Trauma in Meeting

How can we accommodate deep hurt in Meeting? My Friend’s question on a facebook thread cuts to the heart of who we are and what we do, as Quakers, in our worship and in our communities.

The heart of who we are is our worship together. We sit together, opened up to God and turned towards the Light. “When two or three are gathered together I am with them.” Someone may be moved to speak, which we hope is the leading of the Spirit, but recognise may be partly from ego. It may immediately strike a chord with another worshipper, or they may need to work with it to find that of God in it. Vibrant conversation may go on after Meeting, teasing out the meaning of ministry and reconciling differing views.

We recognise that we are all growing in God. We are called, justified, glorified. We talk of spiritual growth, or spiritual journeys, though the lessons we learn on them are in a different order for each person. Some people drawn to us will be newly conscious of the journey, and some in our Meetings have a life-long experience of growing in God, living out the Love of God in their actions and relationships. We all have blind spots, hurts, scars, and moments of tiredness when we do what we might regret. We are all made in the image of God, loving, creative, powerful and beautiful.

We appoint elders to take care of the Worship, to foster helpful vocal ministry and sometimes restrain unsuitable ministry, and to uphold the Meeting, though all present are responsible for the meeting.

And we get it wrong. Accepting what is involves sloughing off a great deal of expectation. I find myself going back to my old habits of expectation continually. Words fail: there is only the situation, and me in the situation, and when with words I seek to classify possibilities I only approximate them; and it seems they are two sides of the same coin, to be irritated by what is and to see a way of improving it, or at least something worth trying. Serenity, courage, wisdom is always a difficult balance. Love and forgiveness are continually necessary.

Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another.

Here we find sorrow and joy, difficulty and overcoming, creativity and achievement. If the encounter with God affects us, our petty ego self, self-concept, pretence, gets stripped away, and there is the full human being, God within shining through, Glorified.

I don’t know about you, but I have good days and bad days. We each need the love, support and help of the whole Meeting.

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So what happens with trauma? We are all hurt, but someone comes with deep hurt to the Meeting, which we find hard to-

Everyone needs support from the meeting, and generally once we work out what support is needed we are happy to give it. A baby screaming is something else, but a baby chuntering and gurgling is beautiful in a meeting. We do not expect the child to be quiet and are delighted to support the parents and have them among us- if we have flowers on our table, how much lovelier are babies! We build ramps, and install hearing loops.

Sometimes it is more difficult. A Friend found it helped to centre down to knit. The movement of the hands quiets the mind. And others thought this was inappropriate for Meeting. And then there is a discomfort, which needs to be handled. If the Friend who objects to the knitting tolerates it, but is still irritated, they might, out of a belief in their own Spiritual Maturity, suppress the irritation and imagine they were in Acceptance; or they might live with their distress, not wanting to express it and show their own vulnerability and need; then they can hold it no longer, and burst out in anger. Or someone knits, and others whisper together about it.

I have had to leave the Meeting occasionally. I have needed a glass of water to calm a coughing fit. Or I have felt great distress and needed to pace it out in the garden. We are one context where quaking is seen as a sign of healthy humanity, rather than mental illness, but there are limits. My neighbour offered me her hand, and I clutched at it, then regained calm. We are dealing with deep matters. It is all blessing, but sometimes it does not immediately feel that way. There is unknowing, when something is taking time to work out rather than being quickly resolved.

Someone cries quietly in the Meeting. This can be disturbing. The human instinct is to give some consolation, but to expect that will stop the crying.

These are matters of Inclusion and diversity. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Our weaknesses need support so our strengths can flourish and serve.

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With trauma, a little consolation will not assuage it. The hurt is too deep. Someone might bring pain and anger to Meeting, week after week. What can a Friend do?

Don’t try to bear another’s burdens on your own. It’s not possible unless you are a bodhisattva. Anger must be acceptable in Meeting, or the whole human being is not acceptable. We become trapped in our petty selves, trying to appear acceptable. I feel we need a space for anger and pain to be expressed and heard, not necessarily during worship.

Recognise and state your own needs. Speak them before they become unbearable. Ask the help of the traumatised person. This is a radical statement of Equality, of each person having responsibility for the meeting. There is a problem. How may we deal with it, together? Vulnerability is difficult- the petty-self cannot bear it.

Some may feel a need for rules, and boundaries. I don’t like them. I don’t believe in freeloaders. I became aware that I was on a spiritual path, and one of my first lessons in that awesome month was that all people are doing our best, in difficult circumstances. (If you disagree, talking about it would be our way of showing respect to each other’s insight, trust in the process, and belief we might come to a better understanding together.) Rules are a shortcut when we cannot do any better, a quick way of assigning blame. But we are human beings, in infinitely varied situations, which do not fit words, or rules, closely enough.

Anger, pain, and Ministry

The Spirit speaks in meeting through human beings, and our individuality affects the message like the wood or metal of a flute or trombone affects music. It is a paradox: self-abnegation of the petty self or ego, self-actualisation of the true self created in the image of God. I am most fully myself when giving true ministry.

The self I have found in Meeting is filled with paradoxes. I feared meditation, because I fear I will encounter my pain, and when I brought myself to it I felt the pain fully and it did not matter. Possibly it is that life is painful. I am always confused, always wanting, and acceptance is a constant discipline not a single act. And my harsh judgment of myself makes a setback into a failure, a mistake into proof of idiocy, and my sensitivity heightens my own pain, and I have habitually suppressed my pain in order to function, and sometimes it just bursts out of me. I feel, strongly; I try to suppress; so when I start to weep it is the way my pain communicates to my conscious self that it is so strong. If I accepted it I might hold it within.

Anger and pain are close. Anger is sad’s bodyguard, I read on facebook: but pain, expressed, seeks help, and anger demands a solution, often a particular solution, immediately. Yet anger can be an expression of pain, where the pain is too great and confusing, and it bursts out, and is a more acceptable response from a man, inculcated into us in childhood. Big boys don’t cry. Though in competitive situations, nor should women.

What of Quakers? I feel it is incumbent on us to process our pain and anger before speaking them in Meeting. Sometimes, I just can’t. I think it better to express pain in Meeting than to suppress it, where our conflicts are brushed under the carpet, but both are failures of the Quaker process.

That suppression. I realised that I feared my anger, pain and fear, and in fear tried to suppress them. But that gives energy to the feeling. I suppress, and it seeks to burst out, and it becomes more unbearable, more painful. And now I fear my feelings less. My journey over the last two years in Quaker meeting has been towards openness and acceptance. It is hard to explain, and I am not sure I understand it. I found in Meeting in Wellingborough I would, several times each meeting, withdraw into myself. I would cross my arms and legs and curl myself up as small as possible, head bowed, just self-protecting, against- I don’t know what, the world and my experience, or the pain I felt because of it. All of that, I think. And then, I would open out again. I would be open to feeling and sensation, and even perhaps being moved by the Spirit. My feelings would be too much, I would curl up and self-protect, and then the feeling would pass and I would open again.

Over the last year, I felt no need to curl up in this way. Instead, I would feel the pain. I was more or less silent in the silent meeting. I would gasp, or sigh, or start to rock. I have noticed others’ hands tense slightly, clasped in their lap, and my whole body would go rigid. I conceived of it as a discipline, bringing myself closer to acceptance and clear perception of my world. I felt it was a process of healing. I was growing stronger. That curling up was a trauma-response, and I needed the trauma response less. Then, before the 6th January business meeting I was sitting in the corner looking at Heather two yards away, and I found myself curling up again.

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I was enraged at Heather- I don’t think that is too strong a word- because of her article that I had only just seen. It was for a hard-right website, funded by the Koch brothers, who are American oil billionaires who give vast amounts of money to hard-right causes. It is ludicrous. She complained that trans rights restrict free speech, but lots of platforms will say Trans is Bad- the Times, the Daily Mail, Standpoint, the Spectator, the Guardian, to name a few. I agree with Julie Bindel, to whom Heather once offered to introduce me, that feminists should not associate with the hard-right. I agree with the hard-right calculation, that making life more difficult for trans people will not result in people being openly gender non-conforming without transition, but rather in gender stereotypes being more oppressive and more enforced.

I emailed that website, copy to Heather, complaining that her statement ‘trans women’ (as opposed to transsexuals) have penises was false. Many transsexuals have a penis, as they have not yet had the operation. Most of us self-identify as trans women, even post-op, objecting to the use of “transsexual” as a noun. Much of the scaremongering about trans people is around penises. Having a penis does not make a trans woman or a trans girl a threat. Heather responded by emailing to say our friendship was at an end.

I first met Heather four years ago when I saw her across a crowded Meeting room. I thought, Wow. We have gone out for a drink together fairly regularly since, and I have made periodic declarations of love which have been kindly rebuffed. In the autumn I had thought that I would not invite her again. Her campaigning against trans rights, and my disagreement with her, had come between us.

In the meeting for worship before business meeting I was thinking of what can be said in a meeting, in love. When gender came up in the business meeting, following up on Heather’s recognised Concern, I was expostulating. This is who I am. The elder wanted me to sit down. The clerk wanted to hear what I had to say. His minute said, “We have heard-” clerkly code for one person said, when it is not that which we unite behind.

I have not processed my hurt. It is an open wound. I wanted the operation more than anything else in the world, and now I regret it. Two women have said to me, this bluntly, “I could find a man like you attractive, but- no penis!” So fearmongering about penises really gets to me.

My anger deserves your sympathy. Trans women are almost all completely harmless, often quite badly hurt. There is a campaign to drive us out of the women’s spaces where we have been for decades, without harming anyone, on the pretext of gender recognition reform. Gender recognition reform will mean no more trans women in women’s spaces any more than a change to blue passports will mean more foreign travel. The campaign fearmongers, pretending we are dangerous. Of course I am angry.

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I came to Quakers in April 2001, and joined in February 2002. I am afraid I have always been the Needy Friend. I am trans. I had a difficult childhood. I had a difficult time at work, and have been unemployed since March 2011. My confidence is very low, and my ability to accept who I am and how the world is is limited. I like to think I am healing, making spiritual progress, but sometimes it seems I am just going round in circles. I am isolated, and the Labour Party and the Quaker meeting are my only social outlet, apart from things like facebook.

Quakers are nice people, and like to help. In Central Manchester meeting once, shortly after I started going there, an Evangelical came in and took advantage of the ability to stand and speak into our silence to preach a long sermon about Biblical inerrancy or suchlike Evangelical stuff. I interrupted, got upset, and went out to the library with two people holding me as I raged and wept. Someone who listens to my woes gains something from the encounter, a feeling of having done something worthwhile. That places obligations on the needy person, me, not to exploit the good will of my Friends.

Clare, who supported me in Manchester, saw my transition male to female from a year before changing my name formally to a year after, and said “You have climbed a mountain”. I had. Transition is hard to do. Her Testimony, and her husband’s, came out last year. She gave me a lot of support.

I came to Wellingborough meeting again terribly hurt. Well, I am sensitive. L. again gave me a great deal of support, with weekly piano duet sessions for months. I am proud of what I achieved as AM clerk, giving space for the Spirit to move us- I was contributing too- but I took a lot of support. There were tensions in the meeting, such as, there was one regularly-worshipping member with whom I only had one conversation. I approached her in my capacity as member of AM nominations committee, and got no farther than saying “Would you consider” before she said “NO!” A small meeting should be closer than that.

I demanded more support than the meeting could well give, especially after someone moved to the South-west. L. organised my 50th birthday celebration. I saw her outside meeting often. Twice during Meeting (with a year interval between them) I stood and shared my desolate misery, swearing at the horror of it. Too much. I sensitised people to myself. You can’t centre down easily if you are worrying what Abigail will do next. I was told to leave Wellingborough meeting after a man who used the homelessness service came into the meeting house just before coffee, and became abusive and physically threatening when I asked him to leave. I was not going to back down. It is a tragedy that the meeting could give no more support at the moment that I was most entitled to it. I could not get beyond that for over a year- I would have been entitled to support in that moment, but for the history leading up to it.

So I went to Kettering. I am not the only vulnerable, fragile or hurt individual in any meeting, and all of us are vulnerable in particular ways. I am better able to hold my own hurt now, but not perhaps when the meeting considers Heather has a properly Quaker “concern” about “freedom of speech” rather than being the dupe and tool of right-wingers, and for the “care of children”, though that means denying them the care they seek, and denying that they can know themselves. Generally, trans people know who we are and what we want. Some revert, but generally we are happier and more centred when we can express our true selves, and often that means hormones and surgery, however much that surgery may revolt some people.

I went to the Inclusion weekend at Woodbrooke, and after I was shouting angrily at Heather during the Sunday morning worship I have been told not to attend meeting in my Area. My heart sank a week before when I learned she was going. In worship, she stood and rather than giving ministry stated she was an expert. She stated, falsely, that gender recognition reform, “self-ID”, will affect women’s rights, and that there is no biological basis for trans, which is irrelevant, as trans people exist. I stood to say worship had ended at the point she stood up, but I was angry.

I am writing this because one wise and well-regarded Friend told me he is “appalled at the injustice” of me being excluded. It is not quite that simple. Another said he “pray[s] love and truth will prevail”, at which I thought, well, that would be me completely screwed. (Joking.) I think love and truth will; and it may take some time.

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I have also been told not to represent the AM, which may also be a good thing. I love prolonged periods with Quakers. Possibly they get me over-excited, like a child on a sugar rush. I have not mastered Quakerly reserve, yet I dare to hope I contribute. Sometimes, if I try to assess intellectually, or when my words come particularly close to my own vulnerabilities, I doubt the value of what I say, but I feel I get it right most of the time. I liked what I said at YM, and mention Deborah Rowlands hugging me as I left more to convince myself that it had value than to convince you. I have been twice to the Quaker Life Rep Council, and think I contributed there, too, though too many of us stood in the final Meeting for Worship.

If ministry speaks to people it will have an effect, and if not it will be forgotten, unless it is spectacularly bad, sufficient to disrupt worship. I speak from my heart, from my love, my creativity and my desire for good, apart from those two times in Wellingborough when I spoke from my misery and negativity and disrupted worship. Yet I think “Where I am at the moment” ministry, if not overdone, helps bring a meeting together, to know each other in the things that are eternal and the things that are quotidian. One that has been much on my mind since it was given in July was Heather’s. As I remember it she spoke of how as a child she had wanted to be confirmed into the Church of England, and had gone to confirmation classes. In part she wanted the white first communion dress.  She was not confirmed, because her commitment to truth prevented her from believing some of the things that church demanded she believe. And now she felt she may be forced out of the Society of Friends, because of her commitment to Truth. My heart went out to her, even though I knew what she thought of as the falsehood driving her out was the Society’s acceptance of trans people and our transitions.

I may have made this impossible, but I would still like to be part of a Quaker decision making process on trans and gender issues. I see people in favour of trans rights in the society, and people with a strongly gender-critical view (they call the term “trans-excluding radical feminist” a slur) and it seems to me that the pain of the gender non-conforming or gender critical, and the gender dysphoria of the trans people, is the same pain at gender stereotypes blocking us from being ourselves. So Quakers should actively oppose gender stereotypes as part of our testimony to Equality, and help us see each others’ pain. The tragedy is that we are in conflict, as if others’ way of subverting the stereotypes somehow invalidates our own. If only we could see, we would be on the same side.

I am forbidden to attend Quaker meetings at the moment, yet I hope the video designed to make us attractive to enquirers, and featuring me, will remain on the website. I was not sure the outreach leaflets should all feature the same four people, because I thought I was quite weak on Quaker work, but I stand by what I wrote:

My work in the world, my witness to others, is learning to know and accept myself as God made me, moving from suppressing my feelings to owning them… I know the truth is setting me free.

So I will carry on with that, and perhaps be readmitted at some point. Coming across this Karl Barth quote this week seems a synchronicity- It is not that you have been called to bear the suffering of the present time, it is that you have been idiots. Yet contrary to some evidence I feel that this organism, this creature, conscious and unconscious, soul and body, has value. I am a Quaker; and at the moment I have irked too many people.

If you have got this far: this is what I want of Quakers. Gender stereotypes do not fit people. They are an engine of oppression. Therefore the Quaker testimony to Equality should lead us to oppose the stereotypes, and search out what in ourselves seeks to enforce them on others. And we should trust and support each person to oppose those stereotypes and deal with them in their own way, including by transition.

Thinking in meeting

“Thou should not have been thinking in meeting.” We all know the quote; I am pretty sure Rufus Jones told the story, saying he had been the speaker so rebuked, but I can’t find where. What else is possible? Waiting, knowing one might be moved to give a message to the people gathered; contemplation, of the Presence of God in our midst; awareness of feelings deep in my heart; “Sighs too deep for words”, addressed to God. Some might sit in calm awareness of the meeting as a whole, its worship and its people, and that might be appropriate for elders and overseers.

And, often, I think. Sometimes this seems clearly wrong, such as going through my shopping list for the supermarket after, yet even that could be something I am worried about, and I pay it a little attention to stop it nagging at me throughout meeting. Or I find myself “writing”, as another Friend put it: trying different permutations of a sentence to see which would be most forceful, or expressive, or seeking out the perfect word. Possibly, then, I am merely in reverie, but under the surface things are moving.

The Unconscious will always be unconscious, and consciousness makes little sense. Like the podcast I use to go to sleep with: it seems when it ends that I have heard all of it, yet I have dozed and wakened throughout, and my brain forms the bits I have heard into a pattern. So thoughts pop into consciousness and submerge again, and the stream of consciousness is cacophony.

And the unconscious is not all Light: the inner critic comes from there, and other things which hurt me. Test the Spirits, says Paul: some of it has value now, some has not.

And yet the Word of God may come up from the unconscious, and the Meeting is a situation fitted for the unconscious to become conscious. I have spoken in Ministry words I have never thought before standing that day, and I start with an idea which I was thinking before I stood. I am enjoined to ask, Is it for everyone, or just for me? I recently heard another question: Is it for now, or some other time? There is so much wisdom designed to stop us speaking and distracting others, and sometimes what is actually said speaks to another.

A thought may move through me for the hour and be full-formed at its end. The words move in my mind, they feel guided, they are a thought moving in words to greater clarity and understanding. Our divinity is our humanity emerged for me from Meeting on Sunday, and I have shared it since. The humanity and divinity of Jesus are mixed like wine and water, inextricably, not like oil floating on water separately.

A thought may emerge from the unconscious allusively, like a dream; the relevance takes time to become apparent. It feels this year that there has been a shape to my worship, a development, increasing blessing and healing.

cracks in the concrete

All those silent Quaker meetings! What am I doing there? They can seem long and painful. I am groping in the dark. Thoughts run through my mind, of what I need in the supermarket.

Saturday was difficult. I thought my friend’s union was handling his redundancy procedure, but when we met for lunch I found they weren’t, and he was meeting with management on Tuesday. I worked with him to make a statement of his case, to try to get the union involved, and looked up the law on an argument I had never put in a claim, when I did tribunals eight years ago. It is more restrictive than I had hoped, but I found another thing I could say. It felt far too crude to me. I was saying “This is harassment” rather than arguing why. He gave a long involved account of an issue at work which I struggled to understand. Would it really save the employer time and effort, as he claimed? What would they say to such a claim? I felt my efforts and abilities were so meagre compared to the difficulty of the task.

There are personal relationship issues within the meeting which I cannot discuss here, and they weighed on my mind. It seems to me that in the succession of silent meetings we stew in our own woes and self-castigation, not hearing each other- though of course I may be projecting. I sit with people unable to hash things out. I see misunderstanding growing to hurt.

It seems to me I learn better to see things from another’s point of view. He’s wrong, but this is why he sees it this way. We explain he is wrong. Oops, is he abashed and hurt? What he says next shows he is not, but resentful and protesting he is right. Mmm. Maybe that is his way of dealing with it, maybe he will work it out later, or maybe he is incapable of empathy in this case. People are different. Empathy is difficult, unless you can make an analogy to your own experience.

No, I can’t resolve the issue- but I can possibly move it forward.

In Meeting, one ministers on gratitude, for family and worthwhile work among other things. I just feel my pain, shaking, twisting my body, clenching my teeth trying not to gasp. The pain’s intensity is surprising: my surprise and resistance make it manifest in movement. After, I stood and spoke, of the injustice I see in my friend’s “redundancy” dismissal, and my powerlessness: what I can do seems so little! Then I stand, uncertain- are there any more words?

and I feel a sense of love, blessing and acceptance from above.

I hope this was ministry for other people. It may have been just for me- and I need to know that pain! How else can I heal it?

After, I discuss the redundancy with an employer. “It’s very difficult to prove redundancy”, he says, and I observe that I always acted from the claimant’s point of view- it is very difficult to prove it is Unfair or discriminatory. They do need to save money, and why not on salaries- and why not on his? Then he makes useful suggestions- there are organisations which do pro bono work- as if I would not have thought of that. He explains why my friend’s face might not fit, and his manager find him threatening, which is interesting, but mainly it is useful when I am speaking. I lost that job because I got emotionally involved, I say, then start to squeak and gasp out the words. NOT because I felt with the claimant, who was having such a difficult time, but because

I should be able to accomplish more!

The rage against my powerlessness! I see it more clearly. I hold it in awareness, with less distraction. I am not suppressing it so much.

Doing benefit tribunals, the image came to me of facing a brick wall. Sometimes there was nothing I could do; but sometimes I would see a crack in it, and launch at the crack. Here is the same image in a song, which I found here:

This world is for the lovers and the fighters
The bold hearts and the dream-igniters
The bold hearts and the decolonizers
The bold hearts and dream igniters

You better believe there’s cracks in the cement,
Transphobia just came and went…

Learning to minister

On 14 February 1999 I was born again- not in the Evangelical sense, into strict Evangelicalism, but with a shocking about-face to my understanding of the World, suddenly appreciating that God was on the side of all humanity, and that we were all in it together. I gained hope. Shortly after, I attended my first Quaker meeting, after staying over with my girlfriend, and blurted out “The holy spirit is here!” I don’t know what I was thinking, and when someone thanked me for my ministry after I was back in my masks and pretence, unable to be sincere with her or really hear her. I went back later for an Enquirers’ day at that monthly meeting, with Carol.

I started attending Manchester Mount St meeting, and spoke fairly often. I remember sitting after speaking, wondering if it had been Ministry. I could make no rational case that it had, and I still like to understand things rationally, but if I sat with what I felt about it, I was sure enough. And visiting Chester meeting, I decided to share an insight I had gained from the Gospel of Thomas, which I am quite sure was just me telling Friends something which interested me, even though it was about spiritual matters and might have given someone there new insight. And I was not moved to speak, and felt great shame about it for months afterwards.

We learn by making mistakes, and by seeing what works. I have been tempted to go on beyond my leading, to give a neat peroration to sum up, and found myself shut up by the Spirit, unable to say it. I have seen others speak, then an expression of shock goes across their face and they sit suddenly. I am not giving a speech, and leaving ministry open ended may be better- though that is a feeling in a particular situation, and not a rule.

In Becoming Friends, there is a flow chart designed to discourage speaking during worship. It starts Is the message from the Holy Spirit and not just from you? It ends, Is the message also truly “not from you” but from God’s Holy Spirit? Must you speak? I find this hectoring. It empowers my inner doubts: however clear I am that I should speak, or have given ministry, doubting voices arise in my head. One answer “Yes” to this question is enough. If the message is just from you, you should not share it. A man has moved on from my AM who visited the other LMs regularly and generally spoke, explaining that recent attenders benefited from having some speech during the hour. He would not be Eldered. I sometimes felt what he said was preachy, not true ministry.

A man I knew, a committed Christian feeling rejected by other churches for being gay, started attending, and had his name added to the attenders’ list, but after an Elder interrupted him during worship to say he had said enough never attended again. Possibly it was not good ministry, but I would rather he had been drawn aside after Meeting, and asked about his understanding of ministry rather than publicly told not to speak like that. But then I visited another meeting where four people spoke, and one, a trans woman, told a story which I thought to be unduly negative, sharing her pain rather than ministering. I thought she should be spoken to after, but other Friends after wanted to let her be. Let her grow in understanding. She is committed and will learn through experience in time. And trans women can be uncomfortable around each other, unduly alive to negative impressions others may be getting from us.

I went once to Glasgow meeting, and seven stood to speak, which I thought too many. The last just seemed to say she was glad to be back in Glasgow. I have heard of people always speaking, or of there always being lots of speech, and that causing tension in a meeting. I can see that could be a problem. I find meetings with no speech beautiful; and I wonder if more spoken ministry could benefit my meeting. Could it draw us together in love and greater understanding of each other?

That flow-chart has some good rules. Is the message intended for the whole meeting, not just for you or the previous speaker? (If not, I say share it with someone after, over coffee, or treasure it in your heart.) Is it meant to be shared right now? I have had Meetings where thoughts come together during the meeting, where I might have spoken at the start, did not, and could say something more- yes, more valuable is the word I choose- at the end, as well as the commonly attested experience of hearing another say what one might have been moved to say. But- Will others likely mistake the message for a political statement, lecture or personal announcement? Will they mistake it is not the test, but is it these things. And personal announcements can be ministry, drawing us together in greater understanding and love of Friends. One recent one is probably unforgettable.

People object to “daffodil ministry”, something trite you noticed on the way to meeting that morning. And it is good to be reminded of beauty, or possibly anything a Friend could share in a sentence, or their presence and being in worship with us.

If there is too much ministry it can be a problem. Receive the vocal ministry of others in a tender and creative spirit. Reach for the meaning deep within it, recognising that even if it is not God’s word for you, it may be so for others. It can still be a problem. And possibly a lack of spoken ministry could be a bad thing too, losing a chance to see how alike we are, to learn through one another, to grow in unity.

Ministering at YM

I sat next to a woman and said, “Hello, I’m Clare”. She said, “Yes, I know. I’ve seen you speak twice already.”

Probably it’s the long blonde hair. Richard said “You’re looking very glam”. Well, what do you expect? I had other compliments. Or perhaps it is the depth of what I said, or how memorable it was. I was drawn to my feet, and on the question of “Living our faith in the world” I spoke first. After, I thought even if what I said was completely wrong, it was absorbed and transformed in the ministry after, one of the themes running through the music.

I am sufficiently clear that it was Ministry, even though I could not rationally argue that. I never can. I can only rely on the feelings. I spoke of that exercise of Jamie Catto, where we shouted our anger as at a pantomime villain. I said I want the energy of that anger. I am not sure I want to judge it too carefully. I am not sure how to word this, even now: I want to respond, and not be fighting my own responses, or too fearful of them.

I spoke first. Thinking about it now, after several sessions and many hours on “Living our faith in the world” I feel abashed. The idea of the anger, and the pantomime baddie, echoed through following ministry. One spoke of Samson: righteous anger brings destruction, for Samson and his enemies.

-We need sight and light to use strength and anger.
-Do we need spaces to shout our anger? Paint, write, dance, and sit in silence for discernment to bring intelligence and understanding to light.
-We are right to feel anger at the unequal society. One root of pain and wrong is the idea that people are motivated by money. Society emphasises competition not respect and love, and so not the whole of human nature.

At that point, I wondered whether I was moved, and thought, it is a foolish question. Then I thought, that answer dodges my responsibility. All I can say is I was drawn to my feet.

-Jesus was not afraid of righteous anger, but he used it exceedingly sparingly. Forgive, and pray for enemies. I have been a pantomime baddie, with judgemental thoughts and harsh notions: I forgive myself, for that is part of the human condition. We must uphold and support baddies, such as paedophiles and terrorists. I am a baddie: please do not turn your anger on me, as it would break me (she said). See if you can find a way of loving me. Pray for me.

 No-one sins in awareness.

-The roots of wrong are the prevalent destructive, corrosive attitudes. Prejudices divide us. So many people are poor and excluded. We must encourage society to let in those who are waiting outside.

-The spiritual roots are in us, in others, and congealed in institutions.

-To face the principalities and powers, we need connections and collaboration.

This is only part of the Ministry, that part most relevant to my own. They are my notes, so I have missed bits. Mine was an extreme position. No-one fully agreed with me, especially not about not judging the anger- though we were counselled that if we merely agreed, we should not speak, as this is not a popularity contest. Yet I feel what I said had value, and added to the complexity and eventual beauty. Through our exercise, we came to a beautiful minute. With other things, the exercise led me to my spiritual experience on Monday morning.