Welcome to the Ipswich Quaker Newsletter for March 2016. We have lots of news and articles this month.
Each newsletter we thought that we would also include a quote from Quaker Faith and Practice or from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
This month we are looking at different ways in which Friends “centre down” or get themselves prepared for Meeting for Worship.
1. Richard Stewart
At the start of most Meetings for Worship I ‘centre down’ by thinking about one of Jesus’ parables, miracles or teachings. Sometimes I will read the account in the small Bible I always bring with me. I try to examine the one I have selected from as many angles as possible- for example the Sanhedrin council when the temple was cleared of moneylenders, the innkeeper in the Good Samaritan and the elder brother in the Prodigal Son. Sometimes I also reflect on why a miracle occurred, the most challenging being changing the water into wine during the wedding at Cana. This can of course have any number of symbolic reasons but I think it was just because Jesus enjoyed his food and drink and didn’t want to disappoint the guests.
Invariably I will drop this examination if Ministry occurs and reflect upon what is said-which is why I get irritated if there is follow-up Ministry too quickly, as it doesn’t give enough time for me to judge if it ‘speaks to my condition’.
2. Andrew Sterling
Meeting for Worship engenders, for me, a unique altered state of mind. Indeed it is one of a number of reasons I attend Meeting for Worship.
It’s not a state of semi-sleep or daydreaming; these occur spontaneously. Being ‘in Worship’ is intentional.
I have found that it occurs when, having sat down, I relax tensions in my body and place my hands on my legs. A change begins to happen instantly. I find this quite magical, and I use this effect whenever I am elsewhere with time on my hands, having to wait for someone for instance.
But what is so special about it is a sense of clarity, of awareness of the room, of others, of sounds – even what might be thought of as intrusive ones (such passing motorbikes or police, or birds singing, or coughing). Yet they are not disturbing. Instead they are just part of what I am experiencing.
During ministry I am more sharply aware than in normal verbal exchange. If, at some point, what is being said speaks very strongly to me, I find I ‘awake’ to take even sharper notice, while the body is still in the same state as before. Afterwards, even if my mind is pondering on what has been said, I find I return to this state of Worship.
When, on the other hand, ministry occurs to me it is as though I’m reaching out from it, not leaving it, and on sitting down I generally find I am returned to the centered down state.
It is really is a unique and valuable experience in my life, and is part of, and depends on, being with Quakers. I don’t have that experience on my own.
However, on some occasions I find it’s just not happening. This frequently is due my coming into Meeting for Worship in the wrong spirit. One should be empty of concerns or of being in an preoccupied state of mind of some sort (including a joyous one!). Then an hour might lead to day dreaming, and/or (dare I say it!) just waiting for the hour to finish.
I first experienced something of this state of mind when attending Meeting for Worship on a regular basis, originally at the Meeting in the Quaker International Centre in Paris back in 1969 (regularity of attendance seems to be an essential ingredient). But it has very much deepened since attending Ipswich Meeting for the last 5 years, the longest I have attended any one Meeting.
3. Mike Medhurst
I would think that there area as many ways of centering down in Meeting for Worship as there are Friends. Here is one of the ways that I find helpful myself when centering down.
I start by allowing my breathing to settle, and go through in my head the words of the Hymn ‘Dear lord and Father of Mankind’. This was a poem by the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier who lived in Massachusetts in the 1800’s.
It is taken from a longer poem ‘The brewing of Soma‘, a drink that the native peoples brewed to help them to contact the divine whilst under the influence of this drink.
Wittier wrote this to show that there was no need to be under the influence of any substance as the voice of the divine was internal, as a still small voice of calm.
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow Thee.
O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!
With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.
I chose a verse, or just sometimes a word, and allow this verse, or word to sink in, allowing the words to flow without hurry, or strain. If other thoughts come into my head, I recognise them, and if they are not right, let them go. Perhaps I go through the words of one verse, and allow the words to really sink in. I think about the sense of the words, what the writer of the words was trying to convey to others, how they felt the spirit working, how then the words flowed, Does some of this speak to me now, for example ?
Looking at verse five, for example, feeling the still dews of quietness, really feeling them, and allowing my striving to cease, allowing that of the spirit to work through me, then all strain and stress of life becomes eased as I further centre down until we find ourselves as one, the individual ceases and we are one. You know when you find it, it all seems to just click into place and then I find the atmosphere right to listen for that still, small voice.
Meeting for worship is never the same twice, it’s a wonderful journey as you never know where it will take you !
4. Steve Adams
I arrive in Meeting as a seed. I join the living circle and settle in a random place. My feet firmly planted I envisage my toes spreading into the earth, my roots securing and grounding. I sense all those around me, I can ‘feel’ their love and prayers giving me strength. My body is the stalk supporting my budding head that opens as a flower, drawing the strength and warmth from above. I open my senses and experience that which is God.
5. John Mann
I guess like most people I have various ways of centering down. Sometimes I have a thought to meditate on, from the Bible, a poem, some other religious writing, Advices and Queries, perhaps something from a ministry in the meeting. This sort of meditation is reflecting on and following a train of thought, although even here I like to bring my thoughts into the presence of the divine and listen for thoughts and ideas, perhaps more than producing my own thoughts and ideas. I feel this is more suitable for an act of worship than simply trying to follow through arguments and reason about a topic.
I do have the sense that I am waiting in the presence of another – that perhaps as a meeting we are all in that presence – and that in silent waiting we might hear her voice, receive some inspiration, be given some divine prompting.
I have recently been reflecting on the gender roles we ascribe to God – Christianity has traditionally been very male-oriented of course, but even within the Bible there are masculine as well as feminine descriptions of God – there is a famous passage in Proverbs where a feminine Wisdom is constantly at the side of the Lord, filled with delight and always in his presence. To recognise the feminine as divine doesn’t replace God with the Goddess but makes both equal. This for me makes worship a more varied experience, being able to engage with the divine in many forms.
This leads to a second form of worship which is visualisation. I find that often – not always – the mind likes to be occupied with some activity, but of course I don’t want to be engaged in the cares and worries of the world, so I find visualising a good way to find a peaceful and fruitful state of mind that is both able to worship and is reflecting to some purpose.
Visualisation is a sort of day-dream. Going into a very relaxed, almost trance like state, in which you imagine yourself perhaps in the countryside, or some relaxed setting. You might explore for a while – walk about and see what is around you. It is important to keep the pace slow – stop and look around, see what is around you, let your mind naturally produce ideas and images, for example you might stop in a field to look at the insects or listen to the birds or feel the warmth of the sun.
As you walk about you might find that you meet someone – perhaps you see an old man sitting under a tree or a woman waiting by a stile – and you may fall into conversation with them – what they say can be very helpful and useful, or just beautiful and poetic. You might think of it as your unconscious talking to you, or perhaps the divine presence appearing as a figure to share some wisdom with you.
Such encounters are things to treasure, jewels to take away from the meeting that can stay with you for many days.
George Fox stated “in the silent waiting upon God thou comest to receive the wisdom from above”. To get into the state of “waiting worship”, Quakers settle down during a meeting for worship and open themselves up to receive some kind of spiritual experience.
“Centering Down” is Quakerspeak for the technique of becoming quiet and still and silent as the Meeting moves into silence”. (http://nffquaker.org/profiles/blogs/centringdown)
To centre down usually involves bringing attention and energies into yourself, balancing them within, to bring yourself into wholeness or a “holy” state. It is a way of connecting to the “source” whatever you consider that to be and whether you consider it is within or without .
Different people have differing techniques on how to centre down. Many years ago, when I was on a different spiritual path, I was taught various methods of spiritual protection. Opening yourself up, whether in Meeting, meditation or to any spiritual world, involves being in contact with other energies and emotions, so it is well to protect yourself from any negativity.
I always approach Meeting with love and positive vibrations. Love is the greatest protection.
I was taught to surround myself with a white light and grounding myself by visualising my feet rooted firmly into the core of the earth. A friend used to comment that she visualised pulling on her brown boots and putting on her white babygro or zipping up her sleeping bag right over her head.
I usually take 3 deep breaths and then relax my whole body. Then I visualise my chakras, firmly connected to my centre channel, with silver and golden light travelling up and down my body through the chakras opening them up; the crown chakra at the top of the head is like a lotus flower. At the end of Meeting, it is necessary to reverse the process ensuring all the chakras are closed down.
If you want anything placed on the blog please let a member of MOP (“Meetings Outreach and Programmes”) know.
The MOP committee consists of
John Mann, Mike Medhurst, Catherine Phillips, Virginia Marshall, Paul Hodgin, Andrew Sterling and Barbara Richardson-Todd
Ipswich Quaker Film Night
We are re-starting our monthly Film Nights in March.
We will be holding them on the last Friday of the month in the Quaker Meeting House library – although location may have to change to the hall depending on numbers – and it will start at 7:00pm. We will view the film and then discuss it afterwards, following the format of the old film nights we used to have. The first night will be 25th March, which will be Easter Friday.
John Mann will be coordinating the Ipswich Quaker Film Night but it will be led by whoever brings the film – John won’t always be there – but Mike Medhurst will be available for technical set up.
Our motto is “everything is spiritual”. If you want to share a film that you feel has merit and that other Quakers would benefit from watching, bring it along and share your passion. It doesn’t have to have a religious theme or be “spiritual” in the traditional sense.
If you want to present a film, let John know and he will arrange slots. If you have a few and aren’t sure which to bring, let him know and he can run a little on-line vote and we can decide that way. If we get too many people volunteering we might run a poll to see which films are most popular, we’ll just see how it goes.
Our film for March 25th is The Story of the Weeping Camel – it is an Oscar nominated film which also won 10 other film awards and received 8 nominations for other awards.
You can watch the trailer here.
There is a Guardian article on the film here.
Here is a review from the IMDB:
There’s a new style of film eking into the film biz called “Narrative Documentary.” What? An oxymoron you tutt-tutt silently as you read.Well, yes and no. It describes a documentary that has been embellished with narrative scenes to ultimately create the arc-drama one finds in a feature film with the intelligence of a documentary.
Narrative documentary is truly an appropriate expression for this wonderfully unique and intriguing little gem, The Story of the Weeping Camel.
As you watch the fairly simple tale of a camel that after a grueling birthing of her albino calf, she decides she’s not interested in the ideas of motherhood and abandons the newborn to fend for itself.
Sounds positively dull until you start to watch this young mother and the footage the filmmakers gathered and you are pulled in – mesmerized, “How did the film crew get this?” It feels like a documentary, looks like a documentary but then there’s the story obviously running along side the remarkable footage that you realize is scripted, storyboarded and a team behind the lens have planned. Amazing.
We learnt about “Friendly 8s” at a recent outreach conference. They are home groups of 8 people with discussion around a particular theme or interest. The first of these will be set up by Tess Mann who will be leading a “Friendly 8” group in her home on the third Thursday of every month, starting in March, (18th March). It will be a “care, share and prayer” format but will include shared reading of a book from the New Testament – possibly Mark, Philippians or James. Anyone who is interested please contact Tess. The first meeting will probably just be discussing and agreeing the format and the book to read.
If anyone else would like to set up a Friendly 8 group, please let a member of MOP know and we can help.
We are hoping to set up a children’s Group in the future so if you are aware of anyone with children who would like to come but is unable to do so, perhaps you could let them know of our plans. If you have children or grandchildren between the ages of 4 -16, please see if you can bring them along. If you would like to volunteer to help Virginia with this group please let her know. DBS checks will need to be carried out. It will be a monthly group and more details to follow. Watch this space.
From the editors
In order to make some monthly newsletters reflect a particular theme, we may sometimes delay publishing submitted material until all the relevant contributions have been received.