or a meal, a painting or a piece of furniture or a computer program, we are sharing in an ongoing act of creation through which the world is constantly re-made.
Jo Farrow, 1994
As a teenager I first really knew about the Spirit within me when I danced. Here was a way at last of stilling the thoughts, questions and reasonings in my head, and just being. My body became alive in response to the music and my emotions were unlocked. I knew a joy and openness that was new to me.
As an adult I still find spontaneous free movement to music a religious experience; emotions and reactions come from deep within me and not through conscious thought. To dance in this way with others – meeting and sharing without words but with open receptiveness – is an uplifting experience.
Jennifer Fishpool, 1991
I feel that the creation of poetry is not unlike the upsurging of words in a Quaker meeting. First, heart and mind must be prepared – and the emotional and mental preparation for art is something which few non-artists realise. Then there is the waiting, perhaps for months, because poetry cannot be forced: it is an act of imagination, not of will … and then at last comes the moment of certainty, accompanied usually by some physical action, and the words begin to flow.
Clive Sansom, 1965
It is in the workshop and at the bench that an insight into the soul of wood craftsmanship can be truly gained. There are tools, there is the wood – rude planks, ungarnished, their surface scored with the saw. Between them, and without which each is useless, must come the soul and spirit of the designer and craftsman; the deft hands prompted by an alert mind; the knowledge attained only through years of study and service; the creative instinct and ability that will, by the correct use of the tools, transform the mere plank into a thing of usefulness and beauty – possibly a joy for ever… It was at the lathe, when a youth, that I first realised the charm of line, the contour that flows continuously on, diminishing and enlarging, though separated by ornamental members… Those who have studied woodcraft for half a century find themselves still learning and quite unable to pack all their knowledge into a nutshell for the convenience of a beginner. The training is not that of the university; it is, however, quite as exacting in its own way and so merits equal recognition and respect, and it is encouraging to note that this idea is slowly gaining ground. The woodworkers of a century ago added to their carpentry the dignity of craft; this is why the examples of their handiwork that remain are treasured. Let it not be assumed that it is merely because such work is old that it is appreciated so highly. Even a slight study will reveal the artist mind that prompted the hands, the perception that had grasped the principles of design, the certain knowledge in its decisive finish. There is the secret of its permanent inspiration, its power to soothe and charm.
Walter Rose, 1938
Today Science is rediscovering the creative mystery of the universe. The old self-assurance is largely gone. Within the first quarter of the twentieth century a revolution has taken place. The laws of mechanics no longer explain all things. The intellect of man has become aware of something strange and unpredictable at the very heart of existence. Matter and radiation have assumed a complexity which was hardly guessed at in the eighteen hundreds. The exploration of the minute structure of matter seems to take us as far into the unknown as does the exploration of the farthest reaches of space.
Howard H Brinton, 1931
If we are getting older it will be harder to acknowledge that we have not been called to spectacular service, that we are unlikely now to make a stir in the world, that our former dreams of doing some great healing work had a great deal of personal ambition in them.
A great many men and women have had to learn this unpalatable lesson – and then have discovered that magnificent opportunities lay all around them. We need not go to the ends of the earth to find them; we need not be young, clever, fit, beautiful, talented, trained, eloquent or very wise. We shall find them among our neighbours as well as among strangers, in our own families as well as in unfamiliar circles – magnificent opportunities to be kind and patient and understanding.
This is a vocation just as truly as some more obviously seen as such – the vocation of ordinary men and women called to continual, unspectacular acts of loving kindness in the ordinary setting of every day. They need no special medical boards before they embark on their service, need no inoculation against anything but indifference and lethargy and perhaps a self-indulgent shyness. How simple it sounds; how difficult it often is; how possible it may become by the grace of God.
Clifford Haigh, 1962
Here is the unfailing attraction of the life in Christ. It is a life which even to old age, is always on the upgrade; there is always something calling for a joyful looking forward; it is a life where, across each revelation of God’s grace as it comes to us is written, in letters of gold, Thou shalt see greater things than these. It gives full scope … to our desire for high adventure. No conceivable life can be so interesting, so stimulating, as that which we live in Christ.
William Littleboy, 1917
We must be confident that there is still more ‘life’ to be ‘lived’ and yet more heights to be scaled. The tragedy of middle age is that, so often, men and women cease to press ‘towards the goal of their high calling’. They cease learning, cease growing; they give up and resign from life. As wisdom dawns with age, we begin to measure our experiences not by what life gives to us, not by the things withheld from us, but by their power to help us to grow in spiritual wisdom.
Evelyn Sturge, 1949
Those of you who are kept by age or sickness from more active work, who are living retired lives, may in your very separation have the opportunity of liberating power for others. Your prayers and thoughts go out further than you think, and as you wait in patience and in communion with God, you may be made ministers of peace and healing and be kept young in soul.
London Yearly Meeting, 1923
Who is this old woman I have to live with now?
All my previous life I’ve lived with myself,
Not always comfortably I admit,
Still we got along.
You see we shared the same habits, myself and I.
For instance – we both thought and moved fast.
This stranger uses a stick – creeps along,
Drops things, can’t pick them up.
Slow at picking up a point too.
I lose my patience with her.
Myself and I would work, play and sleep at nights
After crammed days. She sits and sits.
Kind people say,
‘I’ll come and see you soon dear’.
‘Isn’t she wonderful’ they say.
I don’t think so. Sometimes I think…
Well, you know what I mean!
(Others think so too,
Otherwise they wouldn’t be so kind to the old thing.)
The worst of it is, it seems I’m stuck with her.
God knows how I’ll manage,
But as he knows, perhaps he’ll see to it.
Katharine Moore, 1983
I am convinced it is a great art to know how to grow old gracefully, and I am determined to practise it… I always thought I should love to grow old, and I find it even more delightful than I thought. It is so delicious to be done with things, and to feel no need any longer to concern myself much about earthly affairs… I am tremendously content to let one activity after another go, and to await quietly and happily the opening of the door at the end of the passage-way, that will let me in to my real abiding place.
Hannah Whitall Smith, 1903
I am glad I was here. Now I am clear, I am fully clear… All is well; the Seed of God reigns over all and over death itself. And though I am weak in body, yet the power of God is over all, and the Seed reigns over all disorderly spirits.
George Fox, shortly before his death, 1691
Testimony concerning Abigail Watson (1684–1752):
About a year before she died, she was sensible her departure drew nigh, for she found no engagement on her mind to travel abroad, as she frequently had done, when of ability, but said, ‘She found her work was done and nothing in her way,’ so was made quite easy and only waited for the salvation of God ‘who’, she said, in a reverent, thankful frame of mind, ‘had been with her all her life long, and now I shall sing, sing, sing.’
National Half-year’s Meeting in Dublin, 1753
I feel, and I wish you to feel for and with me, after the Rock of eternal life and salvation; for as we are established thereon, we shall be in the everlasting unity, which cannot be shaken by all the changes of time, nor interrupted in a never-ending eternity… We cannot approve or disapprove by parts the works of Omnipotence rightly. We must approve the whole and say, Thy will be done in all things… The desire of my heart is the great blessing of time and the consolation of eternity … let self be of no reputation; trust in the Lord, and he will carry thee through all.
Job Scott, shortly before his death, 1793
I longed to be told for sure that we (for I was afraid for myself as well as for those I loved) would not die, not really. What I wanted was undeniable proof of the immortality of my personality.
Over the next few years, the fear stayed with me, as the dark side of love. Then my mother died. I felt the expected grief, remorse at my failings as a daughter, anger at illness and waste, and all the many emotions bereavement normally arouses.
But the fear of personal annihilation was met by the knowledge that ‘Death is not the end. Your mother still loves you and you can go on loving her.’ I don’t know how I ‘heard’ those words: there was no vision, no voice, no particular moment or place. I do know that the day after she died, I told my husband what I had ‘heard’.
Anne Hosking, 1980
Saturday morning, making chocolate clusters,
And you with chocolate
All smeared around your rosy mouth,
Looking very comical
Turned to me and said,
‘Will your body
Come back again, Grannie,
After you are dead?’
‘No, not this body,’ I reply,
Putting a cluster
Upon the baking tin between us.
‘But I’ll be around all right,
Hovering somewhere, laughing with you,
Feeling quite near
As Grandpa does with me.’
Your thoughts had very nearly
Moved elsewhere but, satisfied,
‘That’s OK’ you said.
Ruth Fawell, 1976
Death is not an end, but a beginning. It is but an incident in the ‘life of the ages’, which is God’s gift to us now. It is the escape of the spirit from its old limitations and its freeing for a larger and more glorious career. We stand around the grave, and as we take our last, lingering look, too often our thoughts are there; and we return to the desolate home feeling that all that made life lovely has been left behind on the bleak hillside… Yet the spirit now is free, and the unseen angel at our side points upwards from the grave and whispers, ‘He is not here, but is risen’. The dear one returns with us to our home, ready and able, as never before, to comfort, encourage, and beckon us onward.
William Littleboy, 1917
To my dearest Helen, my Brothers and my Friends: why grieve? I grieve not, I promise you. I am more than ready to go. Life should mean achievement, in great things and in small. Without achievement life has neither virtue nor relish; I can achieve nothing more here but, beyond, I believe I shall. I do not fear death… The dying itself may be unpleasant; being dead, that foolish description we use, that must be otherwise. An excellence; a fulfilment. God is purpose, order, power, but, forget it not, love also, else where comes love? Love is the force that drives all else. If life has taught me anything, it is that love is, of all things, eternal. Love is of God, my God, therefore it is eternal and cannot die; here is the greatest comfort in creation. Love straddles the hurdle we call death and I, who have loved you all, I take it with me and its chain will link us to eternity. This is what I would say to you all: ‘I am content’.
Bob Lindsay, 1989
I believe it is of real value to our earthly life to have the next life in mind, because if we shut it out of our thoughts we are starving part of our spiritual nature – we are like children who fail to grow up – none the finer children for that. Not only do we miss much joy in the earthly life if we imagine it to be the whole of our existence, but we arrive on the further shore with no knowledge of the language of the new country where we shall find ourselves unfitted for the larger life of the spirit. George Fox urged Friends to ‘take care of God’s glory’. That is a motto for all spheres known and unknown.
Joan Mary Fry, 1955
If we … have not prepared ourselves in some measure for dying, what have we been doing? To face up to the fact of death gives a fuller awareness of God-given life…
About a dozen years ago I became critically ill and I have a vivid memory of looking down on my self on the bed; doctors and nurses worked on that body, and I felt held in such secureness, joy and contentment, a sense of the utter rightness of things – I was held in the hands of God. The crisis passed and I was filled with wonder at the newness of life…
Soon after, I had radical surgery followed by many months of slow recovery with repeated setbacks and further operations. There were times when truly out of the depths I cried; I had no reserves of strength left, either physical, emotional or spiritual, but I never completely lost the memory of being held and the wonder at being alive. Gradually the wounds healed: old griefs as well as disease and operations…
Can we face up to the fact of death? Can we prepare ourselves in some measure for dying? I feel I have to try and tell you of my experience and the understanding it brought me – however personal and limited. From the closeness to my own dying, I know God is. Death is not a negation of life but complements it: however terrible the actual dying, life and death are both parts of the whole and that wholeness is in God. I still fight the conventional words of ‘resurrection and life everlasting’ but I know that after Jesus died the overwhelming certainty of his presence released his disciples from fear. I believe eternal life is in each moment of life, here and now; the real tragedy is not how or when we die but if we do not live the life we are given to our full potential.
Jenifer Faulkner, 1982
Walter Martin (1929–1989) retired from his post as General Secretary of Quaker Peace & Service in 1982 after contracting motor neurone disease. In 1988 he wrote:
Over the last few years I have become very much aware of the supremacy of the spirit over the body in principle, but although I have failed to achieve this idea in practice my real self, namely the spiritual, has been considerably enhanced… Morale and spirits remain high because God has strengthened my faith, for I feel that it is simply the start of a new life. But I do get upset when I think of my relatives and friends who will grieve for me, so pray regularly that God give them the strength to overcome their grief with time.
I have learned that it is best not to concentrate on my troubles but to think about and pray for others… I feel privileged to share in the attitude of the Apostle Paul when he says: ‘In whatsoever condition I find myself therewith to be content.’
Suffering and healing
Pain isolates one. It pervades everything; blackens the sky, pushes other humans away, reduces music and poetry and the outside world to dullness; grinds on and on endlessly.
Some say that Christianity is a morbid religion, over-emphasising a Christ tormented on a cross. I can only say that even as a child I could sometimes comfort myself in pain by remembering his suffering… It was Jesus the man, enduring agonising pain in terrible loneliness, who spoke to my condition and brought me sometimes much needed consolation.
Joan Fitch, 1988
Death hangs a long way off. Do I just wait
And pass my youth through to my greying days
In petty pastimes, and misery for ways
Of life I dare not hope to live? My gait
Is twisted and my speech uncouth. I hate
The pity and the distance set around
By those who see and dare not know, so bound
By other’s expectations. Am I too late
To live; to study how to learn; to try
And fail yet seek another way to give,
To gain myself? In this exchange the dry
Desert of my poverty may flower – live
In ways undreamed – and the pain of fading
Hopes will disappear in life’s rich trading.
Jonathan Griffith, 1977
Bernard Brett (1935–1982) had severe cerebral palsy; he joined Friends in Colchester and worked tirelessly to help others.
At some times I have felt very definitely the guiding hand of God, steering my life in certain directions and this is a very wonderful and rich feeling. Yet at other times, and for quite long periods, I have known the empty loneliness and even despair which comes from depression. Everything seems dry and arid, and friendships which at other times are a source of joy seem empty and meaningless. There are times when God and my personal faith seem to be completely beyond my reach or understanding. These are frightening times, because the work or activities I seek to do have no apparent value or reason. Life seems an endless struggle and the prospect of having to live within the extreme limitations of my disabilities, with the knowledge that with the passing years they will become rather worse than better, is a daunting thought. There are some mornings when I wake up during times of depression when I simply want to cease living.
The old age of William Penn (1644–1718):
His memory was almost quite lost, and the use of his understanding suspended; so that he was not so conversible as formerly; and yet as near the Truth, in the love of it, as before… His mind was in an innocent state, as appeared by his very loving deportment to all that came near him: and that he still had a good sense of Truth was plain, by some very clear sentences he spoke in the Life and Power of Truth, in an evening meeting we had together there; wherein we were greatly comforted; so that I was ready to think this was a sort of sequestration of him from all the concerns of this life which so much oppressed him; not in judgment, but in mercy, that he might have rest, and not be oppressed thereby to the end.
Thomas Story, 1714
I was sixteen – alone in the world in a strange sense – utterly friendless – ill and away from boarding school (where I was not happy, but perhaps happier than at home) for nine months at a stretch…
I had not slept at all for three long weeks. The doctors refused to give me sleeping pills or send me to hospital as I was so young. I pleaded in vain for sleeping pills or hospital, and failing I gathered up my courage to face an intolerable situation quite alone.
I contemplated suicide. Though I did not fear it, I knew, young and disturbed though I was, that it would grieve my adoptive parents terribly, and perhaps some of the girls and staff at my boarding school would be upset…
I thought long and with strange sixteen-year-old maturity. I was no longer a child, though my parents treated me as if I were three, and I had been reading Plato in Greek for about two years.
I decided against suicide. It would be cowardly anyway. I prayed for sleep and health and friends – especially one dear friend. That prayer was absolutely answered beyond my wildest dreams many years later when I was 51. It was worth waiting for. Since I was small I have had the Chinese attitude to time, that time passes imperceptibly and the joys of life are worth waiting for.
Hilary Pimm, 1983
John Woolman (1720–1772) of Mount Holly, New Jersey, restricted his business interests for reasons of conscience; he travelled widely in the ministry especially to urge Friends to give up the ownership of slaves. His journal (see especially 2.57, 13.25, 20.46 & 27.02) has become a religious classic.
In a time of sickness with the pleurisy, a little upward of two years and a half ago, I was brought so near the gates of death that I forgot my name. Being then desirous to know who I was, I saw a mass of matter of a dull gloomy colour between the south and the east, and was informed that this mass was human beings in as great misery as they could be, and live, and that I was mixed in with them, and henceforth might not consider myself as a distinct or separate being. In this state I remained several hours. I then heard a soft, melodious voice, more pure and harmonious than any voice I had heard with my ears before; and I believed it was the voice of an angel who spake to other angels. The words were John Woolman is dead. I soon remembered that I was once John Woolman and being assured that I was alive in the body, I greatly wondered what that heavenly voice could mean. I believed beyond doubting that it was the voice of an holy angel, but as yet it was a mystery to me.
I was then carried in spirit to the mines where poor oppressed people were digging rich treasures for those called Christians, and heard them blaspheme the name of Christ, at which I was grieved for His Name to me was precious. Then I was informed that these heathens were told that those who oppressed them were the followers of Christ, and they said amongst themselves, ‘If Christ directed them to use us in this sort, then Christ is a cruel tyrant’.
All this time the song of the angel remained a mystery; and in the morning my dear wife and some others coming to my bedside, I asked them if they knew who I was, and they telling me I was John Woolman, thought I was only light-headed, for I told them not what the angel said, nor was I disposed to talk much to anyone, but was very desirous to get so deep that I might understand this mystery.
My tongue was often so dry that I could not speak till I had moved it about and gathered some moisture, and as I lay still for a time, at length I felt divine power prepare my mouth that I could speak, and then said, ‘I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, is by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ Then the mystery was opened, and I perceived there was joy in heaven over a sinner who had repented, and that that language, John Woolman is dead, meant no more than the death of my own will.
John Woolman, 1772
Art thou in the Darkness? Mind it not, for if thou dost it will fill thee more, but stand still and act not, and wait in patience till Light arises out of Darkness to lead thee. Art thou wounded in conscience? Feed not there, but abide in the Light which leads to Grace and Truth, which teaches to deny, and puts off the weight, and removes the cause, and brings saving health to Light.
Sometimes religion appears to be presented as offering easy cures for pain: have faith and God will mend your hurts; reach out to God and your woundedness will be healed. The Beatitude ‘Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted’ can be interpreted this way too, but the Latin root of the word ‘comfort’ means ‘with strength’ rather than ‘at ease’. The Beatitude is not promising to take away our pain; indeed the inference is that the pain will remain with us. It does promise that God will cherish us and our wound, and help us draw a blessing from our distressed state.
S Jocelyn Burnell, 1989
I was terrified I’d break down.
It didn’t matter.
Rosalind M Baker, 1986
Andrew’s dying was messy. We had to live with increasing weakness and incontinence, with pain, and with the irritations and discomforts of so many infections. We had to fight through it all, still holding hands, still loving.
Such things are hard, but few dyings are easy. Struggling with pain, fighting fear, mourning losses are indeed part of living. These do not make living with AIDS unique…
Let me say now that we have met only love from Friends – yet there are some to whom I have still not told the whole truth about Andrew’s death…
There are times in meetings for worship when I have sat shaking with the call to minister from our experience of living with HIV and AIDS, yet I have held back. I have held back because I have been afraid. Afraid that Friends will not hear my ministry for that word AIDS; afraid I might break the unity of meeting or might break friendships I cherish. I still do not know if these fears are justified, but they are real. Facing AIDS can be a chance to grow in the things of God, but it has also torn lives apart.
I loved Andrew. He died after living with AIDS. These are facts of my life. They are facts of the life of the Religious Society of Friends. In our living and loving and dying I have found much to cherish as well as much that hurts, found growth as well as loss. My hope is that together we can share these things, together hold them in worship, prayer and love.
Iain Law, 1991
We have many devices to protect ourselves from sadness – naturally enough it is a distressing feeling…
And yet sadness … is a very noble feeling if we bear it with dignity and render it into a sacrament. To try to run away from the awareness of the pain of sadness is tantamount to thinking of light without shadow; or love without the anxiety of possible separation; or life without death.
Fortunato Castillo, 1978
Damaris Parker-Rhodes (1918–1986) studied Eastern mysticism and the holistic approach to health; her experience of cancer, of which she died, brought her fresh insights into the Christian symbols with which she had been brought up.
Following the operation all sense of God disappeared, and anyone who came to my bedside (and the love and visiting I received was one of the great treasures of my life) I asked to take my hand and mediate God’s love to me. In fact healing and prayer surrounded me on every hand, although I myself felt cut off in complete inner aridity except when actually held in the inner place by someone taking my hand and praying.
My first experience of healing came when I was very ill for many weeks with lung and respiratory problems and in an extremely physically weak condition. Whilst fighting for each very painful breath I began to think I might not recover and lay in a twilight world of sleep, pain and exhaustion but yet knowing ‘Thy will be done’. It would have been so easy to let life slip at this point, but it was exactly then that I felt a surge of energy go through my body and I knew that it was right for me to be given more time on earth and that I would recover. It felt as if I was being ‘ticked off’ for lacking faith. As that energy passed through me I remembered clearly and strongly a very dear member of my meeting and wondered if she was praying for my recovery. I continued to hold on to her image in my mind and began to feel the strength returning to my body. She later told me she had indeed prayed for me daily and had sometimes been joined by other Friends for intercession. I knew experientially I had been upheld in God’s healing light and power and it is this experience which has made me so convinced of the healing ministry. I know there may be more mundane, matter-of-fact explanations for my recovery but in extremis and in great need I was reaching for far more than the mundane.
Joolz Saunders, 1994
When people ring us up for healing, they often ask, ‘Are you Christians?’ or, ‘Do you believe in Jesus and the God of love?’ We reply that we do believe in these things, and ask them what they believe in. Whatever they say, we can truthfully tell them, ‘Fine! Come for healing. We won’t try to change your beliefs. Healing can only make you a better Anglican, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Atheist or whatever you are.’ (Even better Quakers.)
In addition to its many religious forms, Healing also includes many arts and sciences. There is the art of listening, the art of smiling, the art of empathy, of knowing just what people need, and not rushing in to offer help that is not suitable. Then there is the healing that comes through prayer in its various forms, through the laying on of hands, through music and dance, painting and colour, through communion with and understanding of the world of nature, and through friendship.
Jim Pym, 1990
As we open ourselves to become the channel of God’s healing grace we shall find that healing is given to those who pray as well as to those for whom we are praying.
Jack Dobbs, 1984
See also 2.81
Table of Contents
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