Loving our Enemies

Have you tried loving your enemies? It isn’t easy. An enemy is someone who hates you, makes you suffer, hurts you callously.

My natural reaction to someone who’s hurting me is to fight back or to run away – fight or flight. And my natural reaction to someone who hates me is to hate them back.

I’m usually – not always – able to curb my tendency to fight back. I am, after all, a pacifist, supposedly committed to nonviolence. It becomes difficult to live with myself, when I hurt someone deliberately. I also believe that when I hurt someone deliberately I do more damage to my own soul than I do to them.

The alternative is to flee, to run away – or walk away, to leave the room, to leave the relationship. But that is invariably also a form of violence.

There is another alternative, another way: to stand one’s ground as lovingly as one possibly can. We can only truly do this, if we are grounded in love. Otherwise, standing one’s ground can easily become another way of fighting back. If we are to stand our ground lovingly, we must love our enemies.

And the first step towards loving an enemy, is to refuse to hate them – even when they hate us – or seem to. In response to hatred we choose to love. We choose to do what seems to be impossible: to love an enemy and to do good to someone who’s hurting us.

Jesus did this, and if we’re serious about following Jesus we should do this too. Never mind how difficult or even impossible it may seem.

Love comes with practice.

Jean Goss had to practise love in a prisoner of war camp near Lübeck during the Second World War. He had killed a great many German soldiers when he and his comrades were holding the German army back whilst allied soldiers were being evacuated from Dunkirk. After he had been fighting non-stop for five days and nights, in the early hours of Easter Day, Jean experienced an epiphany. He saw that all the soldiers, Germans as well as French, had been created by God and were loved by God, and that God just wanted all these human beings to love each other and to be happy. That night Jean learnt that his mission was to pass this message on to all the human beings who were fighting each other.

Soon after this exhilarating encounter with God, Jean – along with many others – was captured. He spent more than three years in the POW camp near Lübeck. There he tried to love not only his fellow prisoners of war but also the German officers who ran the camp. He asked his fellow prisoners to tell him, whenever they observed that he wasn’t being loving. His loving actions in difficult situations got him into serious trouble more than once. In a POW camp, serious trouble meant that you could easily be killed.

In one of these difficult situations, after some discussion with a Marxist fellow prisoner, Jean decided to go to the camp commandant and tell him that he would take the blame for what was going wrong. The commandant cried out, “No, not you! Go away! You can’t do that!” and chose to take the responsibility upon himself. He was taken away by military police two days later.

Seven or eight other prisoners joined Jean in what he was doing – asking others to challenge them, if they weren’t being loving in a certain situation. This transformed the camp to such an extent that prisoners from other camps asked what was going on. Jean’s reply was: “We try to love, as Christ has loved us.”

Just staying out of things and doing nothing to alleviate suffering or put an end to injustice is not loving. Intervention is necessary. Jean took the risk of intervening in a serious conflict and very nearly lost his life. He was beaten, tortured, and sentenced to death. When he was about to be executed, Jean told the camp commandant that he felt joy at the prospect of being united with the God of love, and that this God also loved the camp commandant. As he was speaking to the commandant, Jean was able to love him with all his strength and from the bottom of his heart. The officer clearly sensed this. He laid his revolver aside and refused to carry out the execution.

Many years later, in 1985, Jean wrote to his wife, Hildegard (Goss-Mayr), about this episode:

“You know, before that I had tried to love the Germans, the officers who were running the camp. But it wasn’t until I was being beaten and tortured that I really began to love them. That released within me an incredible, a most extraordinary love. And, look! It was at that moment that I understood that it isn’t me who loves. It is HE, Jesus Christ, who loves in me!

“If this love is so strong that it can convert even a Nazi, an enemy, then, I said to myself, it is the truly revolutionary power which can make people and the world new again.”

Footnote: Jean Goss’ experiences as a soldier and prisoner of war are recounted by Hildegard Goss-Mayr in her book, “Wie Feinde Freunde Werden: Mein Leben mit Jean Goss für Gewaltlosigkeit, Gerechtigkeit und Versöhnung”, published by Verlag Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau, in 1996.

Posted in God, Goodness-Power, History, Love, Peace witness, People, Spirituality, Transforming Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who are we?

Does the picture which we paint of ourselves as Quakers actually reflect reality? I suspect that we often think more highly of ourselves than we have reason to. In reality we fall short both as individuals and as a faith community – just like everyone else. Reality is somewhat different from the rhetoric.

But let’s not beat ourselves up about that. We need to recognise our failings – as individuals and as meetings or worship groups, take care of those who have been hurt so that their wounds can heal, forgive ourselves and each other, learn whatever lessons need to be learned (i.e. repent), and do better (i.e. behave more lovingly) in the future.

But the question remains: Who are we?

Last Sunday evening, as three of us were travelling back from a regional meeting north of Duisburg, I asked myself, “Wer sind wir?” (Who are we?). It occurred to me that we might be tempted to exclaim, “Wir sind wer!” (We are Somebody!). Apart from the danger of over-estimating our own importance, we need to know who we are before we can start telling people about ourselves.

At this point I think it is significant to note that George Fox did not go about telling people how wonderful the Religious Society of Friends was. He encouraged/admonished people to turn to their Inward Teacher, the Inward Light of Christ within, to be patterns and examples, and that they would then “come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one”. And he encouraged people to meet together to open themselves to the Light within.

At the end of a blogpost entitled “Joy” posted on 21 June 2014 I reproduced a letter from another early Quaker, Isaac Pennington, to Friends in Amersham. We (Quakers) are fond of quoting the first couple of lines of this letter: “Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand”. I’ve heard Friends quote this because it has been their experience of the life of their meeting, for which they are thankful. On other occasions, when there has been conflict in a meeting, it has been quoted to remind Friends of the need to be tender with each other. Sadly, it is sometimes quoted to point out the lack of tenderness and a forgiving spirit in a meeting.

In his letter Isaac Pennington encouraged Friends in Amersham: “Oh! wait to feel this spirit, and to be guided to walk in this spirit, that ye may enjoy the Lord in sweetness, and walk sweetly, meekly, tenderly, peaceably, and lovingly one with another.” When I feel this spirit, I know that I myself am forgiven. And, knowing this, I’m able to forgive anyone who hurts me. Even when I don’t feel this spirit, I try to avoid laying accusations against anyone, however hurt I may be, because of the likelihood that I’m failing to see the beam in my own eye (Matthew 7.1-5). This needn’t stop me from letting it be known that I’ve been hurt – I find Nonviolent Communication (NVC) as taught by Marshall Rosenberg helpful in this respect. But I do try to avoid making hurtful accusations and to bear in mind that any accusation is likely to be hurtful.

When we are able to walk in the spirit of love and tenderness, the Religious Society of Friends becomes what it is meant to be: a faith community. The New Testament word is “koinonia”, often translated as “fellowship”. The Religious Society of Friends is (or should be, I believe) a very particular kind of faith community, i.e. a peace church, “ekklesia” in Greek. A true Christian church or ekklesia is necessarily a peace church, i.e. a faith community or koinonia which engages in peacemaking both internally and in the wider world. There are other criteria (debatable and debated amongst theologians) which need to be met for a faith community to be a true church or “ekklesia”, but active engagement in peacemaking seems to me to be crucial.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, describes what a peace church should be like:

“If then our common life in Christ (“koinonia”) yields anything to stir the heart, any loving consolation, any sharing of the Spirit, any warmth of affection or compassion, fill up my cup of happiness by thinking and feeling alike, with the same love for one another, the same turn of mind, and a common care for unity. There must be no room for rivalry and personal vanity among you, but you must humbly reckon others better than yourselves. Look to each other’s interest and not merely to your own.

Let your bearing towards one another arise out of your Life in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 2.1-5)

This is what I think we should aspire to.

We need, however, to beware of expecting too much from others in our faith community. Whilst we most certainly need to practise loving kindness towards each other in the spirit of love and tenderness, it is a mistake to attempt to do or expect others to do what only the Spirit can do for us. Isaac Pennington writes: “… watch one over another, in that which is gentle and tender, and knows it can neither preserve itself, nor help another out of the snare; but the Lord must be waited upon, to do this in and for us all.”

There are times when I fail to watch over my “brothers” and “sisters” as I should (for I am my brothers’ and my sisters’ keeper). I have to wait upon the Lord to preserve me and others from harm. And we all need to wait upon the Lord to help us out of the snare. When we wait upon the Lord and live in the spirit of love and tenderness, the Spirit will guide and strengthen us as we keep going on our spiritual journeys.

Posted in Church, Community, Faith, Forgiveness, God, Love, Peace, Peace witness, Quakers, Relationships, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Hadewijch

As we were leaving our flat this morning, my wife and I stopped to admire our marriage certificate which is hanging in a frame just inside the door to the apartment. We were married in a Quaker meeting, so we have a custom-designed marriage certificate which was signed by all those who were present and witnessed our marriage. The certificate was created by Hadewijch Touwen who, from time to time, had sent us cards which she had made herself with colourful collages.

We recently received the very sad news that Hadewijch had died from heart failure. Today we attended a memorial meeting in Deventer in the Netherlands. This was a moving occasion with more than 300 people present. The large room at the crematorium was not big enough to hold us all. Many of us were standing and others had to watch and listen to the worship via a video link in a neighbouring room.

Fortunately the speeches which had been prepared by members of her family and by one of the Dutch Quakers were translated into English. And, although I understood little of what was said during the unprogrammed worship, my wife told me about it afterwards.

One of the Quakers recounted a dream which they had had about Hadewijch. They saw Hadewijch being welcomed at the gates of Heaven. Although she was invited in, she stopped and asked whether she could go to Hell instead, because she would be able to do more to help people there.

Her son, Ide, told us: “Her care and compassion were apparent in everything she did and this is what I admire most in her.”

I first got to know Hadewijch when she was a “student helper” at Woodbrooke Quaker study centre in Selly Oak, Birmingham, during the autumn term of 1980 when I was a student following Woodbrooke courses. I have vague memories of her wielding a paintbrush or working in the kitchen.

Hadewijch spent a whole year at Woodbrooke and became a Quaker by convincement. A few years later she become the first clerk of Europe and Middle East Young Friends (EMEYF). For the first six months of 1987 I served as secretary to EMEYF, which included participating in the spring gathering in Copenhagen. That summer Hadewijch and I shared the experience of a week at Taizé together with a small group of young Quakers from around Europe.

A couple of years later I had the privilege of attending Hadewijch’s and Martin’s wedding in Hamburg, which was, of course, a most joyful occasion.

Somewhere I have a photograph of Hadewijch and Martin which I took when they visited me in Laufdorf (north of Frankfurt-am-Main) fairly soon after I moved there in 1990.

We kept in touch intermittently and I occasionally met Martin at various Quaker gatherings. In 2012 both Martin and I were amongst the participants in the Friends World Conference in Kenya. After the gathering I needed somewhere to stay on my way to Brussels and Martin arranged with Hadewijch for me to stay at their house. Hadewijch made me feel very much at home and allowed me to use a computer to prepare the presentation that I had to give in Brussels.

Some time last year my wife and I were able to enjoy Hadewijch’s (and Martin’s) hospitality once again. And they both attended our wedding in Lancaster.

Little did we know that a year later Hadewijch would no longer be with us. Hadewijch was a good friend to us both and we are grateful that we have the beautiful marriage certificate which she created. As her son, Ide, said, “She will forever live in our memories.”

In an article in this week’s issue of the Friend Terry Hobday writes: “It is in acts of loving kindness and respect that our true colours are really seen.” Light shone through Hadewijch’s life in all the colours of the rainbow.

Ide said: “When she heard about refugees in the Netherlands who could not acquire citizenship because they couldn’t master the language, she started helping them by teaching Dutch to her ‘taalmaatje’. When she heard of an elderly person who, in her younger years, loved to crochet and knit, she provided her with wool and needles. When she heard about prisoners in Iraq who had not received a fair trial, she sent many Amnesty letters to their government until they had.

“When Hadewijch spoke to you, you would always feel her compassion. In a conversation she would always listen attentively to your story and give you the feeling of being heard. This made it very nice to speak to her, not only for me but also, I believe, for everyone else. Nevertheless, Hadewijch did have clear opinions herself. These often differed from my own. For example, my parents and I have very different attitudes to faith and religion. I treasure the kind of mother that Hadewijch was, a mother who did not want to impose her beliefs upon me, but taught me to form and argue my own opinions. I have always been able to have good discussions with her about any kind of subject because we have always respected each other’s opinions and were open to changing our own.”

Hadewijch’s brother, Jeroen, described Hadewijch as a “strong, loving and very stable person”. He said: “There is a sudden emptiness at a spot where we expect someone who is always loving, attentive, friendly, open and interested.”

Jeroen said that Hadewijch felt “safe … in her faith in God”. “She did not believe in an almighty God who determined her fate, but trusted a God of love to take her by the hand and not let go.”

Mon ȃme se repose en paix sur dieu seul.

De lui vien mon salut.

Oui sur dieu seul mon ȃme se repose, se repose en paix.

(from the songs of Taizé)

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Witnessing to Peace in the 21st Century

“Working for Peace: Our peace testimony in the 21st century” was the theme of this year’s annual meeting of Dutch Quakers – Netherlands Yearly Meeting – which took place a few weeks ago. This subject is very dear to my heart, as is surely obvious to those of you who are familiar with my blog. Witnessing to peace is central to my understanding of what it means to be a Quaker.

Note that it is “witnessing to peace”, rather than “working for peace”, which I believe to be significant. As disciples of Jesus, we witness to the peace which God gives us. George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement in the 17th century, told Cromwell’s commissioners that he “lived in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars”. There is a life and power which is life-giving and life-supporting. This is a much better defence against all that threatens to damage or destroy us than any use of military force or violence would be.

When we live in the virtue of that life and power, our lives become a witness to God’s peace. We become peaceable people who have no need to resort to violence. Whenever we do violence to a fellow human being, we demonstrate a lack of faith in God.

Living in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars, and following the leadings of God’s spirit of love, may well lead us to work for peace in various ways. But at all times we need to put our faith in God rather than in anything that we can do. As soon as we begin to trust our own judgement and to put our faith in our own actions, we risk making matters worse when we become engaged in conflict.

On the Saturday morning at Netherlands Yearly Meeting Antal (“Toni”) Frei, pastor of the Evangelical Friends Church in Hungary, reminded us of our calling to be peacemakers who are entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told those who had gathered to hear him: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”.

Paul of Tarsus, in his second letter to the Christian community in Corinth (2 Corinthians 5:17-20), wrote: “Therefore, if someone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. All this is the work of God. He has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation. It is God who through Christ reconciled the world to himself, he has not charged the world its violations. And he has committed to us the word of reconciliation. We are ambassadors for Christ, God makes his appeal through us. On behalf of Christ, we beg you, be reconciled to God!”

During the weekend we were reminded now and then of the prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi, which begins: “Make me an instrument of your peace.” I prefer the translation: “Make me a channel of your peace”. Maybe God uses us as instruments. I don’t know. But I find it more helpful to think of opening myself to God’s spirit of love, so that God’s peace can flow through me into whatever situation I find myself in, especially when I’m in a situation of conflict.

Each day during the weekend we met in small base groups. I’m grateful for the depth of sharing that I experienced in the group that I was in. When we introduced ourselves on Friday evening, we shared our experiences of being peacemakers. When we met after breakfast on Sunday morning, we shared our ideas about the next steps which we might take as peacemakers.

I noted down and shared a number of thoughts and ideas:

  • My first next step is to write a blog – as I’m doing now!
  • This week my wife and I are taking part in the German Protestant Kirchentag (church gathering) in Stuttgart.
  • I’m going to look out for “The Gentle Art of Blessing” by someone-or-other Pradervand, a book which was recommended to us by a member of our base group.
  • During the coming months I want to do what I can to facilitate a smooth transition during a changeover of staff at the Quaker Council for European Affairs, where I work.
  • I am planning to move house within the next couple of months, in which case I shall want to support the peace work of Quakers there and play a more active part in the life of the Laurentiuskonvent, an ecumenical community committed to working for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.
  • I will continue to translate articles for Church and Peace, the European peace church network.
  • And as background or context for my peacemaking activities I will take the Charter for Compassion, a multifaith commitment to compassion as the basis for all our actions.

Wish me luck! – or rather God’s blessing.

Posted in Faith, God, Love, Peace, Peace witness, Quakers, Spirituality, Testimonies, Transforming Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Living from the Centre

In the Gospel of Luke (Luke 9:55) there is an account of how James and John offered to call down fire from heaven to destroy a village which had refused to welcome Jesus when he was on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus rebuked his two disciples, telling them that they did not know what spirit they were of. Jesus did not come to destroy people’s lives, but to save them.

James Naylor, one of the early Quakers, knew a spirit which “delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong” (Quaker Faith & Practice 19.12).

In a declaration to Charles II the early Quakers expressed their conviction that the “Spirit of Christ by which we are guided is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, and again to move unto it.” They claimed: “we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.” (Quaker Faith & Practice 24.04)

When I was here in Quaker House, Brussels, 28 years ago, I read Thomas Kelly’s Testament of Devotion. It made a deep and lasting impression on me. Here are some passages which I come back to (or they come back to me) from time to time:

“Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Centre, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return.”

“There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.”

“How, then, shall we lay hold of that Life and Power, and live the life of prayer without ceasing? By quiet, persistent practice in turning of all our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender, toward Him who calls in the deeps of our souls. Mental habits of inward orientation must be established. An inner, secret turning to God can be made fairly steady, after weeks and months and years of practice and lapses and failures and returns. It is as simple an art as Brother Lawrence found it, but it may be long before we achieve any steadiness in the process. Begin now, as you read these words, as you sit in your chair, to offer your whole selves, utterly and in joyful abandon, in quiet, glad surrender to Him who is within. In secret ejaculations of praise, turn in humble wonder to the Light, faint though it may be. Keep contact with the outer world of sense and meanings. Here is no discipline in absent-mindedness. Walk and talk and work and laugh with your friends. But behind the scenes, keep up the life of simple prayer and inward worship. Keep it up throughout the day. Let inward prayer be your last act before you fall asleep and the first act when you awake.”

I’m still a long way from consciously keeping up an inward life of prayer and worship throughout the day. But from time to time a song will come to mind which I seem to have been singing to myself unconsciously. I often go for an hour’s cycle ride before breakfast, sometimes together with my wife and sometimes on my own. When I’ve been cycling on my own recently a particular song has tended to come to mind:

Herr, deine Liebe ist wie Gras und Ufer,
Wie Wind und Weite und wie ein Zuhaus.
Frei sind wir, da zu wohnen und zu gehen.
Frei sind wir, ja zu sagen oder nein.

Refrain: Herr, deine Liebe ist wie Gras und Ufer,
Wie Wind und Weite und wie ein Zuhaus.

Wir wollen Freiheit, um uns selbst zu finden,
Freiheit, aus der man etwas machen kann.
Freiheit, die auch noch offen ist für Träume,
Wo Baum und Blume Wurzeln schlagen kann.

Und dennoch sind da Mauern zwischen Menschen,
Und nur durch Gitter sehen wir uns an.
Unser versklavtes Ich ist ein Gefängnis
Und ist gebaut aus Steinen unsrer Angst.

Herr, du bist Richter. Du nur kannst befreien.
Wenn du uns freisprichst, dann ist Freiheit da.

Freiheit, sie gilt für Menschen, Völker, Rassen,
Soweit wie deine Liebe uns ergreift.
Herr, deine Liebe ist wie Gras und Ufer,
Wie Wind und Weite und wie ein Zuhaus.

Your love, O God, is broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind, and our eternal home.
You leave us free to seek you or reject you,
you give us room to answer „yes“ or „no“.

Chorus: Your love, O God, is broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind, and our eternal home.

We long for freedom where our truest being
is given hope and courage to unfold.
We seek in freedom space and scope for dreaming,
and look for ground where trees and plants can grow.

But there are walls that keep us all divided;
we fence each other in with hate and war.
Fear is the bricks and mortar of our prison,
our pride of self, the prison coat we wear.

O judge us, Lord, and in your judgement free us,
and set our feet in freedom’s open space;
take us as far as your compassion wanders
among the children of the human race.

Your love, O God, is broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind, and our eternal home.

(Translation by Fred Kaan.)

The prayer which is most often on my heart is: “Help me to love … better.”

Richard Foster elaborates several forms of spiritual discipline in his book “Celebration of Discipline”. I guess I should remind myself of his suggestions. If I remember rightly, I think fasting may be one of them. I did fast from chocolate during lent this year!

One spiritual discipline which I’ve kept up for about forty years is to set aside time before or during breakfast for spiritual reading. Until a couple of years ago, I always used to read the Losungen, daily Bible verses and short quotations published by the Moravian church. Now I usually read a poem by the 14th century Sufi mystic Hafiz, and some reflections from “Bread for the Journey”, a book of daily readings by Henri Nouwen.

When we manage to follow spiritual disciplines which enable us to live from the Centre, our internal lives become simplified. Thomas Kelly writes: “there is a deeper, an internal simplification of the whole of one’s personality, stilled, tranquil, in childlike trust listening ever to Eternity’s whisper, walking with a smile into the dark. This amazing simplification comes when we ‘centre down’, when life is lived with singleness of eye, from a holy Centre.”

And: “Life from the Centre is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. … It is radiant.”

I should stress that this is an ideal, to which I aspire. I’m still, quite frequently, beset by anxiety and frustration and annoyance. And yet I hear a “voice” from the Centre telling me, in the words of a Taizé chant (after Teresa of Avila): “Nada te turbe, nada te espante; quien a dios tiene nada le falta. Nada te turbe, nada te espante: solo Dios basta.” (Let nothing trouble you, let nothing distress you. Nothing troubles the one who depends on God. God alone suffices.)

As we learn to live from the Centre, we become transformed. Our lives become “moving images of the Eternal Life” (Thomas Kelly).

In Testament of Devotion Thomas Kelly writes about transformation: “Guidance of life by the Light within is not exhausted as is too frequently supposed, in special leadings toward specific tasks. It begins first of all in a mass revision of our total reaction to the world. Worshipping in the light we become new creatures, making wholly new and astonishing responses to the entire outer setting of life. These responses are not reasoned out. They are, in large measure, spontaneous reactions of felt incompatibility between “the world’s” judgments of value and the Supreme Value we adore deep in the Centre. There is a total Instruction as well as specific instructions from the Light within.”

As we practice spiritual disciplines and live more and more from the divine Centre within, we become transformed, no longer ego-driven, but Spirit-led, as were the early Christians at Pentecost, as were the early Quakers, as women, men and children of various faiths have been throughout the ages. If, through spiritual discipline, we nurture our spiritual roots, we will inevitably be transformed.

This isn’t a path which I feel able to follow on my own. I need to be part of a worshipping community, ideally a local Quaker Meeting which is able to centre down during meetings for worship and become a truly gathered Meeting. Then the Meeting – as well as the individual members – is able to live from the Centre.

When conflict arises, as it inevitably does, instead of one or more members imposing their own “solution”, the Meeting – listening to the inner voice of love – is able to come up with creative responses to situations in which it is difficult to reconcile everyone’s needs. This requires humility and an ability to listen to each other. Maybe this is the most important spiritual discipline: listening with love.

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Wilfried Warneck is my brother!

Early in 1990 I took over from Wilfried Warneck as executive secretary of Church and Peace, the European network of peace churches, communities and groups. For the previous 15 years Wilfried had built up what was the Historic Peace Churches Continuation Committee into a network of more than thirty peace churches, communities, and peace and service agencies such as Eirene (International Christian Service for Peace), and Quaker Peace & Service.

When I took over Wilfried’s post as executive secretary, he took on the role of chairman. This could have been a recipe for disaster. I remember that it took Wilfried several weeks to clear out of his office. But, rather than breathing down my neck, he was able to be helpful and supportive without succumbing to the temptation to engage in micromanagement.

Admittedly there were times when I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the ideas which he had, which were going to mean more work for me when I already had enough work to do. But we enjoyed a good working relationship which was characterised by mutual respect. It surely helped that we prayed and ate together in the Laurentiuskonvent on a daily basis during the working week.

Wilfried and his wife Ruth had established the Laufdorf group of the Laurentiuskonvent about ten years earlier together with Ernst von der Recke. When I arrived in Laufdorf I was keen to join in daily worship and shared meals, although it wasn’t until Wilfried and Ruth left Laufdorf three or four years later that I became a member of the group and eventually joined the Laurentiuskonvent.

Daily worship in the chapel under the roof of the communal house of the Laurentiuskonvent provided the spiritual basis for my work for Church and Peace. Wilfried (and Marie-Noëlle von der Recke) provided the theological basis. I learnt about exegesis and hermeneutics. (I still need to remind myself what the latter means, though!) Wilfried’s sermons at Church and Peace conferences and on other occasions were informative and inspiring. Translating them for the Church and Peace newsletter wasn’t always easy, because of the complex German sentence construction, but it was always rewarding. Wilfried gave me a grounding in the theological basis of the peace church message (i.e. the Gospel of nonviolence), which we, especially Quakers, neglect at our peril.

As I write (on a train to Cologne), it occurs to me that my first visit to Bonn (or perhaps it was the second) was together with Wilfried and Ruth to protest against the first Iraq war. This was before, or soon after, the reunification of Germany, so Bonn was still the capital. It may have been on that occasion that Wilfried took me to the Malteserhof in Königswinter, just across the river (Rhine) from Bonn, where there was a community of the Laurentiuskonvent during the 1960s and 70s. Wilfried and Ruth, who were both founding members of the Laurentiuskonvent, lived there until they moved to Laufdorf in 1977.

After fleeing from East Prussia towards the end of the Second World War, Wilfried passed his Abitur in 1949. He studied Protestant theology in Bethel and Heidelberg and subsequently spent three years with the Brothers of Taizé – in Taizé and in Marseille. One thing that I very much appreciated about Wilfried was his ecumenical orientation, which meant that he was welcomed and respected not only within the Protestant church in Germany, but also in Mennonite congregations, Catholic religious communities, and in radical protestant communities, such as the Basisgemeinde Wulfshagenerhütten. He even embraced an English Quaker as his successor at the helm of Church and Peace!

I had served for about three years as executive secretary of Church and Peace when Wilfried stepped down as chairman. At his last General Assembly as chairman – I forget where it was – we held a small farewell party for him. I remember making a speech in which I asked – and explored various possible answers to – the question, “Who is Wilfried Warneck?” I finally came to the conclusion: “Wilfried Warneck is my brother.”

I didn’t attempt to count, but I should think there were more than a hundred of us who gathered in Wethen in north Hesse for Wilfried’s funeral. Besides all the members and friends of the Laurentiuskonvent in Wethen there was a good number of people from further afield, from Wulfshagenerhütten (near Kiel) in the north of Germany to Bammental (east of Heidelberg) in the south.

From Laufdorf there was Ernst and Marie-Noëlle von der Recke, Theodor von Verschuer, Davorka Lovrekovic, the current general secretary of Church and Peace, and, much to my delight, Ernst and Marie-Noëlle’s oldest daughter, Josepha, with her dark-haired and blue-eyed six-month-old baby, Johanna. From the Hamburg group of the Laurentiuskonvent there was Antje and Martin Heider-Rottwilm. Antje is the current chairperson of Church and Peace.

It was good to see a number of old friends from my time as executive secretary: two members of the Basisgemeinde Wulfshagenerhütten, who served at different times on the administrative committee; and several Mennonites, including Wolfgang Krauß, who was secretary of the German Mennonite Peace Committee, and Brigitte Albrecht, who served for a while as a volunteer in the Church and Peace office during Wilfried’s tenure.

Then there was Ulrich Frey, who was executive secretary of Aktionsgemeinschaft Dienst für den Frieden (AGDF, Action Committee Service for Peace), another of the organisations which Wilfried founded, along with Weltfriedensdienst, Eirene, the Laurentiuskonvent, and Oekumenischer Dienst/Schalomdiakonat – now “gewaltfrei handeln” (“acting without violence”).

Wilfried was a practical visionary. He not only had a vision of what a new organisation could do. He was able to win support for his vision and turn it into reality. This was all in the days of communication by post and telephone – no e-mail, no mobile phones, no Skype… Wilfried worked long hours by all accounts and was often away travelling, sometimes together with his wife, Ruth.

After the funeral, tea and cake were provided by the Laurentiuskonvent and the Oekumenische Gemeinschaft (Ecumenical Community) in Wethen. Quite a number of us took a turn to speak about Wilfried. Ruth reminded us that he was human. I remembered the observation that I made about twenty years ago: Wilfried Warneck is my brother.

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Living Water

“Come forward, you who are thirsty;
accept the water of life, a free gift to all who desire it.”
(Revelation 22:17)

I don’t always pay a lot of attention to my dreams. But I do pay attention to those which seem to carry a significant message. Such dreams have been quite rare recently, but this morning I was gifted with three of them.

In the first dream, which was perhaps the most significant, I found myself in a large cave. There was plenty of light, so I guess the cave must have been open to the daylight above. There wasn’t quite so much light at the bottom of the cave, but enough for me to use a spade to clear some earth away. As I removed the earth I discovered an old well, with the hole covered by a grating. A little way down I could dimly see the water.

Deep within each of us is a well of living water, a source of spiritual strength, on which we can draw whenever we need to. Too often this source of strength gets blocked up by the cares and worries of daily life. And it may even be forgotten, if we don’t take time to go into the cave regularly, i.e. to find time and space for spiritual reflection.

I need to be drawing on this internal source of spiritual strength on a daily basis. I try to do this by reading from a source (or sources) of spiritual wisdom. At the moment I’m reading Henri Nouwen’s “Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith”. Here are a couple of sentences from the reading for 29 February: “Jesus came…to help us overcome our fear of God. … As long as we are afraid of God, we cannot love God. … The greatest block in the spiritual life is fear. … God is perfect love, and as John the Evangelist writes, ‘Perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18). Jesus’ central message is that God loves us with an unconditional love….”

For many years I used to read the Losungen published by the Moravian church: selected Bible verses and a short quotation, often a verse from a hymn, for each day of the year. These readings often carry a simple but profound message and are a source of inspiration and food for reflection at the start of the day. The Bible verses for today (1 March 2015) are Psalm 36.5, “Thy unfailing love, O Lord, reaches to heaven, thy faithfulness to the skies.” and Romans 8:35, “What can separate us from the love of Christ?”

The love of Christ is a never-failing spring.

In my second dream I found myself in the communal house of the Laurentiuskonvent in Laufdorf in central Hesse, where I lived from 1990 to 2001. I was with a fairly large group of people on the ground floor. We were on our way up to the chapel at the top of the house. For some reason I had to wear red (unlike everyone else). I was offered a red jacket with a white fringe, but it looked like a mini cloak for Father Christmas, so I chose to wear a red pullover instead. I’m not sure about the significance of the colour red, but it occurs to me that it means both danger, something to be afraid of, and – in the shape of a heart – love. In the context of my dream, it was undoubtedly to do with love. We were on our way to worship and there was no fear in my heart. Worship is about love and joy and peace. We should go to worship with love in our hearts.

In my third dream I was in a workshop of some kind. Or it could have been an old laboratory of an amateur chemist, because in a large drawer in an old bench I found a bag full of small bottles and glass retorts of various kinds, complete with their stoppers. I was thinking that I should take them all to the bottle bank, although that would mean having to remove all the stoppers and rinsing everything out. A young colleague advised against doing this, because the bottles and retorts were likely to contain poisonous chemicals. But I didn’t want to leave them all festering in the drawer.

I guess the poisonous chemicals in the bottles and retorts represent bitterness, guilt, anger, resentment: residues from past events and relationships. I reckon they need to be washed out with living water, so that my heart may become pure – pure love. I don’t imagine that I will ever be able to love unconditionally, as Jesus did and as God does, but that is what I aim for, as a disciple of Christ.

Oh, dear! All this sounds rather pious! One step away from being self-righteous, which is about as far away from being loving as one can get. I’m reminded once again of this quotation from Thomas Merton (in New Seeds of Contemplation):

“The saints are what they are, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else. It gives them a clarity of compassion that can find good in the most terrible criminals. It delivers them from the burden of judging others, condemning others. It teaches them to bring the good out of others by compassion, mercy and pardon. We become saints not by conviction that we are better than sinners but by the realization that we are one of them, and that all together we need the mercy of God.”

We all need to draw regularly from the well of living water.

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