Wilma Davidson, Canberra Regional Meeting
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender oneself to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. It destroys one’s own capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of one’s own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes the work fruitful. Thomas Merton
For some of us it’s easier to do than to be and to give rather than to receive. It has been my aim for many years to embrace these gifts and, like aiming for perfection, I know it will never be reached. The learning is in the journey.
Long before I was a Quaker I practiced Vipassana meditation, attending regular ten- and twenty-day courses, one-day courses and local group sits. This I think is where I was first challenged to be rather than do. I would happily offer service caring for other meditators, and through the deep work during a ten-day course, realised I was there to be, to reach deeply into equanimity and peace. And be waited on!
As women we are conditioned to care for – partners, children, and eventually our parents – and many of us find it difficult to be the caree.
It was a simple remark from a Friend that helped me realise the challenge for me of receiving. I had done something for this friend and she said “thank you”. I then began my usual speech about how it was nothing/I was doing something similar anyway/it was a pleasure. My Friend said “I said ‘thank you’”. And walked away. I now thank the Spirit for alerting for me, through this dear friend, how difficult it was for me to receive thanks.
Since that moment I have been aware of many others for whom receiving is a challenge, particularly in my role as clinical supervisor to councillors and advocates.
Now being is integral to my spirit practice and to my everyday way of life. The first Quaker retreat I attended was in Galong, a beautiful convent with a labyrinth. After the six days we stopped. I was just getting into a deep space with the Spirit and we stopped. This was the shortest retreat I attended since practicing Vipassana meditation. I spoke to the Spiritual Director about this dilemma and he asked how long did I think I needed. Quaker worship and Quaker mysticism was so new to me then, I said I thought about a month, and happy to be alone with his guidance.
He found The Cliffs Retreat in Shoreham on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, a retreat centre run by Father Brian Gallagher, a member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. The centre had two little Hermitages with all the facilities needed to be alone with the Spirit. Brian was happy to have me there.
I have now completed my ninth visit to Shoreham. I attended for a month a few times, and then six weeks, and now attend for eight weeks. Unlike Vipassana, I do read and write – and paint and sew and other creative activities. I am in worship four or five times a day – though my spiritual director reminded me about stitching ministry and painting ministry and walking ministry and suggested when I shop – necessary after four weeks when I’m there for eight weeks – I “take the silence with me”. And I do!
And I am blessed with the ability to be constantly present. Father Bede Griffith tells us:
The Supreme is present among us and we must be aware that every moment and in every place, we are in the presence of that divine mystery. (Shirley Du Boulay, Beyond the Darkness: a biography of Bede Griffith, p. 171.)
Spiritual direction is integral to this practice. We meet by face time or Zoom and after sharing my experiences, come away with homework that leads me further along the path.
Alone in silence there are two practices that have always gone with me. I go with no plans, a bare page ready for the guidance of the Spirit – a very different practice for me the consummate planner, yet not at all difficult. And I do only one thing at a time – alas except that I eat and read, though I am working on this!
I am often given to worship on a theme. To quote Mary Kay Rehard (Bringing God Home Pendle Hill Pamphlet 362):
God meets us when we settle on a text and rest in it, grow familiar, and live with it for a time. We begin to pray with a text when we refrain from analysing it, simply reflecting on it in our hearts and looking for others with whom to share and discuss its meaning for our lives (p. 11).
For the past two or three years much of my worship holds:
My being is a vast mystical presence (Drew Lawson Mystical Meadows, p. 147)
which also comes with me to worship when I’m home.
My reading is vast and varied, though certain writers seem to join me often – Evelyn Underwood, J Brent Bill, John O’Donohue, Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver to name a few. Each visit also introduces me to new writers. This year they included Wendell Berry, Trebbe Johnson, Elise Boulding and Sue Monk Kidd.
Reading John O’Donahue’s Devine Beauty led me to a new practice that has continued. His work encouraged me to look closely at colour – to gaze is how Trebbe Johnson describes it – and I sat on a rock at the beach and counted the many blues in the sea and the wonder of it. Now my beach walking ministry includes a time of worship on this rock, or another rock on the other beach in walking distance to me. Mary Oliver tells us:
Nature and art are in this way twins: they are both beautiful, and dreadful, and in love with change. (Winter Hours) and I would add Spirit led.
I have a special chair where I sit to worship and be quiet and look out to the bush and the sea, and since beginning this practice, at 10.00 am on Sundays, I “attend” Canberra Meeting for Worship.
At home I attend several on-line MFW, and last year included these in my time at Shoreham. This was such a gift! Being alone yet together in silence in worship with Friends, and this year often in a truly gathered meeting.
I come away with many gifts and clear direction. This year (a) I named at least one daily gift with in my hermitage, and brought home with me thanks and gratitude to all of you who have given to me physically, emotionally, spiritually. (b) I became aware of so much beauty, even in damaged places, and (c) the importance of time for rest:
Time is where it wants to be
My friend, there for me
Making no demands
The peppermint tea and crochet time
Stretches to Jack*
Neck massage and ball throwing time
And the Spirit, a constant companion of time
Smiles and knows
After ball throwing it will be our time
Alone, in the worship chair
The Spirit surrounding me in
17 February 2019
*This year was slightly different as I cared for the resident kelpie Jack, while Brian was on Sabbatical.
And then home. This year it has taken me longer to settle into meetings and emails and other “doings” and social events. At home I do have a silent day – don’t try to contact me on Tuesdays. Friends, I am uncontactable. I know every year I feel closer to a more contemplative lifestyle. I question if my worship and holding, as I am led to do these days rather than physical works, is useful, and I am blessed with many friends who ensure me this is the case.
I am indeed blessed.