My experience of personal spiritual practice, Meeting for Worship & the testimonies – the influence of Quaker Basics
It is not easy to separate out the influence of one set of experiences during what has been a time of great change in my life. The best I can do is to reflect on experiences I have had over the past three months and assume that something of that relates to what I have experienced in Quaker Basics.
The Meeting for Learning retreat had a profound influence on me and I see my Quaker Basics (and my support group and other personal and interpersonal stuff) as being a continuation of that.
I went to the retreat with my prime goal being to clarify what I wanted to do with the next phase of my life – when I wanted to move on from paid employment, where I wanted to live, how being me and being a Quaker and being somehow part of a community would fit into that. And I left the retreat not having considered these things. How surprising. It seemed as though there were more immediate things that needed to be dealt with first; the spirituality of my life as it is rather than a consideration of life as it might become.
Entering deeply into the stillness, into the innerness, I encountered a way of being that I sensed could continue to be part of my life whatever the external circumstances of that life might be. A realisation of the sacredness of it all – of the trivial little experiences, of the heavy-duty people in my life as well as those that bring me immediate joy and wonder, of those things which cause me to sigh in exasperation as well as those which make me shriek with delight.
Then there is the God business. Both at the retreat and in QB, there have been ongoing references to God and I have come again to confront what that word means for me. Often as I settle into M for W I will recite over to myself, as a mantra, Be still and know that I am God. Be still, fair enough, but who is the I and what does it mean to be God – and for me to know that? I don’t know. I can’t imagine or experience a person with that name. But it did lead me back to Paul Tillich’s suggestion of ‘the ground and depth of our being’. Perhaps that is a nothing definition, but I can live with it; in fact it suits me very well.
There is the whole question of what it means for me to be a Quaker. I have the sticker about the Quaker web site on my car and I am conscious when driving of the fact that I am constantly saying this is how Quakers drive. But it’s occurred to me recently that I carry a similar (if somewhat less obtrusive) sticker on myself which constantly says this is how Quakers live. Whether we want to or not, we are always letting our lives speak.
The Advices and Queries give us plenty of ideas about that and they have recurred fairly constantly throughout QB. I thought there’s no way I can remember all of them and some of them speak to me more insistently than others, so I made myself a special selection. Kerry’s advices and queries:
Think to know an inner stillness amid the activities of daily life.
Think it possible that you may be mistaken.
Seek to know one another in the things that are eternal.
Let your life speak.
Attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness.
Search out whatever in your own way of life may contain the seeds of war.
Bear witness to the humanity of all people.
Try to live simply.
My increased awareness of the sacredness of things has led to a more respectful acceptance of people I have found difficult, of ministries I might have found off-putting. And I don’t think this is fairy-floss stuff. It doesn’t feel like that.
And without trying or struggling with it, I suddenly saw a way to proceed towards the next bit of my life, including the unlikely resolve to walk the Camino. However illusory it may turn out to be, that doesn’t matter, for now it means clarity and acceptance. And who could ask for more than that?
It bothers me sometimes that I’m not into changing the world. That’s part of our Quaker heritage and perhaps I should be. There’s stuff in QB about the inside and the outside. Though maybe it’s ok for us not all to be outside doing people. I do think, though, that our QB group are Marys rather than Marthas, so perhaps we don’t challenge each other in that regard. But the world mightn’t be such a bad place for us to be like that – living our lives as peaceably as we are able, supporting each other and respecting the earth and its inhabitants. I think that’s ok.