Well, I just came in from meeting. Not straight in and to the puta – I stopped on the way for a little snackerel or two, and I have a delish cup of camomile tea here with me – food helps thoughts to formulate… possibly…
Anyway, Quaker First Day meeting; that’s where I’ve been.
Back in the early 80’s I belonged to a group called the Ashburnham Stable Family, started by John Bickersteth, who was 150% God’s man – a privilege to have known him. I won’t tell thee much about that except only this one thing: there was a rule about coming to meeting. The rule was this: every person who came participated; no bystanders, no observers, no sitting on the fence. During the week each of us was to listen to God with an expectant heart, waiting to hear what God’s word was for us regarding the Stable Family Thursday meeting. We had to have heard by Tuesday, so we could phone Joe or Susie or Edmund or Tim and say, “I believe we should be singing this song,” or “We’ve practiced a dance,” or “I think the Lord wants me to bring a prophecy, so I’ve put it in the post for you to check,” or “I’ve composed a saxophone piece to play,” or “I think I will be required to bring an interpretation for a prayer in tongues;” and so on and so on.
After studying the chapters on public worship in 1 Corinthians, our teachers had reached the understanding that the meeting should be ordered – not a spontaneous free-for-all, but ordered; but each one should come prepared, as the apostle teaches in chapter 14. So we came with hearts and minds prepared, and sometimes what we were prepared to bring was simply our presence and our silence – and that was ministry too.
So from those days I got used to the idea that if something is tugging at my soul all week and won’t go away, it’s probably meant for ministry for the meeting. And that happened to me this week. ALL WEEK I have had this song on my mind, but insistently!
When I came into meeting this morning, I’d forgotten about it. And then it started up again. Now, because it had been in my mind all week and I’d been singing it over and over, by the time I got to meeting, I actually knew the words (well two verses anyway, which was the most I could manage without passing out from sheer terror anyway). At the beginning of the week I knew only the tune.
I had a sense that it was for people who were labouring, people oppressed with sorrow and care. Otherwise I might have ignored it. Our meeting seems to me to be a liberal meeting, with what you might call a broad theology, and I felt not at all sure they would receive so evangelical a ditty with thanksgiving. But if the Lord had sent it for people struggling and in sorrow, I couldn’t sit on it, could I? So I sang it to them. And like the good Quakers they are, they received it with humility and kindness.
We also had a few other ministries, delightful – one in particular being an understanding of the transfiguration as Jesus’s meeting for clearness, Moses and Elijah supporting him [in choosing the revolutionary direction of suffering and self-sacrifice that altered beyond recognition the understanding of the Messiah]. The bit in square brackets is my own gloss.
I was rather scared of bringing that song, and prefaced the singing of it by explaining how times when we are in darkest sorrow and struggle, we are walking, sometimes unawares, shoulder to shoulder with the divine principle of suffering love that takes upon itself the sum of human sorrow and even redeems the world. I guess I thought that sounded a bit more Quakerly than just smacking folk between the eyes with an evangelical hymn, even if at the prompting of the Spirit. And I said that I thought it might not sit right well with the theology of the meeting, so begged the people, if it was not their idiom, to receive it in the spirit of diversity not controversy. And so they did, God bless them.
But this thing of ministry, of ‘I’m gonna sing when the Spirit says sing, and obey the Spirit of the Lord,’ well it feels a bit at times like I’m walking right along there but then I discover that keeping company with the living God is somewhat like getting the hem of my coat caught in the door of a moving vehicle – “Uh-oh! Whoa! Here we go!!” He doesn’t always travel at my speed.
I’ve come to terms with headcovering and Plain dress – which did take some doing and determination – but NOW I can feel the tug-tug-tug all over again: this time with regard to Quaker Plain speech. You know? “Thee” and “Thy”.
I have two problems with this.
1) It’s one more thing that’s weird, eccentric, non-mainstream – and frankly I don’t need any help in that direction.
2) The Quaker application of it is – I don’t know why; why did they do that? – non-grammatical. They don’t say “thou think’st”, they say “thee thinks” WHICH IS WRONG!!!! But Quakerly.
So I have to grit my teeth and get over English language structures and the purgatory of Sounding Weird, if I am to go with this leading – which of course I am. “Thee gonna look stupid when the Spirit says look stupid, and obey the Spirit of the Lord.”
These leadings, they hardly even admit of any discussion. It feels like the calm flowing river along which one was peacefully punting suddenly gathered speed as all unsuspecting one found oneself sucked towards the weir. Uh-oh, here we go – Daaaaahn the plug’ole!