12th November 2023
We were each born at a specific time in a specific place in a family, clan, tribe, country, nation, ethnicity, culture, language, religious belief or none, designated gender, all of these coupled with traditions emanating from the beginnings of human history. However, all conflict such as we see today arises when we place these specifics and traditions before our humanity. We must put our humanity first for humanity to survive, Lebanese-born Christian Arab Amin Maalouf’s On Identity (Les identités meurtrières) pleads.
We human beings are unlike anything else we know of in creation so far.
We are living things, animals, with choice. As we humans evolved from the first great apes about 315,000 years ago in what is today East Africa, we created beliefs from what we could see. We attributed godly powers to nature and the heavens. As we developed, we created gods who lived ‘in the heavens above’ and then to a single God, the Sun, our ultimate visible source of energy, until the ‘Copernican revolution’ opened our eyes to see more.
We are each called to rise above our beginnings, whatever they were, and play our role as part of humanity by adding to creation with our unique, temporary, and necessary existence. Necessary because we are each necessary to each other, as John Donne’s For whom the bell tolls poetically extols. We are all part of the main. And we are all interconnected to each other and to creation as Fritjof Capra’s Pier Luigi Luisi’s The systems view of the universe: a unifying vision scientifically illustrates.
To survive, we must stop asking ‘What can I expect from life?’ and start asking ‘What does life expect of me?’, what task in life is waiting for me?, Viktor E. Frankl’s Yes to life in spite of everything (“Über den Sinn des Lebens”) challenges us.
How can I do that? I can’t change life, Marcus Aurelius’s Serenity Prayer suggests, but I can pray for the wisdom to know what I can change.
I need to ask at any given moment ‘Who am I and what am I called to do?’
When can I do that? In silent listening to and observing my own thoughts and behaviour and that of others, without reaction or judgement.
Where can I best do that? In Quaker Meeting for Worship, I have found through experience. I need to practice silent listening in community.
The more points of view I listen to, the broader I see, the more my vision becomes much more than just what I see and hear.
I begin to experience ‘that of God in everyone,’ as George Fox preached. I begin to see from creation’s perspective rather than from my own limited perspective and the view can be breathtaking.
To See Differently: Personal Growth and Being of Service Through Attitudinal Healing by Susan S. Trout, Ph.D. was a life changer for me when it was published in 1990. The subtitle states succinctly, “to see differently by choosing a positive attitude and being of positive service as a result.” I have attempted to practice that since.
At the end of his The Varieties of Religious Experience lectures in Edinburgh in 1901-1902 William James concluded:
“There is a certain uniform deliverance in which religions all appear to meet.”
It consists of two parts - an uneasiness and its solution. The uneasiness, reduced to its simplest terms, is a sense that there is something wrong about us as we naturally stand. The solution is a sense that we are saved from the wrongness by making proper connection with the higher powers.
We are each called to experience the infinite and eternal within us in the here and now, then go about doing ordinary things in our daily ephemeral life contemporary authors such as Jennifer Kavanagh in Practical Mystics, Quaker Faith in Action suggest. We are each called to life by creation with our unique human capacity to stop, look, and listen to become ‘practical mystics’ and unite with invisible power greater than us beyond the visible creation from whence we came.
Daniel Clarke Flynn
Daniel worships at Westminster Meeting, London and serves as a Woodbrooke Learning associate tutor, Woodbrooke Worship facilitator, and a Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs trustee.