At online Meeting for Worship last night a Friend ministered about candles. I didn’t catch who she was quoting but it was someone’s reminiscence of how, as a small child, her parents explained to her about the votive candles she saw in church. How each one is a prayer. The child asked what would happen when the candle she’d lit went out, would that be the end of the prayer? No, said her parents, because other people were always coming along to light their candles and all the prayers join up together and support each other.
I really needed to hear this right then. If I’m going to have a wobble then early evening is usually it but this reminder really helped, that it doesn’t matter if we get tired, that the community can hold the faltering individual . I remembered the many occasions I’ve looked around the room in Meeting for Worship (when we could still meet face to face) and thought, I’ve really lost the plot. But it didn’t matter because you could see that other Friends hadn’t and they were holding the space. Then the other times when I’ve been one of the steady ones for somebody else.
So it’s OK to not be strong. We are enough. Which took me back to Coronavirus and Climate Grief (the cause of most of my recent wobbles) and on to the Covid-19 maths: how many thousands one person can potentially infect. And I thought about that one prayer – that one candle metaphorical or otherwise. Could that grow exponentially in the same way? So it doesn’t matter if I burn out or die, the people of goodwill continue and grow.
When I was young what used to hurt most was feeling misunderstood. Being told constantly what and who I was; having my own insights and perceptions denied and rubbished.
As an adult, other people can no longer diminish me; I have the choice to walk away. However, my trans friends don’t. Theirs is a daily struggle. Hate and physical danger are the obvious enemies but well meaning ignorance is almost impossible to deal with. Read (or listen to) Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race; many of the same points apply.
You see, I’m not talking about sex, gender or whatever wobbly bits anyone of us might have. This is about openness. About respect. About kindness. About the right each one of us has to be accepted exactly as we are.
This is about souls. And who am I – who are you – to dare to trample on someone else’s.
It’s not unusual to find oneself knocked sideways these days, to get sucked in to the hatred screamed from the tabloids and online. I determine not to let it overwhelm me – not to give in to the cycle of fear that arises from and results in seeing other people as unconnected to myself – but then catch myself slipping yet again.
It’s simple in theory but also hard work to move through life with my antennae out, alert to other people and to the currents within myself. However it has to be done, this constant checking out and checking back, this resetting of my internal compass, this tweaking of my rudder on life’s ocean.
Inspired by Rhiannon Grant, I’m going to have a go at alphabet blogging. 26 letters over 52 weeks.
Unfortunately the first A that came to mind is Armageddon. I nearly ducked it but, given the current political shenanigans, warmongering and climate disaster, it feels apt and needs facing steadily. As does that old joke of an A which jumped in straight after: “Armageddon outta here”. Which is also apt and needs to be slapped down, at least in my￼ case. Avoidance (another A) is not an option. In the Quaker tradition we’ve realised that the only positive way to deal with pain, fear and despair is not to be cowed and brought down by them but to stand firm and still, in the knowledge that a way will be shown to us and strength given to travel it.
So, who knows where and what I’ll be by the end of 2020 but I hope to keep staying present and determinedly non-hating; paying enough attention to my own needs so that I’m in better nick to support other people.
For the last few years I’ve had increasingly mixed feelings about celebrating Christmas in our darkening world. This year there’s a sort of survivor guilt as well, as I have a home and family, and there will be food on the table tomorrow.
Advent has always been important to me, a gradual walk into the darkness towards the manger. Anyone who has ever held a newborn will know the vulnerability but also their awe inspiring power. This year there is an added dimension. A couple of weeks ago I was on silent retreat at a Carmelite priory and heard read aloud those wonderful passages from Isaiah – the ones that begin Handel’s “Messiah”. The penny dropped that, alongside the power of that tiny being, something huge is also happening and that those two things were about to converge.
Which brings me back to this afternoon. The Carols from King’s at 3pm on Christmas Eve always mark the beginning of Christmas for me, but today I felt antsy and irritated at the “holiness” of it all. Then came a reading which grounded me, by a woman who sounded like a regular person and seemed very sincere.
Listening intently for the source of my discomfort, I was struck for the first time how much the Victorians tried to tame Jesus and how that’s not actually possible. The carols I grew up singing are mainly about gentleness and mildness. The power of kingship is there and may have meant something to the original writer but how much does it really mean to us now. Are we just paying lip service?
In today’s world we persuade ourselves of Jesus’s gentleness and mildness at our peril. Even worse, we try to emulate it, telling ourselves we are “nice” people. Jesus cannot and should not be tamed. What the world needs is the power of a people acting radically out of love, as he did.
I realised in Meeting for Worship recently that I have passed beyond hope. Imperceptibly. I have no idea when that happened, I simply became suddenly, devastatingly aware.
Now, this is not to imply that there IS no hope just I, personally, can no longer feel it.
Observing my immediate feelings, I was curious to find that I was not experiencing despair but, rather, the opposite. In Ignatian terms, not desolation but consolation, consolation, consolation.
The flip side of hope – for me – seems not to be despair but steadfastness. Faithfulness.
So… resisting in whatever way I can… calling out injustice in whatever way I can… supporting others in whatever way I can…
Doing what Love requires
I’ve suddenly realised – with utter clarity – that my default position is fear and despair.
I’m well aware that the roots of this rest in childhood damage, which I’m not going into here. Most of the time I rise above it, practising mindfulness, presence and positivity. Combatting division. But when I’m exhausted or over stressed, despair rises up from nowhere and bites me on the nose. These days Twitter can have me spiralling downwards within five minutes.
I care deeply about people and events, so I want to keep myself informed in order to act, but how to do that without going under? I suspect I am not alone.
In such moments I feel extremely thankful to have fallen in with Quakers. The insights of early Friends, like the gospel these echoed, are beacons of light and hope – of liberation from fear. George Fox’s “ocean of light”, which the darkness can never overcome, is a perennial comfort.
“The good ship Woodhouse” is one of my favourite Quaker stories. Separated from a convoy in mid Atlantic, Dutch privateers bearing down on his tiny craft, the ship’s Quaker master suddenly heard the words, “Steer a straight course. Mind nothing but me.” There wasn’t much choice, so he did. Suddenly the wind changed and the pirates were blown off course. The Woodhouse dropped off her cargo of Friends in the New World and returned home safely to tell the tale.
Steer a straight course. I think I can do that.