Some fruits of spiritual preparation

Tim Gee, Friends World Committee for Consultation

“When the Friends World Committee for Consultation announced that for their next General Secretary they would like me, my first response was joy – how else could I describe the prospect of working for the global community that enables people to know God’s love through the Quaker experience?

After that came a deep gratitude, joined by recognition of the responsibility I’d been entrusted with. I knew that to be ready I would need to prepare spiritually. The goal felt clear – to know an inner expansiveness which could hold the whole global community of Friends within it. I’ve found different methods of spiritual practice valuable: especially journaling, religious reading, focussed prayer and more open ended contemplation, in addition to Meeting for Worship.

By necessity I’ve come to understand lamentation as a form of spiritual practice too, in the light of the interlocking crises facing the world. Part of the lamentation is personal. Many of the extremes the world is seeing now, are more or less what many of us have been trying for years to avert. Why, when there have been ample well researched, costed, implementable proposals put forward to address global heating, inequality and violence have these proposals largely been rejected or ignored?

I’ve long believed that we need more than good ideas communicated well to politicians. Part of the solution comes with public pressure, but we also need something far more profound: a collective, inward change of heart. This is something that can be understood and acted on by a faith community like ours, in a way that secular groups typically can’t.

There is a history that could be told of the crises of the present day which traces how each of these grows from countless moments when people could have chosen to love God and love their neighbour, but instead chose to love money and their own selfish interests. I’m not exaggerating when I say I believe that converting the world to Jesus’s central message, shared by many of the world’s religions – love your neighbour as yourself – will be necessary to liberating humanity from the mess we are in.

A passage by Winifred Lamb in Ireland Yearly Meeting’s Life and Practice asks, “How can we, such a small and insignificant group of people as the Society of Friends help to stem the tide of evil and hate and greed and fear which is so widespread?”. Her answer is – and I agree – to get the right balance in our life between inward and outward, being and doing, faith and practice.

In This We Can Say, Adam Curle recognises that the individual change each of us makes in this shift will likely be as hard to assess as that of a single strand in a rope. Nevertheless, if we act in faith doing the right thing for the right reason then we will be part of the great movement which will address the world’s great problems.

In my preparations I’ve found very apt the words US Quaker scholar C Wess Daniels, who writes of the central goal for those called to serve Quaker community as being to hold a liberatory space, which allows Christ to lead, who will lead communities to work for justice, by resisting those forms of empire which manifest today. I believe that part of holding this space, will involve cultivating love, joy, community and friendship, against the corruptions of the world.

This is, as yet, a set of reflections rather than a plan. One of my colleagues compares working for Friends to being like a taxi driver, who makes sure the vehicle is safe and roadworthy, makes sure to understand and clarify where the passengers want to go, then works out the best route to get there.

It’s an engaging metaphor which as I’ve talked it through with others has grown. How do we make clear that everyone is welcome in the cab, and that if they speak up they will be listened to? What is the role for the taxi driver with suggestions, who as part of the group will also end up where they go? And if different people want to go different places, does the driver facilitate them until they agree, or just drop them off at each of their destinations?

These are questions I carry with me as I start, joined to a confidence that an answer exists. I have felt this all the more joining online programmed, unprogrammed and semi-programmed Quaker worship in different places, delighting in the diversity of worship styles, whilst also being struck by the unity of the different gatherings, especially the extent to which ecology is an enduring theme of ministry.

In this spirit the next World Plenary in 2024 will explore Living the Spirit of Ubuntu: Responding with hope to God’s call to cherish creation – and one another. I’m encouraged by the way early plans for an inclusive “hybrid” online/in person event are shaping up to reflect that theme. These conversations, joined to ideas about celebrating George Fox’s 400th birthday together as part of the event, provide a welcome opportunity to envision life beyond the hardships of the hard years we’ve had, and to work to make that better future a reality.

 

Tim Gee is the General Secretary of Friends World Committee for Consultation. His fourth book “Open for Liberation: an activist reads the Bible” will be published in June

Tim joins FWCC from Amnesty International in the UK. Before Amnesty, Gee worked for Britain Yearly Meeting, Christian Aid, and Friends of the Earth. He is a member of Peckham and Plumstead Common Meeting in South East London, where he serves in an eldership role.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Adrian Glamorgan

    Thank you, Tim, for noting the importance of lamentation. It is often an underestimated spiritual practice. I can share a Quaker example when our Australia Yearly Meeting Quaker Earthcare Committee explored one landscape (the Swan/Avon River in Western Australia), and confronted the reality of environmental loss happening all around us. It’s easy to skip over the destruction – but that is a kind of business-as-usual numbness that has got us collectively into the climate emergency and species extinction.
    Lamentation – the experience of pain at the suffering of the planet – needed to be attended to. We held that pain, as our committee drove in one (hybrid) car up to Walyunga National Park just outside of Perth. And we gave that lamentation a soundtrack – Gorecki’s symphony number 3, (the Yvonne Kenny/Takuo Yuasa version). With the haunting notes parading the destruction of what is most wonderful in humanity, we glided along the eucalyptus forest road knowing that this beauty too will pass, well before its ecological time.
    Why lament? Because it connects with the soul, and our distance from the path that the Divine has asked of us. Such a distance. Such destruction. All of our own making, our thousands of choices each day. A lot of European music doesn’t fit into the Australian landscape. But on that day the AYM Committee lamented to Henryk Górecki’s threnody. I encourage Friends to use that symphony as an aid to connecting to the majesty and tragedy of lament.
    Lamentation is not the end point. It is a cleansing process. It steps into all that is asunder, and cleans the wounds, staring at them. It catalyses, galvanises, prepares us, for the next steps. We have acknowledged the waywardness in us, and have begun to answer the most significant call in our lives.
    The heart of lamentation is the spiritual experience. As Friends committed to the Truth of the spiritual journey, our quietness has room for the grief of our times, and where it can lead us.

    Reply

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