Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Quaker meeting

Nine people gathered in a nondescript room, seated in pale, rigid chairs, the sounds of bird song in the garden beyond the window compete with the differentiated noises of shuffling, shifting, breathing folk.

We are entering silence, separately and together, in an act of worship fashioned over three hundred years since its inception by George Fox. Over the next hour, there will be only one break in this silence (or, more accurately, insertion into it) when a member reads from Quaker Advice and Queries a short passage about the nature of the meeting and how offerings of speech are to be given and received. 

An hour is a long time. The mind wanders to and fro - deepening in reflection, lying distracted in the shallows, glimpsingly stilled into a silence that feels both collective and a presence.

In my occasional attendance at meeting I have never been tempted to witness, give any intuition of mine a form in speech; but, the reading today reminded me that this may be my own false humility. You must not consider your self worthless - no one can if in each and every one there is that which is of God. Keeping your counsel may be an inverted pride that is a misplaced abasement.

It is this hallowing of the person that is one of the virtues of the Friends - early champions of equality - that has had influence beyond their number. It is hard to imagine such influence in the nondescript room of nine but if as Pascal claimed the world's problems originated from people's inability to sit quietly in their own room, the Quakers have begun on a solution, and from that ability to be with silence has emerged a continuing witness towards a justice grounded in each person's inalienable value.

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