The word, leaden, to describe the skies, must have been coined by an Englishman. The very definition of the term defines the winter skies in England. It’s a pefect word, too, because it gives not only the colour, a dark, dull grey; it also gives a sense of suppression, a sense of the heavy weight on our emotions, here under those skies. When, rarely, the sun breaks through for an hour or so, our elation is dashed by the inevitable return of the leaden skies, often with rain.
This greyness of days is coupled with the long, dark nights that begin to close over us in September, and reach their longest on December 2st. Sunset is earlier and sunrise later each day. Here, it is dark by 3:30 or so, and in a week it will be dark by 3:00.
All of this, for many of us, saps our energy and even deadens enthusiasm for our usual everyday enjoyment of life’s good moments.
No wonder ancient peoples needed to have a festival, a celebration day, in the middle of this season. And no wonder the ancient Christian church picked December 25th, when the days are just starting to get longer again, to be Jesus’s birthday. Who cares when it really was? We need the celebration now; we need to say, yes, the clouds will lift and we will see more light . . . maybe not soon, but eventually.
Unity, in Quaker terms, is a staggering concept. It is reached not through voting or debating, but through silent discernment during a Meeting for Worship on the Occasion of Doing Business– short form “Meeting for Business.” During the business meeting an action is proposed, or a draft minute is presented. There is some discussion. If the item is of major importance, it is set aside to “season” for a time; that is, the decision will be made after a month or two (or ten), after everyone has had a chance to think about it and to practice discernment on his/her own. If it is a simple, practical matter, the decision might be made at the same meeting during which it is presented.
Unity is reached by the movement of the Spirit among the gathered Friends. Sometimes this movement is palpable; other times it is not. This is difficult to describe or explain to anyone who has not experienced it, but is instantly recognizable once it is experienced.
William Penn, the English nobleman who left his title and his family to found the city of Philadelphia (city of Brotherly Love) and the state of Pennsylvania, wrote of Unity:
The objective of the Quaker method is to discover Truth which will satisfy everyone more fully than did any position previously held. Each and all can then say, ‘That is what I really wanted, but I did not realise it.’
The attainment of unity within the meeting is not the same as the attainment of uniformity. Unity is spiritual, uniformity is mechanical.
For a more thorough discussion of Quaker Unity, read Beyond Majority Rule, by Micheal J. Sheeran.
This questions was asked on a discussion forum. The following was my answer:
This poem touched me. I have no idea if it’s still in print or in copyright. All I know is that it’s by Grace Noll Crowell and it appeared in a collection in 1940. I really love it.
I shall attend to my little errands of love early this year,
So that the brief days before Christmas may be
Unhampered and clear
Of the fever of hurry. The breathless rushing
that I have known in the past
Shall not possess me. I shall be calm in my soul
And ready at last
I shall have leisure– I shall go out alone
From my roof and my door;
I shall not miss the silver silence of stars
As I have before;
And, oh, perhaps– If I stand there very still,
And very long–
I shall hear what the clamor of living has kept from me;
The Angels’ song!
The Tea-party movement is simply the ‘religious right’ in disguise. Half of those who identify with the Tea Party consider themselves a part of the old ‘religious right.’ They believe the Bible is the literal word of God and that America is a Christian nation. Sixty-three percent believe that abortion should be illegal. Eighty-two percent oppose same-sex marriage
Think about it. The Tea-party movement represents a clear and present danger NOW not just to the gay community but to all Americans who refuse to support the values of the Christian right or join them in making this a Christian nation. –Rev. Mel White
About Holy Terror: the Lies the Christian Right Tells us to Deny Gay Equality:
“Mel White’s Religion Gone Bad reads like a page-turning whodunit. His careful recounting of the rise of fundamentalism in America is both chilling and enormously instructive. While religious progressives have been sitting around hoping that everyone would play fair with other faithful people, the fundamentalists have been planning and implementing a strategy for taking over the Christian church and the government. Religion Gone Bad (now Holy Terror) is a wake-up call to religious progressives to take back the Bible and stop being fearful of telling the story of our own salvation at the hands of an all-loving, all-merciful and inclusive God. — The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire
I’m reading this now, almost finished, and I tell you, it is frightening. It’s also completely disillusioning for anyone who blithely believes that all self-identified “Christians” truly seek to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. The vitriol, the ignorance, the hatred and the power-seeking that is exhibited by Fundamentalist preachers and organization founders are direct attacks on the souls and lives of anyone who doesn’t agree with them, and absolutely deny the teachings of peace and love that Jesus gave us.
Gene Robinson is right; the book is a page turner; because not only does Mel White know the history of the Fundamentalist Christians in the USA backwards and forwards, he also knows the MEN (and yes, they are all men) who started the current movement, knows their minds and their plans; and he makes completely logical conclusions about what will happen if they succeed.
Also, Mel’s writing style is completely accessible. He doesn’t write down to the reader, but he deftly writes of complex concepts and, frankly, frightening ideas in clear, almost conversational language. It’s a history book, but it isn’t. It’s theology, but it’s more. It’s a personal political statement, but also a personal spiritual mission statement. You’ve just got to read this book.
A Light That is Shining, by Harvey Gillman
2nd edition, 1997, Quaker Books, London
I read this book recently and it’s a wonderful discovery. In just 86 pages, with a great list of suggestions for more reading at the back, it gives a brief history of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. Written in a straightforward, chatty style, it covers the founding of the Society and its early struggles, comes right up to the 20th century, and then lays out briefly the structures and procedures followed by Friends in modern Britain.
Harvey Gillman writes with authority, having worked at Friends House –the London headquarters of the RSoF– for many years. His style is decidedly readable, with a wry sense of humour as well as the abundant facts at this fingertips. Although the history of Friends in the USA and many of the current practices are different, Americans couldn’t find a more concise and readable summary than this one of the early history of Quakers.
I was particularly interested in the grotesquely expansive bureaucracy of the Society in Britain — the committees, boards, chain of command, etc. that seems to me to be stifling the core truths and historical practices of Friends. Gillman did not disappoint, giving a succinct summary of the various committees and bureaucratic procedures that were in place in the 1990s.
Highly recommended for people interested in Quakers who need a good place to start. It’s short (I read it in less than two hours) and fun to read, and full of information, giving the reader a good sense of whether s/he wants to know more or not.