Quakers and God

Do British Quakers believe in God? What might that mean?

Ours is an experiential faith. We have spiritual experiences which we share. They start as peak experiences, a moment of wonder, and become integrated into our daily lives. We develop language to communicate them to each other, and it appears they are similar for each person. They include a sense of presence in the moment when all the senses are heightened; a sense of the unity of all that is, and of being my own part of it; and a sense of being suffused by love, which some might call the love of God.

Then there are the spiritual experiences we have together. We know of the gathered meeting, where we are together in our spiritual experience, and of unity, where we come together to know what is right, what some call God’s loving purposes. Our worship is not meditation, but a common endeavour. It’s not like sitting in a waiting room. We know we may sometimes feel “angry, depressed, tired or spiritually cold”, but the effort of- whatever it is that we do, in worship- is worthwhile.

If you attend Quaker Quest meetings, you will have heard the phrase “for me”, for Quakers have all sorts of opinions, and a wide range of disagreement, and I have the temerity here to speak “for us”. We share practices with quite complex rules, and experiences. Then we ask what is behind them, and disagree wildly.

Some of us believe in God almost as in the creed, or in the Christian concept of the trinity, or different ideas of God. Some of us, like me, are materialists. I believe I am an evolved creature in a random universe. I don’t know how life could come to be through non-living chemical processes but I believe that is in principle knowable. I don’t think consciousness is in itself spiritual, but a manifestation of the mammalian brain.

Our understandings of God are not hypotheses in the scientific sense, capable of making predictions or being proved wrong by evidence, but stories. They are stories created by some of the finest human minds, addressing common spiritual experiences, progressing from a God who demanded Abraham’s son as a sacrifice to a God who offered God’s own son to die for us.

It is my perception that British Quakers squabble less than we did over these beliefs. Some of us argued it was ridiculous for someone who did not believe in God to belong to a Religious Society. My Friend answered that: “The question is not why we join a religious society, but why we stay”. Now we find language to share the spiritual experiences, and I feel the explanations behind them- God, psychology, or Don’t Know, seem less important.

I was baptised Anglican, grew up reciting the creed without a qualm, and around 2009 slowly realised I no longer believed in that way. It felt like a great loss, and I was in slowly reducing denial for months. Just after I admitted to myself I do not believe in God I was broken open by a residential personal growth course. I went into a church as a tourist, to see the art, and a sense of its holiness brought me to my knees.

This was a difficult experience to fit into my understanding. I say: “I am inconsistent. I could only be consistent if I were inerrant”. I say, “I am rationally atheist and emotionally theist. I have a strong emotional relationship with the God I do not believe in.” I read philosophical ideas of how well humans might see the world as it really is- not well, it seems.

I know that unconscious processes in me can form poetry, so that it seems to come to me by inspiration. My being, this process taking in food, water, oxygen and ideas, is capable of more than I consciously understand, and it is tempting to call all that is greater than my own consciousness God. Quakers have talked of “that of God” in each person since the 1650s. Or I should abandon the word, because it means such different things to different people. Or I could use the word “God” honestly to talk with someone who believes in the Trinity, because we both mean things we cannot know.

In Quaker worship you may see the Living God. Insofar as those words can have meaning, I know they are true.

Let your God love all of you

Let your God love you means Let your God love all of you. I am ready.

I wrote, Anxiety is congealed fear. Sorrow is congealed sadness. Resentment is congealed anger. Underneath them is failure, repeated and complete, and self-blame. These are hard things to love. How can I love the daggers that I turn on myself? By understanding them. By slow, patient work. By allowing myself to be conscious of the hurt.

There are tempting views. This is not failure, but success: the life-journey which has brought me to the point of self-acceptance or self-love, which involves stripping away the denial of my nature that was my real problem. Or that Love makes me better able to achieve the goals my ego set: God’s love is that ego’s power, bringing it to the ego’s concept of success.

The failure is failure. I failed because I sought introjected goals, ego goals, not the goals of my true self, which I fled in terror, which set up a war within me. I must see the failure. I let God love me, and the love warms me, allows me to accept myself. Then I must love the world, because that is the only way to see the world clearly. Too often I hate the World, and resist it- ineffectually, as it just rolls over me.

Let your God love you, and here am I talking of what I will do to deserve it or make it real, or achieve-

There is only Love. Only Love has meaning. God’s love, my love- love for the whole world, all of it, and judging it as bad is meaningless. Judge not. God’s love for me, all of me, including the bits I judge.

Only love is real.

Love and healing are processes. We move on, not back.

Fear, sadness, and anger congeal because I denied them. I made myself small, by hiding parts of myself- this is the concept of the shadow. They were too frightening to be acknowledged. God’s love helps me process the anger.

As I write during worship, one speaks in Ministry. “Know, Friends, know that a million people are praying for you today.” She means it literally- on a prayer schedule, she prayed for “those who worship over the internet”. Mine is a lonely struggle, and there are others I can speak with, who help me.

And one whom I respect shared her songs:

The Elements of Love

The water of love will ease us through our grieving
The rock of love will hold us fast as we let fear go
The fire of love will purify our anger
And we will breathe the air of love
As we sing new songs of joy and we lead new lives of peace.
We will sing new songs of joy. We will lead new lives of peace.

If I only could open up my hands, feel these heavy stones and let them go.
If I only would open up my heart the the rose within would start to grow.
Now I find that I can open up my mouth and a fountain of song begins to flow.
Oh please help me to open all my self and let the breath of your love within me blow.
Now I find I can open up my hands, I feel the touch of your hands and now I know,
that I truly can open all my life and will go any way you bid me go.

I am on the path.

James Baldwin wrote in 1963, “Now if I were a teacher in this school, or any Negro school, and I was dealing with Negro children, I would try to teach them- I would try to make them know- that those streets, those houses, those dangers, those agonies by which they are surrounded, are criminal.” It is clear in his case, though many then would deny it; and some now would concede it in 1963 but deny it now. I have the feeling that my being crushed, and my mother’s before me, and hers before her, is also criminal, though fear I could never persuade anyone of that. So I resent. These are hard things to swallow, to love the resentment and the crushing. So I do the work with God’s help, offering up parts of myself I can hardly bear to look upon, to be Loved.

Let your God love you

The phrase “Let your God love you” continues to reverberate in me, for my healing and the world’s good. It is my mantra for the week: I pause, say it, and savour it, seeing how it might help. “Let your God love you.”

I noticed how I resisted it, and now I seek to let it in.

So yesterday I cycled thirteen miles, and I considered doing the same today. The sun was out, the wind was light, it may be the best day for it until March, and I did not. I thought of cycling yesterday, of the inner conflict of the slave driver and the self-protector, and thought, it would not be so hard if I did not need to get it absolutely right all the time, without [so much] effort. The perfectionist is the problem.

Let your God love you.

I have noticed the perfectionist in me, and seen it as the problem, and much of the time it is unconscious so that I do what I do in desperate misery until I stop doing anything to avoid that hurt. I am depressed today, lacking energy, seeing things bleakly. I notice the perfectionism, judge it, hate it.

Let your God love you. That means all of you. That means my perfectionism, everything that appears to be a stumbling block within me. Look at it with the eyes of love. It tries to protect me, to keep me safe. Where did it come from, how did it become like this?

Let your God love you, means, when I notice a part of myself which I deprecate, or which I rarely notice, I should look at it with the eyes of love- with no judgment, accepting it, caring for it, seeking its good. That love might make it less desperate, less hurt, make it relax a bit, make it happier, make it more positive for me.

I feel tense. I rarely relax.

I spoke on this at Jamie’s gathering, several times repeating “Let your God love you” because that is the thing to remember, that is what I must remember, the Love is there, I just need to permit it to flow. When it flows it warms and heals me. Let your God love you. Let the love in. It is what I want you to remember too, if you remember nothing else from this post. Let your God love you. It gets easier. Let your God love you. Let the love flow.

I did something good this morning. I connected to people. I shared a healing message, which warmed people, and did them good, and that makes me happy. I hunger for such experiences. I treasure their responses:

-Hairs up on the back of my neck!
-so wise, thank you for that gift ❤️🤗❤️
-Listening to you has let me hear something in myself amongst chaos.
-Just breathtaking!

It is in all of us. It is strong and healing.

I helped people by sharing. I hunger for such experiences. I want to spread Love. I consider this desire, which I might have judged as giving me trouble- Let your God love you, including the desire. I got what I wanted- it makes me happy- savour the happiness. That was a lovely experience.

Let your God love you.

Would I cycle this afternoon? It turned out I did not, though the day was so lovely. I am looking at the wafer-thin lead in Georgia. With a four million vote lead nationwide, it is repugnant that that one thousand vote lead in Georgia should matter so much. This matters to all the world- as Trump damages the world, our environment, our economy, our decency. I am glad to spend time in worship with Pendle Hill. The possibility of a better presidency becomes clearer, and this is a threshold moment, especially as there remains some doubt. A Trump win would indeed make this “lib” cry. I would be spectacularly Owned. This is a thing I care passionately about and cannot affect, and ministry was about God’s love. I feel the meeting needed reminded of it. Yesterday I joined a small group of Quakers discussing the liminal. And I feel in a liminal state myself. I have been penetrated by

❤️🤗❤️ Let your God love you ❤️🤗❤️

and it works its healing within me. May it heal you too.

God within, and Thomas Merton

God is in all Believers. Jesus said, “The glory that you have given me I have given them [the people who will believe as taught by his followers], so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you [God} in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” -John 17:22-23.

Thomas Merton put it this way:

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely … I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.

I got that from Richard Rohr. Rohr changes “His” to “God’s”, an inclusive language change which improves it, but changing Merton’s “sonship” to “birthright” as Rohr does takes away the allusion to Christ’s teaching, that we are His brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.

How does that “point of nothingness” relate to what I call the “Real me”?

Possibly, mystic theory gets in the way. If that at the heart of the human being is God, it must be good and pure. Yet I feel the Sociopath may have a clearer understanding of that human essence, less mask or ego, than most people. I am not sure. I feel in me, it is pro-social, but not that it is, of necessity, in all people. Jesus’, John’s and Merton’s idea of God within mean that part is without sin.

In contrast are “the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will”. Merton did not fully identify with that “point of pure truth”, but with his mind and will, or perhaps ego. The point of truth is beneath that, needing discerned, not clearly seen. However having found the “pearl of great price” we must “sell all we have to buy it”, for it is “the Kingdom of Heaven”. So we get rid of mind, will and ego and operate from the Pearl, or the Treasure found in a field, the Light or the point of pure truth. Merton had a conversion experience in Louisville on 18th March 1958, wrote this in 1965, and may have come closer to that “pure glory of God” later.

For Merton it is a point of “nothingness and poverty”, which may be a rejection of worldly values- the “boasted pomp and show of the worldling’s fading pleasure”- or admitting that the ego is simply and merely wrong, all its devices and desires meaningless and worthless.

It is without illusion. It sees everything I am too frightened to admit.

And- it is God. “To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees,” wrote Paul Valéry. No better name than “God” is available, because the word is capacious enough to include everything any human has ever used it for. The light within is indescribable in that it is illimitable, undefinable, not proper to be restricted to a concept or understanding of what it is. It is simply itself.

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Merton’s understanding of the false self is moulded by his life. In New Seeds of Contemplation, in 1961, he wrote (again quoted by Rohr)

My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love- outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion... All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.

That could fit my Born Again colleague’s experience of conversion, from sexual promiscuity and drunkenness to an ordered life following the rules and beliefs of her church, including in Adam and Jonah as real people, but Merton’s acceptance of Catholicism was twenty years before his “conversion”.

Merton was born in 1915 in France, the son of an artist, and baptised Anglican. His mother, a Quaker, died when he was six, and he never accepted his father’s new lover. He was sent to various boarding schools, and dropped out of Cambridge University where he “drank to excess and indulged in sexual licence” according to wikipedia. He may have fathered a child there. He took a degree at Columbia University, and stayed as a postgraduate. He chose Catholicism, had a second baptism in 1938, and became a monk in 1940.

My false self was moulded entirely differently. I wanted to fit in. I was completely controlled, and in my thirties decided “It is time to rebel against my parents”- my understanding of life was taken from them, so out of date when I was born. I drank to excess a few times at university, but fell in with a few men who did not, served at the altar of the Episcopal cathedral, and enjoyed folk dancing.

I have not wanted “experiences, power, honour, knowledge and love” but to fit in, not be noticed, and to survive quietly. I thought myself worthless, only of value for what I could achieve. I had to pretend to be the notional worthwhile human being inculcated into me, miserable and stressed because I never managed it.

I find the false self better understood through Carl Rogers. It is the self-concept, the understanding of who I am, formed initially by the parents’ or parental figures’ conditional positive regard, then either by conformity or rebellion as the child grows. Rebellion is as unfree as conformity. Merton, from a comfortably wealthy family yet insecure after his mother’s death, would form a particular false self. Our false selves are idiosyncratic, dependent on circumstances, and whether we ever shed them may depend on luck.

My conversion experience was 14 February 1999. During 1998 I became aware of a “vulnerable bit” of myself and in February 1999 realised it was the “Real me”. I have spoken from that part of me, which I now call God, and now want it to control my life entirely. Yet still, much of the time, my consciousness is thinking from the false self or ego. Distress may shock me into Real Self. Entering the Now, being present to the present moment, I can only be in the Real Self.

Merton’s understanding in that paragraph that Rohr quotes may also be moulded by Christian understandings of those outside the church, in “the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Possibly, with a sufficiently blessed upbringing, one might never form a false self at all. Whatever, many people do.

I feel that my real self has been caring for my false self, as in the “footprints” story where when there is only one set of footprints, Jesus carries the man. It maintains the false self’s amour propre. It is where my motivation resides, so if I have maintained the false self’s illusions it has been the action of the real self, to help preserve my feeling of safety, which does not keep me safe.

This is my mantra:

I am here
This is
I Am

I change it to “We Are” in Meeting. It brings me back to God within.

Now and not-now, Real Self and mask

There is “Being in the Now”. I am aware of sensory input now. I listen to what people say. I see their body language. I am aware of what I feel now, and it flows without overflowing. I speak what I need to say, now. And there is “Being in past and future”, thinking of what I will say rather than hearing the other, being with worries and ruminations, walking and barely seeing where I am because I am treading the old cognitive paths. Continue reading

What is God?

I am an atheist materialist Quaker. I find meeting for worship, the Quaker business method, and the Quaker community work, and if I am right that the God as an independent entity George Fox, or convinced Quakers now, might have believed in does not exist, they would work in an accidental universe. Before, I have said “I am emotionally theist: I have a strong personal relationship with the God I do not believe in”; and now that does not work so well for me, as so many spiritual practices, such as attuning to the Now, seem utterly bound up in being a physical animal.

I don’t object to others’ conceptions of God. The idea of Panentheism, God in everything, is attractive as there is a life force. Life never gives up the struggle to survive, it takes in energy and produces action. The life force started on Earth when life started here and before then there was energy, movement and possibility. This life force produces healing, so that as a wounded body heals so does a wounded psyche. My proper attitude to things outside my skin is wonder and love, because this is the Kingdom of God or the Republic of Heaven, and that is what receiving it like a little child means to me. Spiritual writings which speak to people speak truth in metaphor if they are not literally true.

Working with my psychotherapist I identify a Real Me, where my motivation, desire, delight and creativity reside, and a guard which slams the door on it, as in childhood I learned that spontaneous self-expression was dangerous. That might fit the “ego” in this Richard Rohr meditation. I am unsure about the word “ego” as I associate it with Freud, and the id, that contains sexual and aggressive drives and hidden memories, and the super-ego, a moral conscience, with Freud’s “ego” mediating between the two. My “Real me” appears strongly pro-social, and that fits my idea of humanity as a social animal. I need my society to survive, let alone thrive. The guard wants to be sensible and safe, to fit in to external requirements, not to be individual.

Then there was the “Reptile brain” where the four Fs reside, feeding, fleeing, fighting and the sexual drive, but I think I read somewhere that reptiles, too, have hindbrain midbrain and forebrain. Neuroanatomy and neuropsychology are moving, and I don’t want to cling to half-remembered, imperfectly understood scientific ideas mediated by journalists, even if I am right to be materialist and all experience depends on neurons and dendrites. Reading that linked article shows Freud’s id and ego to be more complex than my conception of them.

I want to be sensible and safe, but more as well. I want to integrate myself better. It felt as if the guard or ego were a mask, that I moved through the world with the mask welded on, but that speaking without the mask could be scary, so I wanted to have it to hand if required. I can wear a face like the one Eleanor Rigby keeps in a jar by the door, if I know I can take it off, that I can use its attributes, or be playful as I desire, spontaneously.

Is that “Real me” my inner light? It seems to me Good, as Walt Whitman says “every part hearty and clean”, made by God to be “Very good”. I don’t want an inadequate understanding of what is good to hobble me, to deny parts of that self and hide them in Shadow or project them on others. Quakers might do that. New England Yearly Meeting query 6 makes a distinction that is not as rigid as Freud’s superego/id, but appears rigorous: “Do you recognize divinely inspired insight? Can you distinguish between divine leadings and your own needs or desires?”

The distinction, to me, seems to be between a desire which has life and fire in it, which might mean for me flirting with this particular woman now, or organising a Meeting for Worship where people who have not found Friends might be particularly open to trying it, and an idea which appears righteous, but is more going through the motions, and when it does not work we are discouraged. It’s between what is worth trying and what isn’t, not between what is divine and what is selfish.

That could be a fault in Quakerism, so that I should leave. So much of our language- “Inner light”, “That of God”, “Spirit”- could be used to mean what is righteous and pro-social rather than selfish. Or I could define “selfish” out of existence, caging the concept in: pair-bonding is good, so I absolutely should flirt with that woman Now.

That “Real me” contains the four Fs as well as my most pro-social instincts. Then again, if Richard Rohr’s Catholicism is big enough to contain “the unified field of life itself”, or “nondual consciousness”, surely Quakerism is. Perhaps Quakers are peculiarly communal. I know  psychopaths exist, but Quakers’ “own needs or desires” may seek the good of the community. Perhaps that query means the desires of my Guard or the non-Freudian Ego, to be Normal and to fit in, to Seem rather than to Be.

There is another Good that is split from Bad: my friend with a wonderful gift of expression wrote of her friend, who “moves through the world like light bouncing off water” yet can be “still, grounded, centred, warming others like a Summer day.” Beside that, anyone might feel “stuck to the ground, heavy, hopeless, forgotten”. To we who are depressive, our lack of energy can appear morally bad, and that harmful idea gets enough affirmation from society to keep it simmering.

What is God? I am is God.
I make mistakes, and I am is God.
I get hurt and have painful feelings, and I am is God.
I need the world, and society, to support me, and I am is God.
I will die and be a memory, and We are is God.
The words are merely words, and I am, We are.

All this comes from my experience. What comes from yours?

Richard Rohr

Catholic priest tolerates gay men, and even trans people shock!

Rohr’s daily meditations reach millions, and recently he tackled LGBT folk, or SOGI, Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity issues. He started by assuming his audience was hostile.

With all the changing ways of understanding gender and sexuality, most of us truly need contemplative eyes and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to “rupture simplistic binaries” and be compassionate and respectful of difference and diversity. It clearly seems that God is quite comfortable with immense diversity.  We have a much harder time with it, preferring uniformity and conformity instead.

I found it almost impossible to read. He is challenging his queerphobic Christian followers, saying that while he has to make a continual effort to be “non-dual”, his instinct and theirs is to judge gay as unacceptable. Jesus, he says, ruptures and transgresses simplistic binaries between self and other, but most people dismiss and judge every thing that does not fit neatly in their simplistic categories.

He wants to teach the Mind of Christ by getting readers to think about SOGI, which he has no doubt they will instinctively reject. This week is a good test case for one’s ability to think in a nondual way.

So he decides to preach that the church should include and accept LGBT people not in hopes that they can force us into a normal, celibate, straight-acting box but accept us as part of God’s beautiful diverse creation, and he starts by othering all his LGBT readers.

He says some good stuff. God’s will is that people and things become their true selves, and then live in “supportive coexistence”. Conservative Christians, however, want to control God’s good creation which they fear, seeing it as chaos.

Institutional religion tends to think of people as very simple, and therefore the law must be very complex to protect them in every situation. Jesus does the opposite: He treats people as very complex—different in religion, lifestyle, virtue, temperament, and success—and keeps the law very simple in order to bring them to God… Love God, and your neighbour.

Jesus, and Rohr, allow people to be ourselves. Do not let the labels trip you up—woman, man, transgender, cisgender, straight, bisexual, gay, queer. I note he does not mention lesbian. There is a reason we bring L to the front. Formerly people wrote GLBT.

He goes on to use queer folks to teach about the Bible. Yes, Leviticus commands stoning gay men to death, but the Bible records a developing understanding of God from Abraham’s attempted human sacrifice to Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ harsh words are reserved entirely for those whose certainty about their religious rectitude causes them to condemn others. Jesus is all about inclusion, forgiveness, and empowerment. In the light of his compassionate presence, people are set free to live their lives in strength and hope, regardless of whether they be considered outcasts by those in the “religious know.” Rather than complex rules teaching us what is OK so we feel safe with no need to think, or even to see clearly, the only law is Love.

Just as the Bible supports slavery and we don’t, so also we find deeper themes in the Bible support LGBT acceptance, and even oppose Patriarchy. Rohr writes, God sides with the powerless. God liberates the oppressed. God suffers with the suffering. I resent that. Many LGBT people flourish despite oppression. We are not his exemplar group of powerless and suffering people, and his attitude encourages others to look down on us and pity us- perhaps he does himself. We do not need his support, but justice.

He claims the secular culture “celebrates” us. Perhaps he has not read The Times’ articles on trans people. It is almost as if he shares the homophobic Christian’s shock when we are shown in a good light.

God, he says, creates each of us unique, with different gifts and challenges, and desires us to live into the fullness of our humanity and our identity.

Rohr’s example is Episcopal priest and lesbian Liz Edman, who aged five wanted boy’s shoes and was supprted by her mother. Everyone wants things forbidden by the complex rules humans create. From object of pity, we change in an instant to patterns and examples for others, who should all Know who you are. Be who you are. Be the person God created you to be. It is deeply uncomfortable for me. I am as enchained by convention as anyone. I have no wish to be forced to teach others any more than be pitied by them.

At the end, he quotes Liz Edman on Jesus turning water into wine. The water was used for ritual washing, the wine intoxicates and liberates us from rules. This is a queer interpretation, which might get her fired. To liberal straight Christians, she says, Let us be ourselves, and assure us that you will have our backs when our proclamation unsettles and afflicts those who are comfortable in a dualistic worldview.

Yes, Queers can be free as Christ intended, and our freedom help liberate others. But our experience belongs to no-one straight. We are not your teaching tool. And the idea of sheep and goats, the binary division between in group and out group, is everywhere reinforced in the church. For example:

Later, Rohr quotes an Asian man:

Now that new voices are being enunciated about him by those . . . outside the traditional framework of Christianity, Jesus must be experiencing an emancipation from the confinement of orthodoxy that has immobilized him. . .

Extinction Rebellion

At last, there is something I can do.

I hope to spend as much time as possible on Lambeth Bridge in the coming week. I will worship God. There is Quaker worship planned every day at 2pm for half an hour, and there will be other worship: I will sing hymns, join prayer, if I am allowed worship with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and join their call to God. There is a spiritual reality binding humanity and the biosphere. I call it God. Others may have other understanding of spirituality, but it is the still small voice that calls to every person, the Truth and Good in every heart, the source of courage and inspiration in the darkest places.

Even if you do not call it God, you know what I mean. It is the thing all humanity has in common. When we come together in Love, humans are powerful.

There is an emergency. I could reel off any number of horrors, but the Bahamas hurricane will do. I will not give you statistics- you can find them if you want. Nor do I want to justify climate science- CO2 has been recognised as a greenhouse gas since the 19th century. I have seen the wilful lies of the climate deniers, and their duplicity for financial gain repels me.

Democracy is under threat from a Prime Minister who promises fantasies- Get Brexit Done- heedless of the risk to the population. Now is the time to act.

I can give up meat, and that is nothing compared to the Amazon fires, encouraged by the Bolsonaro government, or the emissions from private jets (I am tempted to link to George Monbiot’s article, but would be tempted to go on, and just be linking to horror after horror, promoting despair.)

Instead I will say what we, the people may do. We can say No. We can act in the strength of the Spirit of God (or of Humanity, if you will). We can come together.

I love Extinction Rebellion’s simple demands.

Tell the Truth.
Act Now.
Beyond politics.

Beyond politics- they want a citizen’s assembly, to decide what can be done to save our planet separately from the manoeuvring of party politics, and the influence of big donors and propagandists.

I love their principles, in particular no. 9:

We are a non-violent network

This is the heart of my Christianity. Jesus said,

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. . . . You have learned how it was said, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy”; but I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven.

As Richard Rohr says, we can live by this now.

These are my strengths. I worship. I connect to What Is, and to God within me. I am soft, gentle, peaceful, loving. In this way I can form connections with the others worshipping on the bridge, and with others who approach us. I want to meet people heart to heart, talk, listen and connect. The action may be a silent retreat amid the noise of London.

My great niece was born in 2017. If she lives as long as my father did, she will still be living in the 22nd century, when the current level of CO2 has wreaked its full effects on our climate, melting the ice, raising the sea level, killing off countless other species. I must mitigate the effects of CO2 as far as possible, for her, and even for myself as I may live past 2050. We will find a way.

Howard Thurman

If I never feel confused, is confusion that terrifying emotion which I must always suppress below conscious awareness? If the distance between how things are and how they ought to be is so great that I cannot see how things are, being just confused, how can I do what I need to do? If my anger is always directed at myself- do better, try harder, keep going- how can I survive a world unless it is designed to fit me and support me? When do I realise that it isn’t?

I am wary of using Black experience as a way into my own as their oppression is greater than mine, except that mine matters too. I am a trans woman, conveniently available for anyone to punch down at, relieve their feelings on, use as a scapegoat or ridicule. We get screamed at, assaulted, killed by casual acquaintances or strangers, and painted as perverts or predators when any need is felt to justify that though often it isn’t.

So I read extracts from Howard Thurman, Black mystic and spiritual adviser to Martin Luther King.

“The stirring of the will of man to action, the dream of humanity, developed and free… is God.”

God speaks through my survival instinct and the occasional, fleeting desire I have to be equal, not to be that whipping-girl. I will not wrong others, and I will survive.

God lives in each person, we are each the outworking of God’s love, power, creativity and beauty, each hair on our head is numbered and God wills our flourishing- yes, even trans women.

The Black man, used by whites for the most menial work, lynched- murdered- by whites to keep all Blacks in a state of terror and subjection and satisfy those whites of their own righteous superiority, finds that in religious experience “I hear His Voice in my own tongue and in accordance with the grain in my own wood. In that glorious and transcendent moment, it may easily seem to me that all there is, is God.”

God is a real me, more real than I can conceive. This is not a matter of dogma but immediate experience, to be captured in feeling not prose or theory, perhaps to be glimpsed in poetry. Then I am my full glory as my part in God’s outworking of creation.

Thurman’s God and mine is transcendent, eternal, all-encompassing, and personal and intimate, caring for me like God’s child in self-sacrificing, motherly love. So, I will show myself the love God shows I am worthy of.

Christianity is an ideology of empire, for security and respectability for the strong and powerful, giving grudging “charity”, sometimes, to deserving outsiders but teaching us our obligations to our betters. This makes those betters feel good about themselves. No, God requires that we are brothers and sisters, equals. I claim my equal worth. God in me seeks not to serve or dominate but to hear and communicate.

Why do I call myself Christian when Christianity oppressed me? To create it anew!

I am a human being among human beings, not for anyone to categorise or judge as “a trans woman”, for no-one’s stereotypes classifications or perceived understanding- even my own. That is love of self in my incomprehensible beauty, a love worthy of loving others with. I am my part of Life, as you are. Each Christian encountering another Christian as an equal, a beloved fellow child of the loving Mother would be an example to all other people. “See how they love each other!” We would win souls for Christ.

Gender is as oppressive as race and we who do not fit gender stereotypes or are not served by them must come together. So I take Richard Rohr’s questions and apply them to gender:

Where in your life do you feel numb, shut down, dismembered, disrespected, or disconnected? What is your earliest memory of feeling this way? What events or circumstances do you believe gave birth to these experiences? What do you believe such feelings keep you from knowing?

What gender identities or stereotypes have shaped how you have come to know yourself as a person?

What views did your ancestors, elders, parents, or caretakers have about gender? How did their views impact you? In what ways were/are your views similar or different?

This is what to do with my anger, whether directed inward or outward- transmute it into a sense of self-worth: which becomes understanding, then love.