Meeting was wonderful today.
I arrived with a bottle of milk, in time to set up the tea. There were four of us, and those who were not there were certainly in my thoughts, and also in the minds of the others, I suspect.
There was no noise outside, and I centred down quickly. I was lead to look at the Advices and Queries, number 17. This is one of my favourites, and I feel I know it quite well.
17. Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.
I remember the first time I heard this read out and the thing I noticed then was the very last line. It seemed to me so amazing that here was a Religious Society that was telling its members that they might be wrong! The statement that there is ‘that of God in everyone’ is so well known in Quaker circles and the comment that it is difficult to find it (without a microscope was one I heard) is often heard.
Today I was looking for the third line that starts, “When words are strange…..” because I have been involved in discussions with people about hell and Limbo and I find those concepts difficult. I am also reading a book called ‘Conversations with God’, which my beloved found very useful and wanted me to read. At first I found the idea of a conversation with God strange in itself. When I was younger I rejected the idea of a personal God; that is, someone who is sitting there waiting to talk to me. For that reason I struggled with the idea of prayer – I mean, what is prayer? I saw God as more of a universal spirit, something/someone I could not comprehend that we (as a Meeting) were able to connect with. It is ‘that of God’ in us connecting with God itself. It has taken a while to realise that my way of prayer is to talk to ‘that of God’ in me, and more importantly to listen to ‘that of God’ in me. In that way I had started to understand that one can have a conversation with God. When I say “Thank you, God” when I see something wonderful now I don’t feel that I am talking with another person, nor do I longer think that I am trying to talk to a huge Spirit with millions of people all trying to get through, and who has so much more to do (running the entire universe, etc). I feel comfortable now.
Suddenly, as I read it, I noticed something that I had not noticed in the second line. Suddenly I felt validated in my way of seeing God, it is my way, it is my truth. For some time I knew what I felt was Truth, Love, the Spirit. I knew what a gathered Meeting felt like, I knew that Meeting worked, that I could ‘join in the stream’. But I had no concept of God that fit, and when I finally sorted that question out, I had to address the question of whether I was just ‘inventing’ my own God.
What was made clear to me in this A&Q was that I was inventing my way of expressing my experience of God, and that was the important thing.
So, with this clear to me, I sat and pondered, and pondered. Eventually I felt moved to minister. I said that I had been reading this A&Q and found something new, a grain of truth that I hadn’t noticed before and it had ‘nourished me’, and then I read the passage out.
Soon afterwards a weighty Friend stood up and quoted something from the Bible (Corinthians, chapter 13) He has evidently got extensive knowledge of this. It seemed to link very well with what I had been pondering, that what is important isn’t how we talk about it anyway, as long as we love, and express that love.
Whilst we drank our tea (and considered where the other fresh pint of milk had come from -a total mystery!) we talked about how positive we all felt about the Meeting; how much variation there is amongst those who call themselves Christians and how strange that there are such things as army chaplains.