Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Standing next to Jesus

I’ve been catching up with my blog reading and one of the themes that has been speaking to me is the question of whether I should call myself a Christian along with the related one of where Jesus is in my life. Big questions and I am still struggling with answers, although helped by reading about others’ struggles.

So I’ll start by trying to share some of the journey which has brought me to my present position. I was brought up a nominal Christian, in the Church of England, read the Bible stories, sang the hymns, went to church as a matter of course but with no real conviction. When I was about 11 years old, standing alone on the back step of our house, looking at the clouds racing across the sky above our steeply sloping garden, I had what I later learned to call a ‘transcendent experience’.

In one moment beyond time I knew that myself, everyone and everything was connected and valued in love. All that I felt and knew in that moment was God and God was everywhere, in past, present and future, in all religions, all people, everything.

I did not know what to do with this experience. The only person I told was my school speech and drama teacher who gently listened to my confusion and gave me books on mysticism to read which helped me to realise that I was not alone in my experience and saved me from thinking that I was special or singled out.

So I knew that God was real, but I was not at all sure where Jesus fitted in to the equation for me. I certainly did not think that I needed organised religion or any kind of church community. The Christians that I knew seemed far too narrow in their belief for me to belong with them. I carried my conviction of true religion inside me but rarely let it connect with the way I lived my life.

And then, 30 years ago, I encountered Quakers when I went to work in Friends House Library in London. I found people who were living a faith without dogma day by day and I discovered Meeting for Worship. That was the real revelation because here I found again the God that I knew and God, the Inward Teacher, was speaking to me, within myself and through the meeting. When I began to listen I knew that I had to change, to commit myself to Quakerism and to act in faith. Of course there’s a lot more to this story and I will try to write more later, but for now I’ll try and go with the questions I began with.

Having become a Quaker, did I become a Christian? Well I believe that that is the journey I am on but many of my fellow-Quakers, and certainly many others who identify themselves as Christians, would disagree and I have to engage with that.

And what about Jesus? About 6 years ago I went to a performance of 'The Mysteries' at the National Theatre – three plays in one day. These modern versions of medieval mystery plays told the story of the world from creation to judgment with actors and audience mixed together in one space. Somehow during the crucifixion scene I found myself standing behind the actor playing Jesus who was carrying his cross. I suddenly felt a real connexion with the real Jesus and almost reached out to touch him. I knew then that my Inward Teacher was there too. It was an intense experience and again I have told very few people until today. I am still trying to make sense of what I felt and how standing next to Jesus could affect my life.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Good intentions

Sometimes it seems as though I blink and a month goes by – or several months or a year sometimes. Does this happen to other people?

I was so happy when I discovered blogging and I really meant to write something regularly but lately I haven’t managed it. I began just reading other people’s and I did respond a couple of times but for several weeks now I haven’t even managed that. It’s been a case of ‘Life is what happens to you when you are making other plans.’ But I have just sat down and read through the Quaker blogs I’ve bookmarked with the help of Quaker Ranter and I’ve been so moved and realise what I’m missing so I’m going to try again.

Perhaps I should worry less and read and write more (or less) and see what happens. I’ll try to give myself a regular slot in the day too and try to share my life a bit more. Please bear with me and keep reading.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A leap of faith

I am a naturally anxious and fearful person and, as my children say, I can worry for England. I have been thinking about the courage that I need to follow my leadings and how I have often gained strength from reading about the experience of others. While still at school the first spiritual autobiography I ever read was John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and I was much struck by it. One passage in particular spoke to me then and has continued to be an inspiration even if I don't always manage to act on it.

Bunyan was also a fearful person, continually anxious that God might forsake him. Imprisoned for preaching his faith he thought that he might be hanged and imagined himself on the gallows, standing 'on the ladder, with the Rope about my neck'. He asked God for comfort but none came. Then Bunyan realised that he had to trust in the love of God without asking for any assurance in return -
'Wherefore thought I, the point being thus, I am for going on, and venturing my eternal state with Christ, whether I have comfort here or no; if God doth not come in, thought I, I will leap off the Ladder even blindfold into Eternitie, sink or swim, come heaven, come hell; Lord Jesus, if thou wilt catch me, do; if not, I will venture for thy Name.'

I wrote that passage down in my commonplace book and many years later I added another passage which seems to be giving the same message about trust. Sonia Johnson's autobiography includes the story of a dream which a woman in Missouri told to her. The woman dreamed that she was standing on the top of a high building and that in order to get home she would have to jump off. Her longing for home was so great that she leapt. Sonia Johnson continues -
'As she began to fall, a rope appeared before her; she reached out, grabbed it, and swung way out over the street. At the end of its arc, she knew that if she didn't let go, she would swing back to where she had been before and not be any closer to home. So she let go. As she began to fall again, another rope appeared. Grabbing it she swung out to the end of its arc and let go again. Trusting herself, letting go, reaching out, swinging out over the abyss, trusting, letting go, reaching out, she found her way home.'

I haven't always managed to trust God and let go of fear but I am still trying and these two passages have helped me.

What is Spiritual Autobiography?

I've just been writing in my journal about what has been happening to me over the past few days and how I am feeling about it. I write there only for myself, although I wouldn't mind if my family read what I had written sometime in the future, possibly after I've gone. A friend of mine who was facing a possibly fatal illness once asked me to destroy her journals if she should die and I realised that I just couldn't do that. The archivist in me obviously runs very deep!

Then I sat and thought about what I might say in this blog and that felt different, more like writing an article for an audience, although I'm not sure who. It certainly feels more public and I wondered whether that made me more careful about what I write, perhaps more conscious of how I write it. After all I am drafting this post and will go back over it and correct and maybe polish it.

So how does all this relate to spiritual autobiography? The definition of this sort of writing which I've developed over the years goes something like this - An account of a person's spiritual journey written by themselves in order to be shared with others in some way at some time. This is not the same as an ordinary autobiography as, depending on our perceptions, outward events and even people may not be part of the story. Although diaries, journals etc. can contribute to spiritual autobiography they are not the same thing because they are written about the present and to write spiritual autobiography it is necessary to look back over the past and make sense of it in some way. For me the two vital elements are looking back and sharing what we find. Of course if I do eventually manage to write my spiritual autobiography, even if only in fragments, I could publish that as another blog!

I have always been very clear that everyone has a spiritual autobiography to write. The finished product does not have to be literary, it does not have to be long and it does not have to be packed with incident. It is just as valuable to share and make sense of our failures as to talk only of our successes. One of the main reasons which early writers of spiritual autobiography had for writing was to give others the encouragement which they felt they had lacked. As Alice Hayes, a Quaker writing at the beginning of the 18th century, put it "Truly I have thought that if I had met with the like Account of any that had gone through such exercise, it would have been some Help to me".

So I will go on writing my diary, reading it back as I come to the end of each volume every year or two, trying to make sense of where God is leading/nudging/pushing me, and finding ways to share it all. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

First steps

This is all very new to me and I'm doing a little bit at a time, so expect more on my profile and more here a step at a time.
I've been inspired to do this by Quaker Ranter and others. I keep a journal for myself and have written regularly for more than 20 years. I have also worked in the field of spiritual autobiography for a very long time and have tried by writing and giving workshops to encourage people to write their own. Of course that means I've also been trying to write one myself, but it's a slow process. The title of this blog is the title of my spiritual autobiography. It's the refrain of a hymn which I heard on the radio by chance and it was just right. If anybody out there knows the rest of the hymn or where to find it I'd really like to hear from them.
My book on spiritual autobiography is called Turning Inside Out and that's what I hope this blog will help me to do - to stop being quite so introverted and talk to people about what's going on inside.
That's enough for now. I'll be back