23rd September 2023
You never know what might hit you in the course of a Quaker Meeting.
It could be something uplifting, ineffable. There are times I sit in meeting and nothing at all goes on inside me until maybe ten minutes before the close of Meeting, and suddenly I'm flooded with the greatest feeling of love – for all those present, for the whole world: as if my heart (my actual, physical heart!) has been grabbed, captured… in a good way.
On the other hand, I might even experience something a bit disturbing. There was one time when I felt I was getting quite close to the Spirit, Source, That, whatever it is we encounter as we abandon ourselves to What-May-Come. And what I 'saw' so hit me with its total otherness, that I instinctively recoiled. Thinking about it later, I was reminded of the biblical narrative of God revealed in a burning bush… impossible and clearly unwise to get too close to.
That encounter left quite a mark on me, not 'easy' but ultimately instructive. The Other: not to be defined, named, declared known. Uncertainty ('ignorance', even) is a fine basis for 'faith'. Thinking you know can be a real hindrance to spiritual life and growth.
Ministry – words offered by someone who feels compelled to share what is in their mind – often sparks something in us and we may feel moved to follow this up with words of our own. Or it may not 'speak to' us at all. We are asked to just let it go, if we can't inwardly translate it into something we can relate to.
Then again, keep listening, at least. There was the time when a Friend who was only too eager to pass on every stray thought (rather than wait for that inner command to share a new insight) went on at great length about their latest caravaning holiday. I waited for the point, the message. We all did. But our Friend rambled on. And then suddenly, just as he finally sat down, here was the special something – in my mind, anyway. It hadn't been about their holiday at all. It was the wonderful, almost hidden, subtext of his enduring love for his wife of 50 years that shone out as special, a pearl of a gift to share with us. As I say, there's no knowing. It may even become clear the next day. Or a year later.
Equally, there can be meetings when an itch or an aching back is the liveliest thing I discover for the whole hour. No guarantees then – you take what you are given. That is the joy of it, the openness to the new, the same-old, the totally other… by Angela Arnold.
Angela Arnold – Oswestry Quaker Meeting and North Wales Area Meeting