Monday, 2 July 2018

Spoken Ministry and subsequent reflection at a Quaker Meeting

As is quite well-known, Quaker meetings are based around silence, with occasional contributions, which anyone can make, if they feel moved by the Spirit to do so.  This is known as "Spoken Ministry".  Occasionally, no-one will speak for the entire hour of Silent Worship, and on occasion maybe three or four will speak out of the silence.  Sometimes one piece of spoken ministry will trigger another, but it is not in any sense a discussion or a debate.  We try to sense where the words are coming from and learn what has nourished the life of other.

For me, giving spoken ministry is something that builds up inside during the Meeting.  I do not go in with the express intention of speaking, or make any prior preparations - what sparks the ministry might be something I've recently seen or observed, or it may simply arise during the silent contemplation.  As a thought builds up that might lead to ministry, one needs to consider if it is appropriate to speak, and generally if so, it becomes more insistent until it is realised that one will not get peace until the words are spoke.

This is a somewhat expanded version of some vocal ministry I gave recently.  What is interesting is what happened during my subsequent (silent) reflection on it.

That morning, over breakfast, I saw a page and a video on the BBC News website where they had interviewed three Trump supporters on what they thought of the policy of separating the children from illegal immigrants.  One of the three interviewed was outrageously over the top stating that it was "the most disgusting piece of manufactured news I have ever seen".  Of course I was flabbergasted to hear this horrific treatment of innocent children described as "fake news", but what really struck me was the woman's face, or rather her eyes, that seemed to radiate pure hatred and anger.  She had what I would describe as a "mean face".  In this I am not saying she was ugly; I am sure she could look perfectly pleasant if she smiled, since a smile transforms a face as surely as does a frown.

As I am only human, and given the outrageous things she was saying, I found myself hating her back.  "What an awful, evil woman! How dare she say such things?" I thought.  But then it struck me that if instead she had been berating Trump, and pulling the same hateful face, that I would have started hating Trump more.  This, it seemed to me led to a simple principle;

"Hatred breeds hatred".

If you hate, then either the world hates you back, or the world hates with you, and neither is a good outcome.

After I'd watched the Trump-supporting video, I noticed in the side panel on the BBC website an article about a 103 year old pianist, so followed it for some light relief.  I had expected to see an old lady playing very simple tunes on a piano.  But she was actually playing Debussy's famous piece "Reflets dans l'eau" (Reflections in the water), a formidably difficult piece that is one of my favourites.  Moreover she seemed to have been playing it with complete mastery.

What struck me so much about this lady (who was interviewed in French with English subtitles), was her joy and love of life and nature - her mischievous smile and the radiant beauty of this lady, despite her advanced years.  At the end of the interview I found myself saying "I love her!".

Show love and the world loves you back.  In the interest of spreading a little light and love as opposed to darkness and hatred, I posted the interview with the French lady on my Facebook page, and left the Trump lady in obscurity.

But ... (I continued) it struck me that as a spiritual discipline it might be good to "hold in the light"  someone who really pushes all your buttons and makes you see red.  It is easy to pray for someone for whom you feel empathy, or whom you love, but someone you hate - well, that's much more difficult, and yet a good ascetic discipline. [ The Quaker expression "hold someone in the Light" is roughly equivalent to what a church-goer might mean by "pray for", though is often more contemplative in nature].


Then I sat down and silence resumed.  I attempted to "practice what I'd preached" and hold Trump woman in the light.   In silence I tried to visualise her, imagine what made her so angry and bitter, imagine her surrounded by God's light and presence.   But all I could hear in my head was the Debussy, the way music continues to resonate in your head, especially if you love that music dearly.

This reminded me of the verse from John's Gospel chapter 1:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
Then, right towards the end, some words came to me, in the way a quiet thought comes up from nowhere, which might be what God was saying to me.  Non-believers might find this rather strange as though there was a voice in my head.  This was not the case at all - just a thought, phrased as if it were from God.  Was it from God, or was it my imagination?  Does it even matter which it was?  The words were something like:

It's alright Iain.  It is too hard for you to love her, but not too hard for me.  I'll take over now.

After that, in the final few moments of the meeting, before it was formally ended where we shake hands with each other, there was, for me, a sense of utter peace.

Here is the video of the beautiful French 103 year old lady don't you just love her?




You'll have to find Trump-lady yourself, though if what I have said above is true, she's being taken care of.

And here is the entire piece for your enjoyment:


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