Chris Warner, Victoria Regional Meeting

Chris WarnerI am told that during blizzards in very cold climates, visibility can be so reduced that the snow-filled sky cannot be discerned from the snow-covered earth. The whole world turns white, the horizon disappears, and it is impossible to make out anything further than a few inches in front of your eyes. In such white-outs it is very easy to lose your bearings, become lost, and even perish. To avoid such a fate, farmers in cold climates stretch good strong ropes between their houses and their barns to act as guides, something solidly anchored that they can hold onto as they try to make their way through the blizzard and do what must still be done.

Modern life can sometimes seem like a blizzard. Of information, emotion, opinion, obfuscation, confusion, conflict, fear. All coming faster and faster, through more and more media, for more and more hours of the day. In such a 24/7 white-out it can be easy to lose your bearings, become lost, and perhaps even perish. For me, the good strong rope that acts as a guide through the blizzard of modern life is Quakers.

Like all fine hawsers, the strength of the 350-year-old Quaker rope lies in the intertwining of a myriad of individual yarns into three strands, with these strands then further intertwined to make up the overall rope. Many of the yarns that make up what I call the experiential strand of Meeting For Worship, the ethical strand of the Testimonies, and the procedural strand of how we conduct Quaker business are solidly anchored in the time of George Fox, and the beliefs and practices of the company of seekers around him. Other yarns have been added since, just as solidly anchored to more modern understandings of ourselves and our world.

But some yarns that make up the Quaker rope are anchored far further back in human experience than seventeenth century England. They stretch back through that vast body of human spiritual endeavour that seems to have needed to manifest itself across all times, places and belief systems, right back to those first hominids who looked up from the darkness of their caves and wondered at the yearning they felt as they surveyed the night sky. These yarns are not Quakers’ alone. They are shared by all humans, and make up many different spiritual strands and ropes. There is that of God in everyone.

However the particular configuration of the Quaker rope speaks strongly to many of us. Anchored at a variety of points in human history, stretching into that great unknown that has called to all humans in all times in some way, the various yarns and strands of the Quaker rope combine to give us something particular we can hold on to as we try to make our way through the blizzard of modern life and do what must still be done. For with one hand on the Quaker rope it is not only possible to maintain our bearings, but also possible to reach out into the blizzard. Perhaps to brush the hand of someone alone and lost out there. Perhaps to keep a Friend working far out in the storm connected to the source of their strength and courage. Or perhaps to just bear witness to the importance of a good strong rope in a time of blizzards.

To let go of the rope is to chance it on our own. Sometimes we let go for a time, only to find the rope again. Sometimes not. Sometimes we find another rope, one that shares some of the same yarns as the Quaker rope but is anchored in different times and places. For humans have constructed many ropes to guide them through the blizzards of their times, some better-wrought, better-anchored, or more long-lasting than others. But if a rope is to maintain its strength it needs maintenance and upkeep. Worn yarns need to be repaired, replaced, or even discarded. Strands need to be examined for wear and tear. Old splices need to be tested anew. And the integrity of the interweaving of the three strands has to be continuously monitored, lest weakness in any single strand compromises the strength of the overall rope.

Such maintenance is a job for all or us, no matter which yarn or strand we feel most affinity with. All yarns and strands must be cared for and kept in good condition if the strength of the overall Quaker rope is to be maintained. Only then will it remain a good strong rope, still anchored solidly at both ends, and still a guide in the blizzard for those who wish to do what must be done.

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