Thought for the Week
Amoment of quiet. A collection of my thoughts. A ragbag stuffed with the past: overfull sometimes, memories spilling out of it and spitting venom at me. Then the silence of the moment begins to absorb them all like old-fashioned blotting paper. There is the sense of others settling and finding their own inner peace, of their quietening as they sit, almost radiating their inner calm.
There is something so very infectious about sitting with others in a Meeting for Worship. That silence is not yours, not theirs – it is something other, something shared and created and, at times, tangible; a bit like a sheet spread over the room with each person holding a corner and helping it to unfurl and open until the whole space is enveloped.
It is in that space, in that quiet, in that stillness, that you are confronted – confronted most by its peace, by its acceptance, by its inclusion of all and of all that is thought or felt, by me, by others, by, one might almost venture, the very universe itself.
The language of Meetings is old and flavoured with words that I often find hard. They are from a mindset and time that is not mine. How could it be? I have been born the other side of massive intellectual divides – the Enlightenment and the continuing revolutions in science. They are sometimes discordant and often jarring. I do not find them in the least bit easy. They are a wrapping that could so easily blind one to what is to be found within; what I find within is peace, a peace that is so meaningful, so giving of succour, so healing.
You may ask why I should go and sit, time after time, in Quaker Meetings? I am a well educated, rational, sceptical and largely atheistic man of some years – enough years to give me white hair – who has never shown any inclination towards taking part in, or tolerance of, organised religion. The answer can be given in one word: peace. That inner and outer peace. That shared peace. That peace that comes in the silence. That peace that speaks so deeply to that which is within. Is it comfortable? No. That peace asks questions. It demands your being and your attention. It asks of you; of who you are and of how you live; of others and how you are with them; of the world and how you add to it.
Are the Meetings full of others who are like-minded? No. Every person has their own way of seeing and of being, of believing or not believing, of speaking and of understanding; and often they are challenging to accept. But that, too, is of the good: to listen fully and deeply to their honestly spoken words; to consider them and to try to come to terms with why they are so moved; why they feel and understand as they do; what it is that has touched them; to take all of that in whilst keeping true to your own inner integrity of feeling, of thought and of belief; that is, indeed, a challenge, but one that makes you grow. To only ever be surrounded by those of like-mind, although comfortable, is not wholly beneficial. If anything it is even ossifying. We need the challenge of others and their way of being to shine light into our own.
An attender at Colchester Meeting.
the Friend, 13 January 2012