Thursday, 27 November 2008


Although we don't celebrate Thanksgiving here in Britain, I like the idea of sitting down and thinking about what we're thankful for. So:

I am thankful for the NHS and all my medication; plumbing and sanitation; a comfy bed and a warm duvet; and a secure roof over my head.

I'm thankful that, when my beloved cat Tigger died earlier this month, it was quick and relatively painless, and that we were there with him. (This is why I haven't blogged for a while.) I'm also thankful that our remaining cat, Chloe, has not been too griefstricken.

I'm thankful for my wonderful son who, while not being perfect, and driving me to distraction on occasion, is pretty amazing most of the time.

I'm thankful for my close and loving family, even though my sister and I cannot live together for longer than three days without arguing, and talking to my mother gives me a sore throat because she won't wear her hearing aid.

I'm thankful that I still have the ability to use my hands to create lovely, useful, colourful things with a ball of yarn and a couple of needles (or a crochet hook).

I'm thankful that my Meeting doesn't forget me, although I can no longer attend; and I'm especially grateful that we are holding a small Meeting for Worship in my living room this month.

I am thankful for organic high-cocoa chocolate; brown rice and ratatouille; pasta; a good cup of tea; porridge with honey and cinnamon; pomegranates, peaches, plums, crisp Braeburn apples, and just-ripe bananas.

I am thankful for the works of Jessamyn West, Jane Austen, Doreen Tovey, Deric Longden, Dorothy L Sayers, Betty MacDonald, Liz Jensen, Patrick Gale, E J Oxenham, Roger McGough, Alexander McCall Smith, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Elizabeth Zimmermann, Adrian Plass, Mary Thomas.... and for every book which has given me pleasure and food for thought.

I am thankful for blue skies, starry nights, fresh snow, and the two oak trees outside our home as they show us the changing of the seasons.

I am thankful for the Internet, and all the people I have encountered through it. It gives me a social life I would otherwise never have been able to have.

I am thankful that I listened and obeyed, and found myself in a Meeting for the first time; like so many others, I felt I had come home.

Happy Thanksgiving, to those who celebrate it; and to those of us who do not - happy Thursday!

Saturday, 11 October 2008

That of God

The accidental death was announced today of a right-wing Austrian politician. My immediate reaction to news of this type is relief - another one gone. That lasts for a micro-second before I remember that I am supposed to see that of God in everyone.

It is very easy to demonise the far right, and to think of them as monsters - especially that famous Austrian/German of the 1930s and 40s, whose name I still feel uneasy about writing here in case I get swamped by messages from people who believe he was right. It is so much easier to think of them as inhuman than to accept that they were ordinary people like us.

If we put tyrants and architects of genocide into a special category, we risk seeing them as two-dimensional figures, simple ciphers of evil. This is a very dangerous thing to do, as we then ignore the truth that anyone has the possibility of evil within them - they don't have to conform to some special stereotype, with blazing eyes, or funny moustaches. By turning these figures into the bogeyman, we may run the risk of not understanding how they, as ordinary human beings, achieved power and began to put their ideas into practice.

It is an unpalatable truth that we all have prejudices, and that these can be played upon. None of these people achieved power without the support of other people, whether it was their own cadre of cronies, or a majority national vote. None of them operated alone.

So, having accepted that they were as human as the rest of us, how do we see that of God in them?

I'm still working on that one. Let me know if you have any flashes of inspiration....

In the mean time, for anyone who thinks him- or herself free of prejudice, I offer one of my older poems (yes, I write poems too - not as many as I used to, and not as many as I would like). It's a performance piece - in other words, not all the views are mine! - and is called:


no one could call me racist
but I really don't like Americans
they're everywhere you go
with foghorn shirts and corny voices
though I like my friend Linda from Boulder
and Anne from Antioch U
so no one could call me racist

I don't like the Welsh much either
burning cottages, whingeing at tourists
and let's face it: we're their bread and butter
I like Penn, but he's living in England
so perhaps he doesn't count
no, no one could call me racist

I'm also not keen on the French
I don't know any French people
but I don't like the ones that I've met
in shops on holiday: the cheek,
they pretend not to understand me
and I got an A for French
but no one could call me racist

I get on well with everyone
except the Americans
the Welsh
the French
people who call me honey
people who are cruel to children
people who let their children run riot
people who tell mother-in-law jokes
people like my mother-in-law
people with ginger hair
people who are not like me

me racist?

(Copyright Heather Cawte 1987)

Saturday, 13 September 2008

12 Quakers and....

No, it's not the start of a joke :) As I mentioned in an earlier post: when I was accepted as a member, and because I already had a copy of Quaker Faith and Practice, I was offered a set of Quaker Quest booklets called "12 Quakers and...".

These were written to be used not only in Quaker Quest, but also by attenders and new members. They are written very simply, by members of the Quaker Quest team in London, and each booklet has a different topic: God, Jesus, Worship, Equality, Pacifism, Simplicity and Evil.

(On a somewhat trivial note - my set has a lovely purple box cover, made by a local bookbinder, and, as each pamphlet is a different colour of the rainbow, they look extremely inviting!)

As the title suggests, there are 12 sections in each booklet, covering a wide spectrum of views. These are not simplistic, bland 'This is what Quakers believe...' booklets, but come from the deeply-held beliefs of individual members. They are all written anonymously.

I am thoroughly enjoying them. They are a perfect example of the aspect of Quaker literature that I appreciate most: that, rather than just offering abstruse theology, or prescriptions of how to think, we value and disseminate individual members' honest thoughts and beliefs. These in turn find readers who can relate to them.

Each section is quite short - anything from one paragraph to three or four pages - and so I can read and think about a new one every day. I also re-read the one I read the previous day, just to help fix it in my mind. Several passages have gone into my Commonplace Book already, not just entire paragraphs, but also simple sentences, like this from section 2 of '12 Quakers and Equality':

Equality does not mean I am not special. It means we all are.

If you would like to purchase any for yourself, or for your Meeting Library, they are all available at the Friends' Bookshop (scroll down, and go onto the next page also) in Friends' House, London. I can really recommend them, and I am very grateful to Judith, the Elder who suggested them to me.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


Elizabeth Sherrill, in All The Way To Heaven, writes:
Moments...when the small routines of living seem to flow without effort - when I experience what our friend David Manuel calls a 'graced day'. The news item I wanted to hear is on the radio as I tune in. The person I've been trying to contact phones me. A car pulls out of the parking place as I drive up. It's a day when the timing of many schedules seems to mesh like notes in a symphony. When in the humblest event I 'catch the universe in the act of rhyming'.
I have had two examples of serendipity lately that have made me laugh aloud. One involved tracking down a Bible verse, to find, when I eventually got to a Bible look-up site, that it was the example given for ways to look things up; and the other was the coming to light of a book I've been looking for.

I first read Ruth Barton's Invitation to Solitude and Silence when I was just beginning to investigate the idea of silent worship, well before I considered becoming a Quaker. It struck me then as an eminently down-to-earth, practical and sensible book that didn't assume (unlike some I have read) that you are Super-Christian. I gave up on that one a long time ago - and anyway, the cape would get tangled in my wheels :)

I lent it to a dear friend who was moving along a similar path to me, and she loved it too. She tried to find a copy for herself and failed, so when she gave it back to me, she suggested I keep it safe. A few months later I moved to my hew house, and purged my bookshelves - but I was sure I did not get rid of it.

That being said, I couldn't actually see it there either. The waist-height bookcases are behind the sofa, with about 18 inches of space between them and it, and it's pretty difficult for me to get all the way along them. I'd concluded it must be on a bottom shelf, out of my sight.

On a whim I asked Jacky, my regular carer, to look for it today. I described it to her - thin paperback, pale spine, called something about silence and solitude - and she started looking. 'Is it about this size?' she said, pulling a book out.

'Exactly that size,' I said. 'That's the book.'

It was on a top shelf, and yet I had never spotted it. We both just burst out laughing at the coincidence, and I heard Elizabeth Sherrill's words in my head again :)

I am no longer so arrogant as to believe that God micromanages my life. Why would She find a book I needed, but not give water and food to the inhabitants of Darfur? But, like Elizabeth Sherrill, I always enjoy hearing the rhyming.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

The meme of fives

Thanks to Gil S, who revealed her answers to this in her blog, because I was nosy and asked her to! (Do go and read her blog. It's excellent.)

Fair's fair - here are my answers:

What was I doing 5 years ago?
Changing my surname back to the one I started with, having just endured a messy divorce and wanting to draw a firm line under it.

What 5 things are on my to-do list?
Catch up on my emails, finish the stocking fillers I'm knitting for Christmas, read some more of the Jessamyn West book I'm enjoying, see the diabetes nurse for the first time, phone my sister.

What are 5 snacks you enjoy?
Grapes, olives, cashew nuts, crisp apples, peanut butter on wholegrain toast.

What 5 things would you do as a billionaire?
Clean water, for free, for the whole world; fund ME research; free healthcare for all; solve the RSoF's financial problems at a stroke; travel, by wheelchair-friendly ship, with a carer and my son.

What are 5 jobs you've had?
Organ tuner's assistant; working in a bookshop; knitwear designer; published poet; freelance copy editor.

If you are reading this, you have a blog, and you haven't done this one already - consider yourself tagged!

Friday, 1 August 2008

Long Way Home - Part 2

First of all - thank you so much to everyone who commented on my last post, and welcomed me or congratulated me. I love hearing from other bloggers, and I try to leave comments myself where I can, but I'm not always up to anything but reading.

I want to complete my account of my way home to the RSoF, which I left off on May 29 (where have the days gone?). I had got to the point of moving in with my fiance and declaring myself an atheist. As I finished that post, I wrote that I had nothing to do with religion for the next 19 years, which was my recollection at the time. Since then, however, different memories have been surfacing, snippets here and there of events and people that I had forgotten along the way.

I did avoid ordinary church services for quite a while. I even tried to persuade myself that God didn't exist, but that didn't last. My faith was too deeply seated in me to be uprooted so easily. We were married in my home church, and our son was baptised in the local church across the road from our new home. Yes, across the road - I wasn't avoiding churches too successfully :)

In 1988, I divorced my husband. I moved out with my son, and met someone who was to become one of my dearest friends. He ran a Scout troop and Cub pack, and I was soon helping out, which included going to church parade in a beautiful, traditional Anglican church which reminded me powerfully of St James'. We also attended services at the Methodist church in the area where we lived; I remember one Good Friday service very well. It involved writing on slips of paper the things that you thought made you unlovable by God, and then these were collected up and burnt in a dish on the altar. A very simple act, but psychologically very effective!

We also took our Scouts to other services, such as an Ascension Day service in a beautiful ruined abbey on the outskirts of the city. That was truly memorable, worshipping under the darkening skies, with little bats beginning to fly by the time it ended.

After he was promoted at work and moved away, I decided to try an evangelical church again. Traditional services weren't fulfilling me, and I had begun to feel nostalgic about the 'good old days' of of simple choruses, clear-cut Biblical teaching, and absolute certainty that I was a 'proper' Christian. I conveniently forgot how screwed up it had made me, and how guilty I had felt, all the time...

I have to stress that I have no criticism of anyone who attends this or any other evangelical church, and that I was warmly welcomed. The service was bright and cheerful, with a large and enthusiastic congregation. It just wasn't for me. This was underlined for me when an acquaintance I had not seen for some time approached me after the service, hugged me, and said, 'Oh, I'm so glad to see you! I always knew you were one of the elect!'

My eyebrows went up with my hackles, and it was all I could do to smile, and explain that I had to go because I had another appointment. I didn't want to be part of anything that set itself apart as The Only Way. It was as alien to me as the statement by my old headmistress that only Roman Catholics go to Heaven. I couldn't go back to the evangelical churches and I wasn't happy in traditional ones. It was at this point that I really did stop going anywhere near a church, and kept my ideas on faith to myself.

Eight years later, in early 1999, I found myself spending the night in the bridal suite of a local hotel - not because I was remarrying (I had done that six months previously), but because I had had to escape from my second husband. The whole city was full up because it was graduation week at the university, and this was the only room available. The irony was not lost on me....

My second husband was an alcoholic, a fact he had managed to hide from me for quite some time. I knew nothing about alcoholism, and had gone ahead with the wedding because he had promised me he would control it. As it turned out, it was too much for him to control and, after I had been the subject of several of his violent outbursts (he threatened me with an air rifle, a sword, and a hammer), I had had to get out. I had had M.E. for about eighteen months at this point, but I was still able to drive the car.

I lay in bed that night utterly exhausted and drained. I felt as though I had no mental, emotional or spiritual resources left, and I certainly didn't have many physical ones. Deep down I knew that I needed my faith more than ever, and I was sick of pretending it wasn't important. I didn't know where to start, though - I had denied God, shoved my faith into a dark corner and done nothing a 'proper Christian' should do for so long. I was sure God would have no reason to take me back.

I closed my eyes. In my mind's eye, I could see the prodigal son trudging home to his father, wretched and embarrassed, sure that his father would deny him. And then I saw the father, racing down the road, robes flying, swinging his son into the air and hugging him. It was so vivid, and, as I realised later, just as David Goddard had retold it at one Family Service when I was a teenager. I threw myself mentally into God's arms, and cried tears of relief until I fell asleep.

I had to go back to my husband the next day (bridal suites are expensive), and we worked out a new set of rules for the relationship, which worked for another eighteen months until I finally divorced him in 2001. He never again threatened me with violence - I think he had been so shocked by my running away that he didn't want to risk my doing that again.

I became a member of the Methodist church, because I was drawn to its ideas on social justice. Although the services were much less structured than Anglican ones, I still felt every week that I was just settling into prayer when the next hymn would be announced. I met another influential friend at the village chapel; she had a similar church background to mine, and, like me, was searching for somewhere to fit in.

We began to meet up, pray together, and share our opinions and ideas. We were both interested in silent prayer, and found out that there was a Julian group in the city which we started to attend. These interdenominational groups are based around the teachings of Julian of Norwich, and silent prayer is the main focus of the meeting. (If you do not know anything about Julian, please click the link and read the Wikipedia article - she was amazingly ahead of her time!)

So - a deep desire for social justice, a love of silent worship, pacifist ideas that I had had since I was a child (and heard my father's stories of World War II ), and a belief that no one branch of Christianity, or any other religion, is the sole way to God. The next step seemed blindingly obvious.

My sister had been a senior teacher at a Quaker school, so I knew a little about the Society. Google brought me to the BYM website, and I applied for an information pack. I was so excited when it came; the more I read, the more I found myself in agreement. All sorts of things that I had always thought, but been told were wrong, were OK for Quakers - affirming in court instead of swearing an oath, the complete non-necessity of clergy acting as middlemen, the validity of ongoing revelation. I contacted the clerk at my nearest Meeting, and he came out to see me. Shortly after that, I went to my first Meeting.

I was on a high for days afterwards. I knew absolutely that this was where I was meant to be. At the next Meeting, I was prompted to speak. At the Meeting after that, I stayed on for a Meeting for Business, and was fascinated to see how it worked.

Shortly after that my health took another downturn, and I was unable to attend Meetings for Worship any more. I had plenty of visitors to keep me in touch with the Meeting, and eventually we began to have small MfW in my home, something which has now been extended to other housebound members.

I know now that I am home, and I have never been happier.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008


Rejoice with me, Friends and readers - my application for membership was considered at last weekend's Area Meeting, and I am now a member instead of an attender! :D

The main thing that was stopping me from applying is that, being more or less bedridden, I couldn't fulfil the recommendation that I attend other Meetings to see how other places did things. However, the two Friends allocated to visit me, to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into (!), pointed out that reading a range of blogs, and investigating online worship, gives me as much of an idea of the spectrum of Friends as I would get from physically visiting other Meetings - and probably more!

I certainly feel I have gained a little knowledge of how things stand internationally, which I don't think I would have got outside of the online community. This is the positive side of the cyber revolution, and one I wish got more coverage. It's time the media realised that not all websites are porn sites :)

As I already have a copy of Quaker Faith and Practice, the elder asked me to think about another book I could be given from the Meeting. After discussion, we agreed that I will be getting the set of seven '12 Quakers and...' booklets, bound into one volume by a bookbinder Friend. Each contains twelve Quakers' writings on a different testimony. I am really looking forward to reading them!

Friday, 11 July 2008

Seeking perfection

"Perfection is not required of us; but that we walk cheerfully in the right direction, seeking to live sustainably on our earth.”

(BYM Epistle 2008)

I've just been reading up on Britain Yearly Meeting on the UK Quaker website (the latest issue of Quaker News is now up online). The quotation above sums up what I have been thinking about for a long time.

When I was a teenager, I spent so much time turning myself inside out trying to be 'a good witness'. I felt that, having been 'born again', I should be perfect - after all, God had forgiven my sins, and made me whole again, so why was it so hard to stay that way?

It took me years to realise that I had it the wrong way round. I didn't have to be perfect to get close to God. All I had to do was allow myself to get closer to God, to spend more time listening and less time apologising. The more I did that, the easier and more natural it was to do the things I was desperate to do - control my temper, live more simply, see that of God in everyone.

I know now that I will never attain perfection. I also know now that God loves me regardless :)

(This ties in so much with my journey towards the Society, and I will write that second half of the account soon. It's much clearer in my mind now, as my membership visitors came this week, and that journey was one of the things we discussed. I will finish it soon!)

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Reflections on the Prayer Vigil

I don't usually go into a time of silent waiting with a fixed agenda; that seems to me to run counter to the whole point of the exercise. I mean, I hold people in the light, but apart from that I try to be silent and listen.

So it was with some trepidation that I prepared to fulfil my commitment to the night vigil for UN Torture Victims Day. I was concerned mainly that I might fall back into my old habit of 'shopping list prayer', when I would be so busy asking God for things, and trying to cover every aspect of a situation so that He would know how deeply I'd thought about it, that I would forget to listen for any reply.

I tried very hard to turn off my own thoughts every time they began to intrude. It seemed to work - I got so much insight just from this brief time that I was amazed when I opened my eyes and saw that just my allotted fifteen minutes had passed.

What I learned was this. We all know what torture looks like. We have seen it on TV, read about it in the papers. The victims of torture deserve and demand any and all help we can give. But who are the victims? Not just the person tortured, but their families, their communities, and most definitely the torturers themselves.

Torture is an insidious evil which leaves no one untouched.

When there is domestic violence, there is torture. When there is bullying, there is torture. Like those child victims of abuse who grow up to be abusers, are torturers created by suffering torture themselves?

This is not meant to dilute the awful experiences of those undergoing what we all think of as torture. But I believe deeply that we often do not realise how close those victims can be to us. Not all torture victims are in faraway countries in medieval dungeons. Sometimes they can be just next door.

I know now that I have to keep remembering that within humanity, within each one of us, is the capacity for great cruelty and harm. It's so common to hear an anecdote finished with a laughing, 'Ooh, I could have killed him', or 'I could have strangled her'.Why do we say these things so lightly?

I feel that I have been led another step closer to God. The more time I spend with Him, the easier it becomes to get closer to Him and to live out His teachings, and the less I want to do the things that keep me away from Him. So, in addition to all the other things I have embraced and found strength in, I have to add the awareness of casual violence, not only around me but within me. And I thought I was a good pacifist already...

Thursday, 19 June 2008

UN Torture Victims Day

26 June is UN Torture Victims Day, an international day of awareness and prayer for the victims, their families, the torturers and the politicians who back them.

ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) is supporting this day of awareness by organising a worldwide prayer vigil. The aim is for there to be constant prayer, across the globe, from 8pm on 27 June to 8am on 28 June.

If you feel that you can support this, and wish to take part, please go along to the Night Vigil site to register your intention, and to pick a time slot. Of course, this isn't necessary, and we can all pray at other times too - and I hope we will - but it is heartening to see the number of signings going up as more and more people join.

You can sign up as an individual or as a group. Please think about doing this, even if you are not by inclination a 'joiner'. It's a great support for those who are undergoing torture to know that they are not forgotten.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Warmongers in Census negotiations

The following email was forwarded to me today:

The next UK Census (in 2011), in which participation is compulsory, might be run by an arms company with close links to the United States government, and which also focuses on intelligence and surveillance work. See below for more info.

The decision is now imminent. Sign the petition today: (Deadline to sign up by: 15 June 2008)

Petition on the Downing Street website

What's the problem?

The process of running the 2011 Census will be contracted out by the Office of National Statistics to a private company.

One of the two contractors in the final round of selection is the arms company Lockheed Martin, 80% of whose business is with the US Department of Defence and other Federal Government agencies.

This might concern you because: The Census rules mean that every household will be legally obliged to provide a wide range of personal information that will be handled by the chosen contractor. Lockheed Martin produces missiles and land mines which are being used in Afghanistan and Iraq and which are illegal in many countries. They also focus on intelligence and surveillance work and boast of their ability to provide `integrated threat information´ that combines information from many different sources.

New questions in the 2011 Census will include information about income and place of birth, as well as existing questions about languages spoken in the household and many other personal details. This information would be very useful to Lockheed Martin´s intelligence work, and fears that the data might not be safe could lead to many people not filling in their Census forms.

Census Alert is therefore campaigning to stop Lockheed Martin from being given the contract.

The campaign is supported by the Green Party, politicians from Plaid Cymru, Labour and the Scottish National Party, and others opposed to the arms trade and concerned about personal privacy.

We are not opposed to the Census itself. Aggregated, the information collected is important in allocating resources to local authorities and public services. But personal privacy is important too, and we are concerned that Lockheed Martin's involvement could undermine public confidence in the process and lead to inaccurate data being collected.

There is still time to stop this happening and we are not calling for a boycott of the Census at this stage.

Before the final decisions on the contract are made, we are asking you to do the following:

Sign our petition opposing arms company involvement in the Census. Contact your MP and ask them to raise the issue in Parliament. Contact your local Councillor and ask them to highlight their concerns about the allocation of local authority resources.

Important electronic communications disclaimer

Karen Clarke
Senior Lecturer in Social Policy
Politics, School of Social Sciences,
University of Manchester,
Arthur Lewis Building,
Oxford Road,
Manchester M13 9PL
Tel: 0161 275 4770

Thursday, 5 June 2008

A little hiatus

Before I come back to the account of my journey to Friends, I want to share something that is greatly on my mind.

Newberg Friends Church in the US is currently conducting a six-week corporate fast. This doesn't mean all the members are refraining from food, rather that every member is being encouraged to consider giving up non-essential activities and things that do not feed them spiritually.

AJ Schwanz has a great, thought-provoking and honest post about the way that the first Meeting after the start of the fast went, and how it felt to have her children with her in Meeting.

I was also interested to read the post before that. She had been brought up short by Isaiah 58, and hadn't been able to read past it, so she had brought it to the planning meeting for the fast and shared it with everyone there. She reprints the text and asks if any verse resonates with her readers.

Well, I have been aware for a while now that I am spending too much time online faffing around and doing nothing, and also that my overall time online is impinging on the time I need for reading, sleeping, and sitting in the Light, so I was very drawn to the idea of the fast anyway. When I read Isaiah 58, part of v11 really stuck out for me: 'You shall be like a watered garden'.

It's so long since I have felt anything but exhausted, dehydrated and frazzled - physically, mentally and spiritually. I'm not looking after myself properly, and I want to feel that contentment and health again. I may not be able to cure myself physically, but I can do a much better job of ensuring I get the rest I need, and that I eat nourishing food instead of things I like but which are not good for me (chocolate, I am looking at you....)

If I am not looking after myself physically, that affects how I am mentally. Mental overwork and stress tire me out as quickly as physical overwork and stress, and can be just as simply dealt with. And I never feel spiritually fulfilled if I don't spend time with the source of my spiritual nourishment!

The whole verse actually goes like this:

The LORD will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

I could really do with some strength in my bones, and some quenching of drought. It's in my hands now - it's up to me to accept the offer and do the right thing.

Watch this space....

Thursday, 29 May 2008

My long journey home

I thought it would be interesting to try to chart the journey that led me to becoming a Quaker.

I began to develop a faith of my own at an early age. I don't remember a time when I didn't believe in God.

I come from a staunchly Anglican (Church of England) family. I don't mean that we always attended at Easter and Christmas - I mean that we had, at one point, an unbroken 100-year record of service to the same church, concluding with my father as churchwarden and my sister and I as sidesmen (ushers taking care of the side aisles). Church was an important thing, and my father in particular had a very strong faith.

We attended a pretty Victorian church with stained glass windows and wooden pews, which still used the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and had a service of Sung Communion once a month. I didn't bother for long with Sunday School, but began to go straight into church with Dad.

Although we had a very erudite vicar, who used to give long sermons full of learned and abstruse theology, I loved being in the church. It made me feel comfortable, and the beauty and poetry of the seventeenth-century language in the prayer book and in the King James' Bible sank into me so deeply that I can still repeat parts verbatim now.

Of course, I didn't always understand what I was hearing back then, but I loved the music of the phrases!

When I was about 12, we got a new vicar who was the polar opposite of the old one. David Goddard was a bear of a man, an ex-rugby player with a shock of white hair and a love of bone-crunching hugs. He was one of the biggest influences on my life, and a wonderful man.

His sermons were lively and interesting, and he was particularly good with children. His love for God shone out of him, and the congregation grew rapidly as a result of his welcoming attitude. We began to use a more modern Bible translation for the lessons, and the new ASB modern prayer book. David also set up Bible study groups and prayer groups, which I joined with enthusiasm. I still miss the Sunday evening singsong in the Vicarage dining room.

Around this time (1973), I changed schools when my parents sent me to a local Catholic convent school. They wanted smaller class sizes than the state school could offer, as well as a single-sex intake. I was getting far too distracted by boys at my old school!

I was surprised at how little difference there was between the words spoken at an Anglican Communion service and at the Catholic Mass. I'd never really had anything to do with other denominations before, and this completely puzzled me. I also had a stand-up argument with the Headmistress, a rather formidable nun, because she told me that I was a heathen and was going to Hell unless I became a Catholic: 'Only we Catholics have the pearl of great price.'

At 14, while reading a Gospel account of the crucifixion from 'Good News for Modern Man' (later 'The Good News Bible'), I had a deep emotional reaction to the reality of how much God must love us, and became what I soon discovered was called 'born again'.

I really was pretty obnoxious for the next few years. I had all the answers, and no one else knew anything. I even explained to my father, straight-faced, that he had to accept Jesus in his heart and be born again, or he would not enter Heaven. Luckily he was always very kind and understanding to all three of us children, and didn't laugh me out of the room! I can honestly say now that I have met few people less in need of 'conversion' than my father.

I felt guilty if I read anything other than Christian evangelical books, or listened to anything but Christian music. I was so relieved when Bob Dylan announced he was becoming a Christian, as it meant I could go back to listening to him without guilt!

I had it drummed into me by the books that I read that I had to start and end each day with a Bible study and a 'quiet time'. I kept 'shopping lists' of all the people and situations that I thought I should pray for, and would work my way diligently through them, telling God what I thought He should do.

Every book I read gave me more things to do, more people to pray for, more spiritual exercises to complete or things I should avoid. I worried incessantly that I was not a good witness, that I should pray in tongues, that I should memorise more Bible verses, that I should evangelise on street corners, or sneak out at night to convert the homeless. More than once I stayed awake for hours at night, praying for forgiveness for things I'd done in my past, repeating prayers and the words of hymns over and over again.

I joined the Christian Union at my sixth-form college, and at university, as well as two evangelical street theatre groups. Even at university, I spent hours studying the Bible and going through my prayer 'shopping lists', worrying because I had never converted anyone, or performed even a small miracle.

Finally, in my third year, I moved out of my college and into my fiance's house, which was quieter, so that I could concentrate on my studies more. As it turned out, I certainly got more time to study. I felt so guilty about moving in that I constantly argued with myself that it was against God's law for me to be there.

Eventually something in me seemed to snap, and I went from one extreme to the other, renouncing all my beliefs and claiming I was now an atheist. I refused to have anything to do with religion for the next 19 years.

That seems like a natural break point, and I'm exhausted, so - more next time.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

The 'Female Schindler'

The death has been reported of an extraordinary woman called Irena Sendler, known to many people as the 'Female Schindler'.

She was a Roman Catholic social worker who, by the time she was arrested by the Gestapo, had managed to smuggle 2500 babies and children out of the Warsaw ghetto, and have them rehomed under fake Christian identities. She kept secret records of their real Jewish names and families to enable them all to be reunited after the war.

She was 98 when she died, and still largely unknown, although she was nominated last year for the Nobel Peace Prize. The obituary I read quotes her as saying:

I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality.

The term 'heroine' irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Lakeland Quakers

Griff Rhys Jones is currently presenting a wonderful series on BBC2 called Mountain - I think it may be a repeat, as it's copyright 2007. Wednesday 14th's episode was about the Lake District.

6 or 7 minutes out of the hour-long programme was taken up with Griff talking about Fox, visiting the peak from which he spoke at Firbank Fell, and attending a meeting at the meeting house at Briggflatts. He talked to a number of Friends, including one young girl of perhaps 12, who spoke very clearly and simply.

It was done very sympathetically, and I feel that it was a marked contrast to the majority of mentions of people of faith in the media. Usually anyone with faith seems to be branded a bigot, an idiot, or a terrorist - or all three.....

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The 123 meme

I found this while mooching through some older posts on Chris M's blog. He kindly invited people to 'tag yourself' - so I have :)
  1. Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. No cheating!
  2. Find page 123
  3. Find the first 5 sentences
  4. Post the next 3 sentences
  5. Tag 5 people
My nearest book is a brilliant set of linked short stories called 'The Friendly Persuasion' by Jessamyn West. It was published in 1940, but is set around the time of the American Civil War, and it's about a Quaker family in Indiana. I bought it after I saw the film on a classic movie channel.

So, my extract reads:
'The Reverend Godley's got half the road and I ain't urging my mare.'

It depended on what you called urging. He hadn't taken to lambasting Lady with his hat yet, the way he had Red Rover, but he was sitting on the edge of the seat - and sitting mighty light, it was plain to see - driving the mare with an easy rein and talking to her like a weanling.

(This is about the father of the family, and his ongoing competition with the Reverend as to who has the faster horse. His wife is not happy about it!)

I'm going to follow Chris' example, for the same reason he gave - I can't remember who's done this and who hasn't, so by all means tag yourself :)

Monday, 19 May 2008


Why 'Still Life'? Because this will be a blog dedicated to my thoughts, comments, insight and news concerning my Quaker beliefs and membership. Quaker Meetings for Worship are places of stillness and silence, hence 'Still Life'.

Why 'Still Life'? Because, although our Meetings are (mostly) silent, they hum with the life of the members gathered in an expectant silence.

Why 'Still Life'? Because I am pretty much bedridden, and I spend the majority of my time not moving about.

Why 'Still Life'? Because, despite my illnesses and the curtailment of my former activities.... this is still Life!