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.

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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.

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.

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.

Kindness

This morning I read a short poem by the 14th century poet Hafiz:

Once a young woman said to me, “Hafiz, what

is the sign of someone who knows God?”

I became very quiet, and looked deep into her

eyes, then replied,

“My dear, they have dropped the knife. Someone

who knows God has dropped the cruel knife

that most so often use on their tender self

and others.”

We need to be kind to ourselves as well as to others. How else can we love our neighbours as ourselves?

Jesus tells his disciples to “love one another, as I have loved you”. And he tells us to love our enemies as well. Somewhere in the Old Testament we are told “If your enemy is thirsty, give him something to drink.” We are to be kind to our enemies as well as to our friends.

We need to be sensitive to each other’s needs. If we see that someone is thirsty, we can give them something to drink. If we see that they are hungry, we can give them something to eat. If we see that someone is struggling under a heavy burden, we can try to carry a share of the burden or provide support in some way. We should, at the very least, avoid adding to their burden.

As well as giving to our neighbours, we need to receive what they have to give us. Healthy relationships depend on give and take on both sides. I’m reminded of the chorus, or it might just be the first verse, of a song which I have often joined in singing at ecumenical events or on the odd occasions when I’ve attended an Anglican church service:

Brother, sister, let me serve you

Let me be as Christ to you.

Pray that I may have the grace to

Let you be my servant too.

There is an ancient story told in various parts of Asia – you may well know it – about heaven and hell. In hell a large number of people are sitting around a table laden with food, but they are all starving, because the spoons that they each have are too long for them to be able to feed themselves. In heaven, the situation is virtually identical: people sitting around a table laden with plentiful food. They even have the same long-handled spoons. The only difference is that the people are feeding each other. No-one is going hungry. And everyone is having a great party!

So let us be kind to one another. Let us persist in being kind even to those who hurt us. Perhaps they will, given time, be kind to us in return. If not, no harm is done by our being kind to them. And it may be that those who hurt us are themselves most in need of kindness. We also hurt each other unintentionally, due to a lack of sensitivity or a failure in communication. We need then to forgive one another and accept forgiveness from one another. We need to be able to forgive and to recognise our own need for forgiveness. Forgiveness is an act of kindness not only towards the person who has hurt us, but also an act of kindness towards ourselves. Harbouring bitterness or a grudge seriously damages our spiritual health. On the other hand, few things do more for our spiritual health than being kind to one another. So let’s drop the knife!

Patience

Peace is a process which takes time, a great deal of time, and patience.

I believe it was Adam Curle who said that the process of reconciliation after a violent conflict takes at least as many years as the build up to the fighting. According to that reckoning, reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis will take well over 100 years. And the process of reconciliation cannot really begin properly until there is a just settlement of the conflict, i.e. an end to the occupation of Palestine.

Those of us who seek peace between Palestinians and Israelis – and that surely includes most Palestinians and Israelis themselves – need a great deal of patience. It is hardly surprising that young Palestinians are losing their patience as Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes and takes the provocative step of closing the Al-Aqsa mosque for a day. Palestinian youths throwing stones and Molotov cocktails are met with rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas. More fatalities are likely.

There is an urgent need for new negotiations which will lead to a just and lasting solution to the conflict. The international community needs to insist on an immediate end to the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. And there should be an embargo on all arms sales to Israel. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much prospect of that at the moment.

However, more and more countries, now including Sweden, are recognising Palestine as a state. The British government should follow suit, especially after the recent vote in parliament calling for recognition of the state of Palestine. If you live in Britain, you could check out how your MP voted and, according to how they voted, thank them or politely point out the error of their ways.

Quakers here in Brussels are collecting money for kindergartens in Gaza which have been supported by Norwegian Friends for many years. In Britain and Ireland, Quaker Peace & Social Witness, based in London, administers the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) on behalf of the World Council of Churches.

There are things which we can do as individual Quakers and as Quaker meetings. But ultimately we have no control over events in the Middle East. We can only do what we can to sow the seeds of peace and justice and wait for them to grow and bear fruit.

Much patience is called for. Working nonviolently for peace and justice requires a great deal of patience. Indeed, in Latin America peace activists, instead of using the term “nonviolence” or “nonviolent action”, talk about “relentless persistence”.

Patience and relentless persistence are required in personal relationships as well. We need to persist in loving one another, both our nearest and dearest and those who seem to be working against us, until we discover, as Thomas Merton did, that “it is the reality of personal relationships which saves everything”.

This statement is the conclusion of Thomas Merton’s “Letter to a young activist”, which I quoted in my blogpost on “Joy”, published on 21 June. As a footnote to that blogpost I also gave the text of a letter from Isaac Penington to Friends (Quakers) in Amersham, written in 1667. In that letter he tells us: “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.

I’m reminded of a dream which I had quite a few years ago now, at a time when I was suffering from depression. In my dream, I was in a meadow at the bottom of the grounds of a large stately home or castle somewhere in Scotland. I found myself sinking into a bog. I was floundering and beginning to panic. A woman appeared and tried to pull me out, but that didn’t work and she was in danger of being pulled into the bog herself. I then heard someone telling me to stretch my legs down until I felt firm ground beneath my feet. So I stretched my legs down and, lo-and-behold, found firm ground. I was then able to walk out of the bog.

God provides the firm foundation, on which we can stand. No-one else can pull us out of the snare. “The Lord must be waited upon, to do this in and for us all.”

Quakers: ego-driven or Spirit-led?

A couple of weeks ago I went along to the Sunday morning “parish eucharist” at the Anglican church where my brother is the church warden. The eucharist nourished me spiritually, as I hoped it might. The homily did not.

The main point that the visiting priest made, without any real theological justification, so far as I could tell, was that a church has to have a hierarchical structure to ensure unity and prevent corruption. Quite how a hierarchical structure would prevent corruption within the church was not clear to me. Indeed, I’m inclined to think that hierarchical structures are more prone to corruption than non-hierarchical ones.

Anyway, I’m thankful that I belong to a church which does not have a hierarchy of clergy. We (Quakers) find unity not in our beliefs, which are multifarious, but in our practice – of listening to the promptings of love and truth in our hearts and being led by the Spirit as individuals and as worshipping communities. At least, this is the ideal to which we aspire.

We don’t always get it right, of course. Too often we are ego-driven rather than Spirit-led. Quaker Meetings and Quaker organisations then become battlegrounds, instead of peaceable and peace-making communities. We each push our own priorities and insist on things being done as we think fit. We can end up tearing each other and the meeting or organisation apart.

This is a long way away from discerning ways forward which are in harmony with the loving purposes of God. We each need to recognise that we may be mistaken in our perceptions or in our analysis. And we each need to submit ourselves to the discernment process of the Meeting as a whole.

This applies especially to the clerk of a Meeting or a committee. The clerk serves as a facilitator, not as a leader or a decision-maker. Decisions need to be arrived at by the Meeting or committee as a whole, through a discernment process involving all those concerned. Our egos need to be set aside. If a clerk cannot set his or her ego aside when a particular issue is under discussion, he/she needs to step aside from the role of clerk during that particular discussion. Serving as the clerk of a Meeting or a committee requires a considerable degree of spiritual maturity.

Local, area, regional, and yearly Quaker Meetings are, ideally, non-hierarchical churches. Quaker organisations, on the other hand, and this may include the administration of a yearly meeting, are necessarily hierarchical, when it comes to day-to-day operations. It just doesn’t work to have day-to-day decisions about the operation of an organisation made either by individuals according to their own whims or by a committee meeting for worship. Whilst overall strategy needs to be discerned by governing bodies according to Quaker practice, the day-to-day management and administrative decision-making needs to be left to an individual who has both an overview and detailed knowledge of the workings of the organisation.

The role of a governing body is not only to discern a broad strategy for the organisation but also to ensure that the head of the organisation has the support that he or she needs to perform the complex task of leading (giving administrative direction to) the organisation. The role of members of a governing body is one of facilitation rather than leadership.

I have found it especially helpful to read Roger C. Wilson’s 1949 Swarthmore Lecture, Authority, Leadership and Concern, in which he draws on his experience in the Friends Relief Service. One paragraph is particularly instructive:

A distinction must be made between moral and administrative responsibility. To determine what shall be done and the quality of spirit in which ends shall be pursued, is a moral responsibility; to determine how that shall be done and to see that it is done, is an administrative responsibility within the moral framework. Moral responsibility is found by Friends through “the sense of the Meeting”. Administrative responsibility in complex matters is taken by individuals given the task of translating the “sense of the Meeting” into action, being guided all along by the moral obligation to remain true to the “sense of the Meeting”.

Within a Quaker organisation we all share moral responsibility. A few individual Friends take on administrative responsibility. They deserve our respect and need our support.