When I write a personal piece I usually start from the past and work to now. This time I will work
from the present and share how I came to be in this remarkable joyful, loving, challenging fraction of life’s path.
On the dining table is a little book by Ben Pink Dandelion, Celebrating the Quaker Way, a recent gift. It holds much of what I feel and think: ‘I am a Quaker’, says Pink Dandelion, ‘is not an individualistic statement rather a declaration of community.’
I am a Quaker foremost, though I still have a sense of belonging to other communities – for example, the women’s community or the pacifist community or the Animal Rights community. The
Quaker community is now pivotal to my being — not my whole life, but the Quaker way of being is.
At this moment, the most important gift from the Quaker community is acceptance of my need for silence and solitude and yet ensuring an external role in the community, illustrating Parker Palmer’s metaphor of the Möbius strip. He believes that our internal life is balanced by the external life — indeed a Möbius strip — and doing so with love and care.
Although I do have many Friends interstate with whom I feel a loving connection, and though I do enjoy visiting and worshiping at other meetings both in Australia and overseas, my Quaker home is Canberra Regional meeting.
When I was alone in silent retreat recently, I read of an isolated Quaker who ‘chose’ a meeting to attend each Sunday. So, at 10.00 a.m. each Sunday I sat in my favourite chair overlooking the waves and attended Canberra Meeting for Worship. Afterward I felt both renewed and energised.
The structures of our meeting have helped me grow in body, mind and spirit. From my first year I have had a spiritual mentor who listens to my questions and dilemmas and provides me with choices and encouragement.
Another treasured happening for me is our spiritual nurture group. We are four
women who meet monthly to discuss a prearranged topic. The depth of the
sharing between us is truly remarkable. It sounds very serious but I can assure you
that it also includes much laughter and sharing — and wonderful afternoon tea!
Last year, only a few years after becoming a member, I was asked to be Regional Meeting Assistant Clerk. This was truly a surprise. In that year, not only was I on a steep learning curve
but I learned how differently business is conducted if conducted in the Quaker Way. This year I am co-clerk, and still I believe I am very much an apprentice. And apprentice to such worthy teachers. I am indeed blessed.
In this role I am learning about waiting for and listening to the spirit and am still surprised at the success of this process. I find those silent moments before a meeting and at the close of a meeting, any meeting, the time where and when I am taken to a place of discovery and guidance.
I didn’t really plan to be a Quaker. My spiritual journey began at Miller Hall, an evangelical mission in Falkirk, a small industrial town between Glasgow and Edinburgh, where I was born and where I still have family connections — and Miller Hall is still there, tucked away between a pub and a factory, over 50 years later.
I believed I was called to train in early childhood education and work in a children’s home created in the nineteenth century by a William Quarrier and staffed and funded entirely on faith. However, working at Quarrier’s Homes led me from Christianity to Socialism and eventually
feminism and an interest in what was then called new wave spirituality and a search
for a definite path.
I have practised Vipassana meditation, a secular practice based on Theravadan Buddhism, for many years (and still do) and assumed one day my path would lead to Buddhism. I knew many Quakers through the peace movement and was aware of a gentleness and peace — as well as a strong sense of justice and determination — that surrounded them.
When a friend asked me to attend a Meeting for Worship then help her set up for her This is Your Friend presentation, I enjoyed both experiences and was surprised how many people I knew as I walked into the room.
It was some years after that I started attending regularly — I was overseas and in contact with several inspirational women whose faith was more important to them than their church and this impressed me. A little voice said ‘try Quakers’; another little voice stated ‘not Christianity’. I decided to attend regularly on my return to Australia and have hardly missed a Sunday since.
The challenges for me as a Quaker and the learning for me right now is focused on three words:
I think I have trusted quite easily in my life, except when it comes to trusting my own instincts and internal voice. I now recognise that voice as the Spirit/God/Divine, choose your own word, and am learning slowly to trust this voice. This learning is slow and assisted by silence
I am a great doer. Give me a task that interests me and it can be planned in no time and completed a week before the deadline. Meeting for Learning and my wise MFL support group enlightened me to the need for balance between the doing with being, and that not doing was okay.
Once getting over the guilt grounded in and by the Scottish Protestant Work Ethic, being has at times brought such joy, and is another practice assisted by silence and solitude.
I am not good at waiting. I never go to an appointment or an airport without a book, crochet or notepad (back to doing again). Last year I recognised the calmness of Friends who could wait — to resolve an issue the Quaker way, waiting for the Spirit to provide the sense of the meeting, accepting that some people need more time than others to respond — and I realised this was yet another exciting challenge from the Spirit. The first gift was recognising it, realising my difficulty with having to wait.
Now I see it raise its head and I can smile. However I’m very much still rising to the challenge.
My biggest struggle within Quakers is around Animal Rights. I do believe there will be a shift in thinking about the equality and peace testimonies in relation to animals and animal products though it may be in the future I am being with the Spirit while I am struggling, and am
aware most importantly of the need to wait in love and peace – which is, first and foremost, the Quaker Way.