My worship story
I discovered the idea of God in suburbia when I was nine years old, on my way to school. I waited for my friend under an ornamental street tree, a prunus which had broken out in pink flowers. The blossoms cut out the crisp blue sky above and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it.
My next memorable experience of knowing God was with the school bush walking club. We walked to Waterloo Bay in Wilson’s Prom. At the end of a day we climbed over a sand dune and saw the curl of white beach, the turquoise breakers rolling in. I was stunned. Here was an untouched world. It changed me forever and I was never able to explain to anyone in my family what that experience had meant.
Other important formation experience was reading, repeatedly, Heidi. It was one of the first books I read independently and here is where I learned of the idea of the “still small voice” within, guiding actions. I also absorbed from that book that lying was particularly wrong. I remember feeling obsessively guilty because I had told a girl that I could make the culinary spice, pepper, from the peppers on the big pepper tree in the school playground. In fact I could do no such thing. Integrity: my first Quaker value.
Other reading that introduced me to Quakerism were The Lark in the Morn by Elfrida Vipont and The Witch at Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spears. Both books depicted Quakers acting with courage, living adventurously.
Peace was my second Quaker value. I was led to my first Quaker Meeting was some years later. I was 18 in 1970. I had noticed the “Quakers for Peace” banners at anti-Vietnam war protests. My devoutly Methodist grandparents, the only family religious influence in my childhood, had discussed leaving the Methodist Church and worshipping with the Quakers. My grandfather, editor of their local church newsletter, was accused of being a Communist because of his anti-war stance. My grandmother who I loved dearly, never said about her Quaker ancestry. I had to find out about that later. I went to the North Adelaide Meeting House, not knowing that my ancestors had donated money towards its building,
There was comfort in the silence. It was a blank page which you could stare at.
To sit down in silence could at least pledge me to nothing; it might open to me, as it did that morning, the very gate of heaven. Caroline Stephen, 1890.
That meeting in North Adelaide held that promise. Sadly, I didn’t stay. There had been no other young people. Had I stayed, my life would have unfolded completely differently and I struggle with regrets of what might have been.
Some time in my twenties I started to attend a 12 Step program where I learned ideas like “Let go. Let God.” This has been a continued framework for my spiritual growth. I keep coming back to the Steps and that community, searching for a “Power greater than myself” and trying to define it. It is an anonymous fellowship so it is impossible to know how many Friends share this background in the 12 Steps. I was so thrilled to learn that Enid Robertson,(a distant cousin by marriage), was a life-long member of Al Anon but I wished I had known before she died so I could have had a conversation about that. Sometimes words echo 12 Step language in ministry at Yearly Meeting, leaving me curious.
I came back to Quakers in rural Tasmania in the late eighties. In 1993 I became a member. That was because I got a teaching job a long way away from any Quaker meeting and wanted to belong to the Society and be held by Friends as I launched into this new life as a single mum with my twin boys. My third Quaker value: community.
It was a difficult time in my life. I would sit in the silence and weep. Deep healing took place in that silence. Pools of grief for the mess I felt I had made of my life welled up in me and overflowed. I grew to know the understanding, soothing love of God. I cried in Meeting for years.
Connection to earth, to beauty in nature is one strong enduring theme of my spiritual journey. Engagement with the World has been another. I have always been “political”: women’s Liberation, the Anti-nuclear movement, saving the forests. This comes together today in Green politics.
The two communities, the Quaker Community and the Green community have run as parallel lines over thirty years, each feeding the other and strengthening both. There have been civil disobedient actions, two arrests, standing for State Parliament, being convenor of the local Green branch, employment as a campaign organiser for elections and on-going attendance at branch meetings and fundraising. Quakerism gives me sustenance to keep going in a conservative electorate where hate and fear are manifested. The Greens give me hope and an outlet for my rage and need to take action. The Greens social justice plank corresponds with the Quaker value of Equality. Simplicity is reflected in a Green anti-consumerist life style, with an eye to my ecological foot print.
Growing our Quaker Meeting in north-west Tasmania has always been central to my spiritual journey. It started with one Friend meeting once a month in Deloraine Community House. I joined him. Then Joyce Hudson arrived from WA. We grew and then we shrank. We moved to Devonport. We started meeting every week. There would be years of very small meetings then there would be times when I wondered if we would need to move to a bigger room. Going regularly to Meeting for Worship is a key to my spirituality and committing to weekly attendance was a break through.
Birthright Friends are careless about their Quaker ancestry. They are all related to one another and think nothing of it. But for me, a Friend by Convincement, discovering my Quaker ancestry and my distant relationships with the the Hodgkins and the Ashbys, has been astounding and wonderful. This year I have done lots of fascinating research on TROVE to discover more about my Quaker ancestor, John Godlee, who migrated to Australia in 1838 from Lewes Meeting, Sussex. Imagine my delight to learn of his on-going progressive politics and in particular his leading role in the Eight Hour Day Movement.
In recent years I have learned to meditate daily. I rejoice in the support of my iPhone and am a paid up member of Headspace, doing the supported meditations every day. This has been a huge help in coming to acceptance and even gratitude for the lessons offered by living as I do with a chronically ill husband, allowing me to let go, sometimes gracefully, of resentments, learning to love and accept him and myself in this phase of life.
It has been a gift to become the co-convenor of the Friends in Stitches project. It has broadened my Quaker world across Bass Strait. Stitching is meditative and to create something beautiful, lasting and important is so satisfying. Being given the unexpected opportunity to be a leader in this project has opened me to so much. This experience justifies my life slogan of “Let go. Let God”. It wasn’t what I had in mind and I was astounded to be nominated but I trust the spirit and give it a go, is spite of initial reservations.
I never know what is in store for me and that’s exciting. Live today and try to find gratitude and presence in the moment. Sometimes “living adventurously” is not what you think: it can happen by staying in one place, a small rural northwest Tasmanian village.