Jenny Spinks, Canberra Regional Meeting
A core purpose for the Society of Friends: supporting our true selves and nurturing the place from which leadings flow
Since giving the Backhouse Lecture in Jan 2007
When I was asked to write the Backhouse Lecture it was suggested that I write about simplicity and care of the environment. What came to me was a little different from that. I had a leading to explore how we nurture what motivates us to act so that our lives are simple, and the environment and all humans are cared for. I was trying to answer the question “What is it that helps us to be open to the promptings of love and truth in our hearts?” So the title was Support for our True Selves Nurturing the Space where Leadings Flow. To live simply and care for the environment we need to have conviction, an openness of heart, hope, faith and courage. My experience is that I can’t do it alone. My head may be able to think about what needs to happen but my body, heart and soul cannot live with integrity unless I know that the unique human being that is Jenny Spinks is loved, that I belong, that I have an important contribution to make. I need to be connected to that of God in me. It is this experience that helps me to stay whole and enables me to remember not only that I want to but that I can walk in the Light – I can live simply and care for the environment.
Receiving Spiritual Nurture
I have received spiritual nurture from many Friends over the years. The Backhouse Lecture tells of my spiritual Friendship with Joan Mobey. Katherine Purnell has also been there with her own diverse styles of nurture at important moments in my life. She reached out to us when we first settled in NSW, clearly appreciating us and how we live our lives. When my spasm/dystonia first started and there was no diagnosis I was lost and scared and sensed a need for a spiritual retreat. I asked Katherine where Friends go when they need a retreat. In response she and, her then partner, Glynne Jones gave me gentle nurture in their home for 2 weeks.
At Yearly Meeting a few years later I attended a summer school run by Katherine on the Spiritual Basis of the Peace Testimony. During that summer school she led our group in the experience and practice of clearness meetings. I benefited by reaching clarity on a leading I was sensing to go to Woodbrooke College in the UK to study the Simplicity Testimony.
Later, after my leading had evolved into a sense to travel in the ministry under a concern for the testimony, Canberra Regional Meeting invited me to a meeting to decide whether or not the Meeting should adopt the concern. When I was reluctant to attend, Katherine gently and persistently encouraged me to go. The Meeting was right – it was not my concern it was all of ours–- the Spirit was moving all of us. This reduced the chance of me feeling isolated, and increased the level of humility that I brought to the ministry.
More recently Katherine has kept an interested and appreciative eye on the Bega Eco Neighbourhood Development project we have been involved in. And on one of her visits with us she witnessed Chris and I trying to discern together our next steps as the carers of his aging mother. It was a time when we each had a sense of grief, failure and guilt. Her response was to express her delight in our capacity as human beings to share lovingly together and to make wise choices.
I am very grateful for the grace of God in Katherine that has led her to help me connect with that of God in me. Her nurture has assisted me to discern the right way forward in acting powerfully in the world.
A core purpose of our Religious Society
Each human is given the sense of being loved – of being a precious part of a greater whole – in different ways. And my belief is that the core purpose of the Religious Society of Friends is to provide spaces that support us to help each other with this. Our purpose is to provide opportunities for connection with that of God within ourselves and within each other.
In the years since I wrote the lecture there is one part that I have been led to draw Friends’ attention to: In Australia the Society of Friends is very small. It makes no sense to expect our organisation to do much more than the work of supporting individuals to live lives that flow with the Spirit of creation. It is a big job to support us all to walk in the Light, to live in the presence of God, to live a life under the guidance of the Spirit. It is unrealistic to expect much more than that from our corporate body. As individuals we can support well-founded aid organisations, peace groups, groups who support asylum seekers and refugees, and groups who are working to promote and protect the environment. As an organisation we can do the work that is almost unique to us: the work of nurturing the space where leadings flow.
We need the confidence that comes with practice to discern our own leadings and, with others, our corporate leadings. I wonder if, over many decades, our Quaker skills and experience of nurturing the Spirit in each of us and of discerning the leadings of the Spirit have been gradually receding. In the last few years I have sensed a response to this within our Society – it seems that the Spirit is nudging us as a group to hold spaces for spiritual nurture. I see more of this reported in Regional Meeting newsletters and in the Silver Wattle program.
Individual discernment more than corporate responsibilities
Increasingly I am imagining an Australian Society of Friends that doesn’t have the responsibilities of corporate property ownership or of managing committees that make a corporate response to our peace, environmental, international service, social justice concerns. Individual Quakers would take their leadings out into the world. Groups of Friends with similar concerns would work together in larger non-Quaker organisations, sharing our Quaker witness. This would also create opportunities for outreach. As a Religious Society, in my dream, we would come together to do what is peculiar to Friends. We would listen together for the guidance of the Spirit in our individual lives and in our Quaker meetings.
I wonder how many Quaker and non-Quaker activists yearn for an accepting and loving home where their true selves are listened into being and their gifts are treasured. A home where their urgency and discouragement are lovingly challenged, and they have a regular rest from the work of activism? In my dream we would have more time and space to connect with fellow seekers and help one another up with a tender hand. We would be part of Meetings where sometimes our cup is filled and runneth over. Having been in a space where we are supported to discern where we are being led, we would go out into the world strengthened and empowered to live adventurously.