Each month we thought that we would also include a quote from Quaker Faith and Practice or from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream ,
Assigned to you when that dream was born
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Book Review-The Book of Mary by Nicola Slee pub. SPCK 2007
I came to read this book after John Mann read a poem about prayer from one of its chapters. This was at our 2015 carol service. The book’s backbone is a series of chapters with poems and commentary. I must admit to initial concern when the first long poem ‘The Mansion of Mary’ was followed by a long and unnecessary commentary on its meaning-I strongly believe a good poem should ‘stand on its own feet’. However the subsequent content didn’t repeat this format and the poems varied in both style and length, from the traditional forms to the more modern and experimental. Some were about Mary and her subsequent life after the birth of Jesus but others reflected on the modern problems affecting women all over the world. I detected in the poems many strains of Gaelic prayers, blessings and chants plus oblique references to T. S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’. I was also introduced to ‘Queer Theology’ which pushes at the boundaries of traditional and current religious thinking, especially in the unforgettably titled chapter ‘In Praise of Mary’s Hairy Armpits’.
The main purpose of the book was to present Mary, who is almost always defined by ‘the mother of Jesus’ or ‘the Virgin Mary’ as a more rounded, interesting and human character. The poems examine her other appearances in the four gospels and Biblical references go right back to Eve in the garden of Eden. There is one poem ‘ Mary According To The Koran’ and I certainly didn’t realise there was a sculpture by Elizabeth Frink titled ‘The Walking Madonna’ with Mary striding along with hitched up skirts. Even more remarkable was the mention of Max Ernst’s painting of Mary smacking the infant Jesus, which struck a personal chord as I have always declined to sing the two Christmas carol lines :’Christian children all must be/Mild, obedient, good as he’.
There is coverage of Mary’s everyday life such as baking bread and whether she was literate and taught Jesus to read. One poem is ‘Madonna Of The Laundry Basket’ and in ‘A Litany For Illiterate Girls’ there is examination of the many societies around the world which still consider female education to be wasted and unnecessary-get married, obey your husband, have children and do all the domestic jobs. Towards the end of the book Mary says ‘I’m blocking up my ears to your prayers’ and ‘I’m putting an end to centuries of Ave Marias’, that is coming off her Christmas pedestal, or rather seat, on which she has been placed for over two thousand years:’ the submissive, sexless, all-sorrowing Mother, without conflict, anger or indeed voice’. As a final banal addition, there is a poem based entirely on genuine Mary souvenirs, including a sixteen piece fridge magnet set-well, that’s my Christmas presents sorted out.
This was a very challenging book which enormously and positively expanded my image of Mary. The only criticism would be that there was so much reference to artwork, especially in Southwell Minister, but no illustrations in the actual book.
Mary in Art – Southwell Minster Display 2016
Abundant Life, Re-Sourcing our Meetings’ Eldership and Oversight Conference Report
I estimate that there must have been about 60 Overseers and Elders, at the Woodbrooke, conference on 8th – 10th April 2016, from Scotland to Devon – but apparently none from Wales which I found surprising,
I would sum up the aim of the weekend was to uncover, so to speak, the surprising levels of spirituality in people through which a Meeting would resonate more strongly as a Meeting.
This was not about what activities we undertake or about ideas or debates or viewpoints. It was about our revealing in a positive and utterly safe way what we have in us that we can share between us.
And as a result I got to know some people in that short time in a way that I simply don’t just by coming to Meeting and discussion groups. I found planes or levels of being in me and others that I haven’t experienced or been aware of before.
This was achieved by various approaches to subjects of concern, or even, perhaps, controversy, and scenarios in which a groups of us divided up to take part.
In fact, for me the most useful were these specific sessions, all of which I had wished I could have attended, but we had to choose,. I chose, slightly randomly, ‘Newcomers and Regular Attenders’, ‘Frailty and Vulnerability’, ‘Bible Study’, ‘All-age Worship’, but I also had the chance to attend a ‘Know Your Gifts’ session which was quite extraordinary.
I thought I knew my gifts! but it became quickly evident that it was a participatory technique which enabled people to feel and reveal to themselves, and their small group, in a totally safe environment, their real feelings about an activity which they enjoy, however seemingly major or minor It revealed to the speaker just how much passion and concern they have in them. Stunning!
The Meetings for Worship became more and more deep and unhindered, so to speak, and at the last one there was a lot of singing ministry with spontaneous harmonising going on. Quakers can sing! And enjoy doing so. The piano was used at one point, and it became clear to me that music can certainly express the Quaker spirit. That was revealing too. Some people actually got emotional and one even trembled with her singing ministry. A proper Quaker I thought!
We had to answer two questions at the end and pop the answers on post-it notes.
The first question was ‘how might your experience this weekend enhance your sense of abundant life?’ My answer was ‘By discovering how much I am inspired by listening to others’.
I would suggest that some of the techniques introduced to us to help us listen might well be also be introduced to Meetings, and that was my answer to the second question.
I have to say I just didn’t expect anything like that – I thought it was just going to be a ‘how do’ and ‘how to’ technical affair for Overseers and Elders.
It so happened I finally felt strongly prompted to minister at the end of the final Meeting for Worship – saying that I had not just a deep spiritual experience, but a deeply religious one, for which I am deeply grateful. I was somewhat surprised when I came out with that.
Comments received following last month’s article on After-words
Mike M: I feel that we do have ‘after-words’ during tea and coffee after meeting. Although it worked at Needham, ( where I was before), it was a very small meeting and it just seemed to work there. This is a larger meeting, and I feel may lead into discussion, which is better had over tea and coffee.
Eric: On Afterwords.. I’m agin it! Maybe cos I’m getting old, but once MfW has closed, I get very impatient if notices sand discussion goes on too long. I’m anxious to go and get my tea and biscuit. But it may also be because not hearing well, I often don’t follow what is being said. So possibly my objection should be forgotten about.
Andrew: Re After-word. It’s not for me. I’ve experienced After-word a couple of times elsewhere and it isn’t necessarily successful. There’s a kind of stilted moment when people wait for someone to say something. Someone, an Elder in those cases, has to take the lead in order to get it going! It’s not the same spirit as in Worship and it easily turns into a discussion – and I suggest people want their tea! And I like the spontaneity of chat that happens while and after clearing the chairs which I find joyful.
Helena: And “After-word”. I feel much as Andrew does. It seems that when we have valuable or necessary things to say, we simply stand up and say them after the notices. Is there any need to formalise this? I don’t think our way goes against “Right Ordering” but should be glad to hear from other Elders if they disagree.
Barbara: Although not formalised, I tend to agree that we do actually have After-words in our Meeting, as anybody can, and often does, get up and say a few words. We just don’t call it anything!
Richard: Perhaps the fact that all comments so far have been against the idea is indicative of the Meeting’s feelings. An Elder did mention this idea about a year ago and it received very little response and wasn’t adopted or, if I remember correctly, even discussed at a Business Meeting. We already have a discussion group on Sunday mornings, then silent worship and ministry, then informal discussion in the Meeting Room afterwards then discussion in the Collinson room- isn’t that enough?