Thursday, 26 July 2018

In turbulent times … take heed

Two bits of ‘accidental ministry’ recently. As about 30 of us sat in silent Quaker worship at the gates of Faslane last month, a shout came from a passing vehicle: “Wake Up!”. Whilst it was obviously meant in jest, and it could indeed have looked as though a number of us were asleep, it seemed a helpful message. We need to be alert, to take heed, to what is around us, to our own promptings. What was around us at that particular time was, on one side of the road a beautiful Scottish hillside. On the other, the fortifications and structures to protect the UK’s weapons of mass destruction. Most people in Scotland are very awake to this already. If we wake up in our own situations and circumstances, wake up to the promptings of the spirit, what are we led to do? 

Part of the answer came in a second short Meeting for Worship. Friends were gathered at Manchester Meeting House, before moving to be a Quaker presence in the nearby demonstration against the visit of the US president. In another part of the Meeting House music exams were taking place. As we settled into silence, a small child’s voice sang the song from the musical Oliver, ‘Where is Love?’.  In the midst of the turbulence, with our eyes open to the challenges and needs, we need to open our hearts and minds to that question… where is love in our responses and in our actions?

The anti-Trump demonstration was not an entirely comfortable place to be; there was the inevitable very personal, sometimes puerile, selection of placards and comments from speakers. But there was a strong sense that many there were motivated by a sense of wanting to affirm actions of justice and compassion, of being in solidarity with those affected by policies of the US and our own government.  Some years ago, NFPB published a pamphlet with the text of a talk from Kathy Galloway of the Iona Community, entitled, ‘Solidarity, Another Name for Love’. In it, she acknowledges that “we cannot even approach solidarity with the whole world. But we can begin to act in solidarity with one or two situations or people on behalf of the whole world.” and that she finds “solidarity a helpful word to describe what it means to love corporately, to love the neighbour I do not know.”

Last year’s Quaker Week posters carried the strapline ‘In turbulent times, be a Quaker’. Turning that into a question, ‘In turbulent times, what does it mean to be a Quaker?’ might open up space for reflection and discernment. As Daniel Seeger wrote (and quoted on a NFPB leaflet):  “To be peacemakers … is to recognize that we cannot be absolute masters of our historical circumstances, yet it is to be willing to contemplate the life and suffering of distant peoples, as well as those in our own back yards, and to respond in the circumstances in which we find ourselves to the needs of a universal humanity”.

“Let us then try what love will do”, William Penn