Saturday, January 24, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - A for Alphabet Again

As I have found the discipline of following the alphabet through the year helpful I have decided to continue with it into 2015.

I'm intending to post alphabetically at the same rate as in 2014, once every two weeks or as near to that as I can manage. I want to continue my Quaker biographical posts, introducing some less well known Friends, but I will throw in some other alphabetic posts as before.

If I have other things to say I will slip them into my blog without the Quaker Alphabet heading.

I shall continue to put up links to my own and others' posts on the Facebook page for Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 and beyond but I am also intending to use Twitter [@gilskidmore] more to spread the word.

I hope, dear reader, that you will find something to interest and engage you here in the coming year and I hope that you will tell me what you think.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - Z for Zzzzz (Sleeping in Meeting)

The possibility of falling asleep during meeting for worship has been seen as something to be guarded against from the early days of the Quaker movement. As early as 1656 George Fox writes in one of his epistles, 'All Friends everywhere take heed of slothfulness and sleeping in your meetings, for in so doing you may be bad examples to others'.

One charitable excuse given by a modern commentator for being overtaken by sleep is that 'Drowsiness at these meetings may have arisen from people who led physically active lives, usually outdoors or in unheated rooms, having an opportunity to sit at ease in a room which was probably heated by a fireplace'. Perhaps another reason was that they, like the young Samuel Bownas in the late 1690s, were at meeting because it was expected of them rather than because of their own conviction.

Throughout the 18th century travelling ministers and other 'weighty Friends' urged Quakers to guard against sleep both for their own sake and to avoid giving a bad impression to others. A letter written to New Jersey Friends in 1704 advises 'Friends all take heed of sleeping, sottishness and dullness in Meetings for it is an illsavoury thing to see one sit nodding in a Meeting,and so to lose the sense of the Lord and shamefacedness both; and it grieveth the upright and watchful, that wait upon the Lord, to see such things, and for the Priests, people and others that come into your Meetings, to see you that come together to worship God and wait upon him, to have fellowship in His Spirit, for you to sit nodding is a shame and unseemly thing.’

In 1776 Catherine Payton Phillips, writing to Friends in Ireland after travelling among them, condemns drowsiness in meeting in no uncertain terms but also suggests a remedy. 'It is not improbable that the drowsiness beforementioned may, in some, proceed from eating and drinking more than nature requires; this most certainly unfits the mind for spiritual exercises; for, when the body is still, the mind sinks into rest. Under this consideration, it becomes the duty of all to watch, lest their table becomes a snare to them, and wine and strong drink be so indulged in their feasts, as to unfit them for Communion with God, and the participation of the New Wine of his Kingdom. And, young People should, especially, be careful not to indulge themselves in the use of much wine, etc. lest the prevelance of custom grow upon them as they advance in years.'

Is sleeping in meeting something which we should still worry about today? It certainly still happens as we relax in our usually well-heated meeting rooms. Indeed Ben Pink Dandelion in his 1986 book The Quakers; a Very Short Introduction states ‘In terms of the inward, studies show that Friends are engaged in many different kinds of activity, often in parallel or tandem in any one Meeting. They may be praying or praising or seeking communion or guidance, thinking or sleeping.'  

So is sleep just one of our options or should we guard against it? Perhaps if we look upon this drowsiness as a metaphor as well as an actuality it might help us to address the question. As Jacob Ritter, a 19th century minister, put it, 'Friends, we must try to keep one another awake, or else we shall lose the life. To lose the life would be losing everything; the life is more than meat, and the body than raiment.'

Friday, January 09, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - Y for Yes

'Yes' was what I said when I started writing Quaker Alphabet blog posts back in 2013. I needed a prompt to keep me writing and the alphabetical discipline has been good for me and has led me into some unexpected subject areas.

In life and among Friends I have often fallen into the trap of saying 'Yes' to too many things. I have been so happy to be asked that I have often taken on too much and have sometimes become overwhelmed and failed to fulfill my obligations.

For a long time my remedy for this condition was to learn to say 'No', to pause for thought before I made any commitment and to look honestly at what I could manage and at the direction I felt my Inward Guide to be pushing me in.

So far, so good. But now I am looking at the whole question again in a different way. In a new place and learning to fit in to a new community I began by holding back, not wanting to appear to push myself forward. Opportunities arose and I began saying 'Yes' again but, more importantly, I have decided to go forward in a positive way. From now on I will look for the 'Yes' I can say, however small that 'Yes' may be, and stop worrying about saying 'No' sometimes.