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!