Quakers and politics

It is deceptively difficult for Quakers to discuss politics.

Being left-wing, I am in near despair. Publications I trust- The Guardian, Paul Krugman in the New York Times- tell me that cutting taxes, particularly corporation tax or higher rate income tax, does not promote economic growth as Patrick Minford and Liz Truss say. I read that the new Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, will be tougher on immigration than Priti Patel was.

So it is a sad pleasure to talk of this with some Friends. Like me, they believe Liz Truss will take the wrong course on the climate crisis, the cost of living crisis, the Sterling crisis- I read a suggestion that parity with the dollar is possible- and will increase division and suffering in the country. We say things like “I thought Boris Johnson was bad, but Liz Truss will be worse” and agreeing brings us together.

It is tempting in these conversations to say things like “The only good thing the Tories have done in twelve years is Equal Marriage”. I thought of writing that, drafting this, then thought of other things the Conservatives have done of which I approve. I must guard against hyperbole.

My impression is that most Quakers are left-wing, like I am now. Our testimony to Equality seems to point that way. When I went to my first Monthly Meeting the Friends taking me said their children were in the Socialist Workers Party but their values were the same- and I thought, that’s a bit extreme. At the time, I voted Conservative. I have canvassed for the Conservative party. Perhaps it is my bias to imagine people to be like me. Perhaps it is that right-wing Quakers usually keep quiet about it. There is no one right Quakerly view of immigration, leave alone economics.

In a letter to The Friend on 4 August 2022, Deryck Hillas wrote, “Johnson is the worst prime minister in British history and we will be well rid of him”. In a reply in The Friend on 8 September, Clive Ashwin wrote, “Boris Johnson will emerge as … a great prime minister for his far-sighted and effective handling of unforeseen national problems”. For too many Friends, one at least of these opinions may set us off. We get angry, and think of all the contradictory evidence. On social media, we may start typing, delighting in our rhetorical flourishes. Face to face, I go into that kind of conversation where I am planning what to say rather than listening.

Reading the Guardian, I get a different impression from those Quakers who are Times readers. Things which seem obvious to me are not obvious to them. The risk is that if we argue, both will lose. The one with the sharper rhetoric and debating skills may have the last word, but that is a hollow victory if the other is hurt and the trust in friendship is lessened.

Speaking to a Quaker Leave-voter, I was reduced to hearing his views expressed calmly and definitely, and feeling that if I contradict him it will do neither of us any good. That was better than arguing, but there is a more excellent way.

We can each state our views, without interruption or contradiction, so that we know where each stands without attempting to contradict or persuade. Or, we can worship together and see what words will bring us together in Love. We can check our own understanding: I see my temptation to fall below “strict integrity” in what I say. Especially when disagreeing about politics I should take care to be truthful, and listen carefully when someone with a different news source gives a different perspective.

These things matter. Last winter I spent some time each day wrapped in a sleeping bag cuddling a hot water bottle. I will be colder this winter.

How can I speak the truth in Love, so that I have the best chance of being heard?
Am I better to remain silent, when speaking truth as I see it will merely divide us?
Can I properly hear people who disagree?
How can we come together in Love, to know and respect each other better?

Anger and the Inner Child

“Blessed is the lion that the human being will devour so that the lion becomes human. And cursed is the human being that the lion devours; and the lion will become human.”

I am destabilised. Under the tree, I look at that baby, rigid with rage and terror. Could I pick it up? It is a baby, but it is also chaotic blackness which might consume me.

Kate asks, can you hear its anger? Pick it up and hear it?
I can’t explain its anger, I say.
Can you understand and sympathise with its anger?

I don’t want this resolved, I say.
What is lost by resolution?
It’s not for me. It’s not to heal me but to silence me and get me to conform.

Well, it works that way if I am crying and someone says, Don’t cry. It’s not they want to console me, but to make me pull myself together. This is different: I don’t want resolution because that would mean accepting the angry part.

What does the angry part want?
Impossible things.
To be loved. Accepted.

What does the heart lose in accepting the angry part?
Safety? Control? But I have neither.
I lose the moral high ground illusion.
My self-image is that I am not violent. Others have assaulted me. But really, I just shout.
Others experience me as angry. The anger is there whether I am conscious of it or not.

What would the heart gain?
Cerberus, my guard dog. It sniffs out the threats, so that I see the world more clearly.

I need to love my anger.
Anger would become energy to confront threat or insult, rather than as a terrifying thing I must suppress. When I attempt to suppress my anger, people see I am angry, and I am paralysed. It is a disaster for me.

What’s under the anger?
Self-respect. A sense of my worth.

The only time I am comfortable expressing anger is when I am sucking up. Someone is angry with The Thing Which Angers All Good-thinking People, and I am angry too, to show I am one of the good people. I hate it afterwards. One such memory when I was eighteen causes me lasting shame, because the thing the Good People were angry at was my crowd, and my anger at my crowd did not make me one of the Good People, just divided me from my crowd.

Kate says the value of Internal Family Systems for her is to honour the voices within her. She treats them as people, with feelings and needs, which may be stuck somewhere with a limited perception of the world. The whole person is much more than that individual voice, but the voice is someone she can greet with compassion.

Then, I had one of my I Am experiences, and it felt the I Am- what I thought of as my Heart, or Inner Light, was absorbing the anger. Was able to admit anger to itself, perceive anger, not try to suppress anger, and therefore use its energy. That felt really good.

A Friend ministered on being spanked as a child, and gave a great deal of detail about how hard her mother’s life was and how good her mother was and how bad she had been so she absolutely understood her mother doing it- and then of how it has affected her whole life, believing that when something bad happened to her a vengeful God was punishing her. Then I watched a baby held by delighted grandparents as he tried to get his legs underneath him and push down with his feet, and my lovable, joyous, inspiring Friend in a hospital bed.

I identified the I Am as my heart, my higher power. And yet, I could be knocked out of it. I lied: my ego produced a plausible falsehood to make me look better. My heart had no access to my anger and fear. I take Thomas’s Jesus to mean, if my anger devours me I am cursed, but if I absorb, accept, use my anger I am blessed.

At the Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families (ACADF) group, the question was, “What do you do to improve conscious contact with your Higher Power?”

I thought what I called my Inner Light or Heart was that higher power in me. The ACADF group is studying the Loving Parent Guidebook, based on Internal Family Systems, and I thought, that is not for me. It is too rigid. I have an Ego and an Inner Light, which does not map on to this system of Caring Parent, Critical Parent, Inner Child and Inner Teenager, so perhaps I should look elsewhere. However I got the kindle sample of the ACADF 12 step book, greatly expanded in 2016, and Claudia B’s introduction destabilised me again.

We honored each other with acceptance for where we were, precious children and now adults struggling with what is called our false selves. We learned to project this false self to the world in an attempt to hide our inner thoughts and feelings. The preciousness of the Inner Child was tapping from within, asking and hoping to be heard and acknowledged.

Not inner light- inner child. That makes total sense, and turns my world upside down- again.

So what now? I learn more about IFS. I seek my Loving Parent. I identify the Heart as my Inner Child rather than Inner Light. The Inner Child had already this week been shown to be wanting- lacking access to my fear and anger which it is now seeking. Now the aim is to parent my inner child.

Step One

It is time, I thought, to work on my Fearless Moral Inventory. I will make myself sane. Then, carelessly and thoughtlessly, I did something wrong, and am ashamed of it. I hope it will not hurt the people I wronged, and guiltily hope it will not have adverse consequences for me. There is one thing I could do, but considering it, it might not help the others involved, or even me: it would remove my current uncertainty, but replace it with a different uncertainty.

So I thought, I need to work on step one:

We admitted that we were powerless over our emotions- that our lives had become unmanageable.

There are three heavy words there: admit, powerless, unmanageable. I decided I would write about them, to make them real for me. This is as far as I got:

“As I move from blaming another, through blaming myself, I see the experience more clearly. It was intense. Then wounds and pressures collided in a clusterfoul, and I lashed out. I no longer blame, and feel I have learned something. There was a huge amount of joy in the whole complex experience.”

That is about acceptance.

K’s mental health review tribunal was set for 13 July, but could not go ahead as no psychiatrist who had treated him was available. He attended worship on 14 July from hospital. He wrote in the chat, “When I told a junior psychiatrist that I thought I was about to become the Albert Einstein of psychiatry he just said, ‘No you’re not. That’s why we’re treating you’.”

In the worship I felt such sadness, then hurt, fear, love. I could name these feelings. They make me feel more vulnerable but be less vulnerable: I fear them, but if I am aware of them and accept them they do not burst out of me in embarrassing ways. My body convulses with the feelings. My camera is on and I do not care. I see my dear Friend in tears. I feel joy, though I doubt and question it.

K’s camera showed what looked like a metal wall and a binbag, then cut off. Perhaps zoom is transmitting from another universe.

I am not, of course, overwhelmed. I am still sitting. My body has moved in waves. My face has expressed. I have shed tears. And I have always been conscious of my Friends.

I wanted to write on Tuesday 19th, then Wednesday 20th, and did not. I shared, with one other then with the LG, on my wrongdoing. I said I need to embrace being an arse sometimes, and hope I do not do too much damage. J called this a deep vulnerable share. I wrote,

I seek safety in perfection
but perfection is impossible
I seek safety in hiding
but there is no hiding place
I seek safety in understanding
but I cannot analyse this
I want to be safe
I cannot be safe.

I want to connect.
I want to be seen and heard.
These things are not safe-
not predictable, manageable, explicable
I am so scared

What may I do, with my one, wild, precious life?

I want to analyse “Accept”, “Powerless”, “Unmanageable”. I can’t, I can only accept them. I felt the terror I had been blocking out. I want to be safe, and safety is impossible, and that desire overwhelms any other desire I have.

At another Quaker zoom, K enthusiastically shared his delusions. Before, I have felt irritation at this. What will people think? Then, I just felt sadness. I am responsible only for myself. Understanding Powerlessness does not come from analysis, but from within. I only see God when God has passed by.

In another, we talked of violent death and of terror, where people we knew were involved but we were not personally, and I noticed I was listening less authentically to my Friend. I was instead thinking of what I wanted to say. I needed to get it out of the way. So, I asked my Friend for a moment, permitted myself to feel my own Sadness, and let my body convulse. She finished her story, and asked me what had happened. I am feeling Sad, about that and about other things, and I so fear and resent my sadness. Surely I should be over that by now! And, if I block my sadness it curdles in me, becoming an ever greater burden. Telling her, with long pauses and with tears, I saw my sadness and my struggle with it more clearly.

Probably I should arrange to see a psychotherapist again, and concentrating on this stuff for an hour terrifies me.

That body-convulsing thing is really not British. I so want to contain the feeling without showing any sign of it, process it instantly so there is no interruption of my listening, and I can’t. The way I can process it, which I might not do even with all Quakers or 12-steppers on zoom, and feel would be problematic for me in the street, is to convulse. Maybe closing my eyes and breathing deeply could work.

A saner view of sanity

I have discarded the thing I said gave meaning to my life. I will find meaning somewhere else.

I have not earned money for eleven years, and thought, but I am in a process of healing and self-discovery. I am improving. This was my first indication that something in me did not like that idea of improving, and I had forgotten it. The problem is the thought of what the improvement will look like. I will get a job and support myself. My feelings will be regulated. I will be normal. That is, I will finally achieve what my ego has always wanted. My wild untamed spirit will be tamed. So I rebel against myself.

I went to the Friends General Conference gathering by zoom last week, with three to five hours a day in workshops and worship sharing, and on Saturday 9th felt mindblown. The idea of progress, effectiveness, service which I said gave my life meaning at the start of the week was exposed as a hollow sham. Step 2 is “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”, but I had imposed on myself an insane understanding of sanity. I have no idea what sanity would look like. Yes, an end to my internal conflicts, allowing feeling to flow rather than blocking or suppressing it, knowing my own desires, and finding what makes me come alive would be sane, but not Becoming Normal.

My healing proceeds in its own time. This is not a consciously controllable process, and attempts to force it in a particular direction make my sickness worse.

The other grit in my oyster of the week was Quakers opposing something I passionately desire. That it is not thwarted, rather, consideration is prolonged, makes my hurt all the greater. Why would they be so horrible? Well, because they thought it was the right thing to do. I have no idea which incident has provoked the action- January 2020, January 2019, January 2017, Winter 2009/10 spring to mind, and it could be something else. They don’t know about April 2022. Oh, and it could be A, just being a tit.

I blow up sometimes. I have always thought of that as exceptional- I am soft, gentle, peaceful, etc- and, there is a pattern. In some of these occasions, I have lost it after wanting to exercise my love, generosity and creativity in a particular way and when I can’t, I can’t cope with my own sadness.

K reminded me of Step 1- “We admitted we were powerless over our own emotions, that our lives had become unmanageable”. Powerless. Well, the ways I manage my emotions, restricting interaction, rarely going out, have taken over my life and still I lose it occasionally. Part of my insanity is my attempt to manage the feelings. Fleeing insanity, I become insane. Those who want to save their life will lose it. I am not completely powerless to control my emotions all the time, but the attempt makes my life unbearable.

So I came up with the slogan on Saturday, “Be less Arsehole”. Don’t blow up. It only hurts me. If the things I do when I blow up hurt others then that hurts me more. I noticed how harsh the slogan was, and part of it is being less cruel to myself. Part of it is taking responsibility- not in the insane attempt to be normal, but in the sense of valuing my happiness and my desires, and wanting to interact better with others.

Also at the Gathering, I was working on deep listening, not as a Beneficent act (though it can be) but as a matter of self-interest. Someone irritated me, then showed their vulnerability, and I was not irritated any more.

My flat is tidier and cleaner than it was last week. I resist the strong temptation to qualify that statement- “It won’t last”, or whatever, the judgment of the condemning ego. For example, I noticed my front door was dirty, and it occurred to me to clean it, and a week later I did.

S’s mental health tribunal is on Wednesday 13th, and he was at zoom worship on Monday. I thought, “I don’t know how to love him”. I know the question is, is the compulsory medication required to stop him being a threat to himself or others? So, talking of being a Bodhisattva connected to other universes is probably OK, talking of using suicides to prove reincarnation is best avoided. I wanted to get that over to him. I thought, I don’t know how to love him, that is, I don’t know how to take away his pain and difficulty. Then I realised I don’t know how to love any of them. Sometimes, I may be prompted to say something constructive, but I can’t make rules for that, or anticipate it.

After people left, I talked to S. I get the impression that he knows what to say and not to say at the tribunal, so he may get off the meds, as he desires. Probably, this is because the meds have stabilised him. Then his delusions will become more florid until Something Happens and he gets sectioned again, or he dies.

Rita praised the Emotional Freedom Technique. She said our beliefs sit in our system, and are innocent. We agreed about being physical animals, and discovering feeling feelings in our bodies.

Yearly Meeting 2022

What do love and justice require of us? Our theme was Faith, Community, Action, so we considered what we might do. Preparing, we heard of problematic Quaker history.

Quakers in Lancaster owned slave plantations in the Caribbean as late as 1796, and transported at least 3916 slaves. Research continues, and the number may be greater. Profits from slavery enriched Quakers who donated to the Society. Our capital is tainted.

A Friend ministered that other area meetings should research their own records, to see if other traders or holders of slaves were Quakers. We would not have minuted in 1761 that such people who would not be dissuaded should be disowned, if they were not amongst us. Janet Scott, of the Quaker Committee on Christian and Interfaith Relations, pointed out that other churches are doing their own work on finding their profits from slavery, and considering reparations, and we should learn from them, not start from scratch.

The British Empire remains a system of oppression. There are fourteen British Overseas Territories, remnants of that empire. They include the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, among the top ten tax havens in the world. I am part of systems of oppression when I buy food or clothes. Benjamin Lay avoided that by growing his own cotton.

We are proud of the work of Quakers against the slave trade, and of the achievements and writings of William Penn, who owned slaves. Penn, and our Society, did great good and great evil. I too do good and evil.

We automatically do wrong, but slowly come to notice it. For example when we welcomed Friends from other yearly meetings, a Friend said she came from what was “originally” the Welsh tract of Pennsylvania, where Welsh Quakers made their home. Later, she asked for her apology to be read out, saying she had been white supremacist. Originally, the land was the home of the Lenape people. The clerk apologised for not checking the pronunciation of Lenape- Wikipedia says it’s /ləˈnɑːpi/.

The draft epistle said, “we need to get outside our comfort zones and feel the pain of those less privileged”, as if we are the privileged people, and the less privileged among us are not part of us. Someone noticed, and that was deleted. Increasingly we challenge each other.

We are not all of one mind. A Friend ministered online that he had read replacing the word “overseer” was “decolonising” our language, because of the association with slave plantations, but elder and overseer are the correct translations of presbuteros and episkopos, and are part of our Gospel Order. I believe the testimony to equality requires us to work to counter the privilege in our thought, word and deed, and see the beauty in his view. Another stood repeatedly to speak of God’s grace, and was not called. When he stood to ask to add the phrase to the minute, it was not added as it had not been heard in ministry.

I was delighted that several people told me how they liked what I write in The Friend. A typical comment is, “Well-written and to the point”. I am tempted to name those whose names Friends will know. I stood to correct minute 17, with the additional word which met the meaning of the ministry. We are broken open by the Spirit. Several Friends thanked me. Too full of myself, I stood to alter minute 22. I wanted two questions at the end of the minute changed to statements. I prosed on about indicative and interrogative moods. It was changed, but I think not improved.

I counted three paid poets in the meeting. There may be more. From ministry, a phrase was added to the epistle: a Friend wanted to be “planting flowers as well as pulling up weeds,” an image I loved as soon as I heard it. Our words in ministry and minutes matter, because they encourage us, form us, and from them come our actions.

We are all complex people, being steadily purified by the Spirit of grace. We might like an achievable, comprehensible solution to hurry the process along, but it happens in God’s good time. I would feel so much more comfortable if I thought I was perfect, but my Friends and experiences slowly fit me for Heaven. I do good, as well as harm. I celebrate the beauty of my Friends and our Society.

The picture is of a pig farm, from the Taiwan Presidential Office.

The heart’s desire

I want to know The Truth of myself. Will I find it in James Baldwin? In Notes of a Native Son, he fights to realise himself, recognising that there is a choice: dive into the void that is the unknown self, or accept what society makes of you. He was a friend of existentialists. A human being is “something resolutely indefinable, unpredictable. In overlooking, denying, evading his complexity- which is nothing more than the disquieting complexity of ourselves- we are diminished and we perish; only within this web of ambiguity, paradox, this hunger, danger, darkness, can we find at once ourselves and the power that will free us from ourselves.”

Aged 60, he wrote that society limits him, but “my birthright was vast, connecting me to all that lives, and to everyone, forever”. Wow. Everything that is possible for a human being is possible for me. To believe that would be a great responsibility.

Or would I find it among Quakers? There is an inner light, which is so strange and wonderful we call it that of God. But it might just be a seed thrown among weeds which choke it. I thought I had found it. I was speaking from the Heart, and the proof was my voice being a higher pitch. Well, it made sense at the time.

Then that part of me said, “Do to me as you wish”. That is a brave prayer to make to God, but utterly foolhardy to a human being. I imagined myself saying it to someone, then thought, how can that be speaking from the inner light, if it is so slutty? It could be the heart’s desire. It is hard to piece together what I want, but I want that. Then I said, also from the “heart”, “I need to protect myself”.

Then I started judging the “heart” because of that particular desire. Sometimes something seems to work in a person like the Inner Light, but it deludes them. Like her. And him. Is there an “inner light” below this heart? I need a sane ego, which will protect me, rather than the ego I produced, which was the shell, imprisoning me because I was so hurt and afraid. I would need it to be my counsellor, not my prison guard; a male self to protect my feminine self. All my gifts are in both selves.

Or, perhaps, if I speak from the Inner Light, it is a lot more playful, creative and joyful, not sensible as the world sees it. I said to another my Light is more playful than I had thought, and she loved that idea. I could get authority for it from St Paul: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength”. Or, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong”. I have a vague idea that Paul said “In my weakness is my strength”, and so did Katharine Oliver and others, but I cannot find it in any particular translation.

Why should I seek authority? Make it my own. “The wisdom of God is foolishness to man,” and live by that.

Someone quoted Rumi, The Guest House. Yes, it is a metaphor, but I cannot differentiate the house, the feelings- joy or momentary awareness, depression, meanness, a violent crowd of sorrows, a dark thought, shame or malice- and the “me” that invites them in. I am one human being, the feeling and the I which would resist it. Do not resist pain or confusion. Welcome them, says the poet, and it is my experience at least that resistance does no good.

In The Good Ally, I read of people taking action to manage their own feelings or how they appear to others, rather than to achieve a result in the world. At a Quaker peace zoom, we discuss people taking action to feel better about themselves rather than as led. It is so good to know it is not just me.

Michael Leunig imagined people with their opinions, concerns, memories, anxieties, secrets, ambitions, causes, grievances, regrets, theories, reputation, style, lies, pains, charms, tricks, vendettas, powers and obsessions, and a man who lets go of all that. “He’s had enough and just wants to connect.”

A child of dysfunctional parents on a twelve step programme for such people talked of “emotional sobriety”. It means being comfortable with the full panoply of feelings, but not hijacked by them; having healthy boundaries for self and others; not being subsumed in others, or engulfed. One might get joy from another person because there is no dependency. Just appreciate them. One ceases to be addicted to drama.

Worth a try, perhaps.

Sitting with the mystery

Human beings are unknowable, even to ourselves.

In Meeting, I sit with my hurt, fear and lack of control as in a twelve-step programme. Some say that being present in the Now creates a feeling of joy, and sometimes it does for me. At other times, the pain is as much as I can bear, but shutting it out I blind myself. Suddenly perceiving the depth and complexity of feeling is like a symphony with too many instruments. I might surf it, if only I resist the temptation to understand it. But understanding has been the way I have sought safety for so long.

I take refuge in writing. Almost until I would have been too late for meeting, I was playing on the Guardian comment threads. I put a brilliant argument that people with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, and the external genitalia of women, are called “women” by a social convention. There is no simple definition of “woman” that includes CAIS women but not trans women, and no moral reason to define the word that way. That comment disappeared when a comment up-thread, “Keir Starmer should dial back the woke nonsense”, was removed by a moderator. I wrote another comment and got a “Guardian Pick” which got hundreds of up-votes. I care about this stuff, so I give you the details.

Last week, I learned Richard Dawkins will be speaking at Greenbelt, and I started thinking about what I would say if I got the microphone from the floor during his session. A paragraph has repeated in my mind as I test variations. I judge myself: I should not be thinking about this so much.

Living in the present moment, or sitting in Meeting, should I not be thinking? Well, if I were jamming a twelve bar blues, I might be better to count the bars until I felt them. Thinking has its place. I do not want to shut down any part of myself.

I started this blog post a week ago, and it was all about her. We exchanged several texts a day for months and had hours of video calls, and she was going to come to my house- and then at the end of March she withdrew, and I was wondering, why? I thought she ceased contact because she had coldly and calculatingly sought to subjugate me, and when I baulked, she withdrew. So I shamed her publicly. Afterwards, I wondered if she had been scared of me. From an earlier draft:

So many people have feared violence from me. There’s the normalised phobia of “biological men”, and there have been claims I might personally be violent. I have so much anger in me, all directed inwards. I let it go, slowly. My violent acts have been self-destructive rather than aimed at others, and I have several times been the victim of violence I could not resist. That others might fear me is a threat to my safety, and it distances me from other people.

You told me of a time you might reasonably have feared that man, and you have to be cautious in your line of work. You were under great pressure at the time.

Was it because you feared that you sought to impose complete control? I must serve you, my will subsumed in yours. I was obsessed with you, thinking of you all the time. Then I said I would not do those things, and you dropped me. I did not imagine that you feared me. I thought you had consciously, calculatingly, made me obsessed with you in order to control and negate me. That seems cruel. I would rather imagine you frightened or cautious than cruel.

This omits that after she withdrew I lashed out, attempting to shame her before fifty people. I could say, well, that was exceptional. It is not who I am really. But it was who I was in the moment that matters. I cannot say “I lost control”- there was no part of me that stopped me acting, at the time. I am one human being. If “being pushed beyond endurance” is an excuse for me, it is for others too.

I thought of asking her, but it would be ridiculous. “Were you cold and calculating, or fearful, or cautious? Was there something else?” I could not answer a question like that. What narrative has she in her mind, or would she want in mine? There is a time to create a narrative, and sometimes I just have to let the mystery be.

There is something chilling about her. She is not a nice bourgeois woman who would do nothing objectionable. Neither am I. I miss the contact, but you can’t separate bits out of a human being, missing one part but not another. Each of us is one. I see her enthusiasm, energy and intelligence- these are perceptions, not narrative- and for her I may be just another sub. I thought I would rather think of her as frightened rather than cruel, but, why? I will do her the honour of believing she can be “mad, bad and dangerous to know”.

The thought crosses my mind- “I love ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’.” And I am back writing. I decide to spend the last ten minutes of Meeting with  these people, here. How are they? How is the worship? In meeting, it behoves me to foster order, reverence, harmony, and Love.

I shall spend some time this month ruminating about her- her and that man, her and her subs, her and me. Eventually I will stop, though for now I remain open to contact from her, however unlikely. The narrative I need is that I sought as best I could publicly to shame her.

I write blog posts and comments, rather than the more sustained work of publishable articles or even a book. Writing is my skill, which gives me pleasure. Confusion and desperation recede from consciousness as I do what I am good at. Then I obsessively check for views and upvotes, as a substitute for human contact.

Away with the Quakers

She leaned closer, and I noticed her eyes flicking from side to side, looking into mine. She put her arm along the back of my chair, and lightly touched the skin above my scooped neckline. Inhibited, I froze, rather than relaxing against her side, my head on her shoulder. Still, I am delighted with the flirting.

A yoga teacher asked if I would like her to correct my posture, and told me to feel the bones in my bottom on which my weight should go. My spine should curve above those bones, balanced, so there is no strain. I should pull my shoulders back and my shoulder blades inwards. Then I should pull my head back while keeping my gaze level, so that the skull balances on top of the spine. Bowing it forward, we overdevelop the trapezius muscle. Similarly, standing I should have my weight on my heels then bear it equally between heels and the balls of the feet. I have been practising this, queueing for the tills in Aldi. Pull the belly in slightly and the chest up.

I have been away with the Quakers, and seen that we are going to disappear in Britain and probably deserve to, but that our gift could liberate the world. A Friend said that it is so nice to dress simply, and be with others whose values make them dress the same way. This didn’t just irritate me because I was in a different pretty dress, and make-up, and while most women there wore trousers a few were in skirts. It’s that it produces far too narrow an understanding of who Quakers might be, and what openness to the Spirit might produce in a person. It does not make us all look alike. The spiritual discipline is living with people who are different.

We had an animator in to help with the children, and she spent some time with adults too. So I used a free app to help make a film. She provided an iPad suspended over a backing sheet, the idea, and letters cut from coloured paper, and I made the letters of the word “community” move onto the backing sheet and dance round a bit, for ten seconds at twelve frames a second. Then I had my own idea, and pulled fragments off a pine cone, which, when the film was reversed, marched towards the pine cone and reconstituted it. I heard she commented to someone about how seriously I had taken the exercise. Well, I do. When I commit to something I give it my all. People liked watching the letters dance and spin.

I played ball with a little girl, who was just learning to catch one, in the sunshine. The bits I find most memorable in the weekend, two days later, were about play. Saturday evening, we entertained ourselves. I read my sonnets, and a man asked for copies. Did I do dramatic readings elsewhere?

I cycled 28 miles there with Google maps. I should have looked at the route beforehand. I kept making mistakes, as the phone perceived me as a few feet off to the side of the path. When I returned, it was almost all off road through woods, but going I went on some nasty road. At the end, the app sent me through a research station, which had a gate blocking the way.

A man told me I could not get through, and told me I had to go back round several miles to get on the road. I just stared stupidly at him. Eventually he told me he knew the combination, and drove ahead of me to let me through. I was tired. So anticipating going back, I was worried.

On Sunday morning, in free discussion, I addressed the group: we sit in a circle, we speak when moved, we do what we are called to. That’s it. Anything more comes from the evil one. Then in worship I wanted to say anything to reassure and encourage these people, but I had already spoken. But, this is what I want to say to Quakers:

Speak when moved. Don’t speak when not moved.
Act when led. Don’t act when not led.

We sit in silence for an hour a week, and talk incessantly the rest of the time. Much of that talk is mere intellectualising. I believe we act for other motivations than being led: we want to appear good to ourselves, or it seems like a good idea. Only in leadings is there life. And, we are good enough already, filled with the love of God. If we act from the Love in us, it is enough.

When the yoga teacher told me to bring my chest out, saying I am filled with feeling, I started to wail. The pain and uncertainty is too much for me. A lovely woman came over to console me. All morning, I had managed to hold my pain and sadness without particularly expressing it.

As a complete contrast to John William Godward, here is Walter Sickert.

A Quaker testimony to community

The American term SPICES lists six testimonies: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Stewardship. Four overlap with the list in Quaker Faith and Practice: Truth, Equality, Simplicity, Peace. The BYM website adds Justice, and many Quakers speak of a testimony to sustainability. Sustainability proceeds naturally from living from the Spirit in the love of God.

Rather than Truth, SPICES names Integrity. A mnemonic is useful as far as it goes. Truth goes beyond what we speak, to how we are in the world, being our true selves without pretence or self-delusion. That is, integrity. Even Quakers evade unpalatable truths, or we would not need counselled against that. Illusion seems comforting when reality is too hard to face. Truth is also about how we see the world, as far as possible as it is, which requires commitment and may require Love.

British Quakers have a testimony to Community though we do not name it. We practice Quaker spirituality, worship and life as part of a Quaker community. Those who do the work paid ministers do in other churches, and the work of organising, do it for a limited time. Many of us serve the wider community, building community, bringing people together, meeting need.

Leadership is a service. Decisions have to be taken, and it makes sense to delegate some to specific people. Sometimes leadership is a gift, absolving others of the need to make a decision, if not of responsibility. Anyone can offer leadership, by making a suggestion. Others will follow if they agree to.

We are a society of people with equal value but differing gifts.

We make decisions together, seeking God’s loving purposes. We seek to do what is right. Ideally, our business is conducted in a spirit of worship, and anything spoken is inspired ministry, though people can disagree. Sometimes, someone will propose a new approach and there is a feeling of the meeting coming together behind that.

Part of the discipline and practice of Quakerism is being in the meeting community, where there are the usual conflicts and stresses. Someone told me of feeling their local meeting was cliquey, so they stopped going. We can appear homogenous, almost as if people were not expressing their full variety, and those who could not fit simply left, or never came. Diversity of belief is welcomed, but other ways of being diverse may make people uncomfortable.

At our worst, we imagine that we are Peaceful so deny conflict until it explodes. The advice is to “make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome”.

Wholly Zoom meetings avoid much of the tension. We can have the discipline of sitting in silence, and I like to mutter to myself, sometimes, words, mantras or longer thoughts, while muted. I can switch my camera off, arrive late or leave early. There is no need to walk into a building where you know no-one. The spiritual practice of sitting in silence with others becomes open to far more people. And, we might know each other less well.

So Britain YM would benefit from specifically declaring we have a testimony to community, as it is so important to our religious life together.

Numbing out

I am becoming aware of how much vulnerability scares me. I can’t avoid it, but I go to great lengths to avoid feeling vulnerable. My life is so quiet. Much of the time I watch television, or just go through the same websites, over and over again, in case there is anything new.

It is hard to be positive about this, and my blog started with a pledge to be positive, and an overoptimistic first sentence. So I will sing in praise of numbing out: it keeps me safe from my vulnerability, and gives me the space to explore that vulnerability as far as I can bear.

Numbing out passes the time in my days after I have done whatever I can do with them- a little housework, a blog post, some reading, and occasionally a glancing encounter with reality. It keeps me amused. Almost every day I have a time when I can share, deeply, with wise spiritual people over Zoom. I like my life. It gives me all the challenge and experience I want. Perhaps I may want more later, and perhaps not.

I think I am clearer, now. Before, I would have said I watch television, and what a waste of time that is. Now, I would say I am numbing out, and that is self-protecting. I am nurturing myself as best I can. Numbing out, though easy to deride or despise, especially for me, is good for me.

In 2012 I did a ritual, and found I was firmly in Winter. Winter is the place where it seems the world sleeps, but seeds are germinating under the soil. Soon new shoots may grow. It is a place to be, if I can have faith the seeds really are germinating.

On Saturday night (theirs) and Sunday morning (mine, 12.30am) I read three poems about Love to American Quakers, and someone wrote in the chat, “my heart has never been touched in that way. beautiful”. I have told people this. I said I was boasting, and one said, no, you are sharing your joy.

I have no idea how good those poems are, and how I read them had some part of it. And, I know I am beautiful, and worth looking after. I have not always known that.

On Monday 21st I worshipped with Pendle Hill, and had a glimpse of the depth of my anxiety, confusion and sadness. It felt like a revelation. This is as much as I can bear, and I can bear more than before. After, sharing joys and sorrows, I shared that I have a joy I cannot articulate. Later, I thought that I am growing and healing.

On Monday evening we agreed how hard it is to warm oneself with one’s own love.

My hope, now, is that it is Spring, and to symbolise that I am wearing my daffodil earrings. It may be as illusory as the idea of pupating. But I know life develops, in the tuber under the soil. I have taken one more brick from the towering edifice of my self-hatred and contempt, and carried it towards the fragile construction of my self-respect.