Sunday, 23 January 2011

Dahn the plug'ole!

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!


"Tis a gift to be simple" said...


What would you say to someone who came to you with this leading? What would you tell them?

hugs from a cold and snowy TN

Tina said...

I had never thought about this before...must study these passages, thank you.
If the Spirit leads, follow at any cost.
Fear not man, but only the God who made him. Only you will give account for you one fine day and, personally, anything that brings God and I closer cannot be a bad thing.
Thee and Thou....sounds very respectful...and respect for another is surely a rare thing these days.
Each one brings a wonderful!

Cora said...

Ember, this post speaks to my present condition. Not so much with Plain speech (and I noticed the incorret grammar too! Wonder why they did that?) but having that tug-tug-tug to do something that is not "mainstream" and "sticking out".

I am a modest woman, always have been...but lately, I've been given the stronger calling of making an even more concerted effort of modest dressing. Not entirely Plain, but my version of it anyways. I'm also being called to headcover--at least in the home (which is very practical).

It's hard enough, but add to that being Pagan and having my fellow Pagans saying "Modest? Pagan? Those don't go together!" and then having to give a brief history lesson showing that yes, indeed, they do go together and *did* before the 1970s.

Last week was my first time going to Meeting and if the fog clears this morning I'll go again. I'm relieved to know that among Liberal Quakers there are Plain is very comforting.

Alice Y. said...

Thanks for your faithfulness, dear Friend.

Ember said...

Hi ladies :0)

Denise - what would I say? Probably: "yeah, go for it chum - let's do it together!"

Tina - The & thou sounds repsectful now, because it's fallen out of common use. the only remnant of it we have now is in some liturgical settings where God is still addressed as thee/thou. We deduce from this, that it's a special courtesy, reserved fro formal, respectful address of exalted ones. Surprisingly, the reverse is true. 'You' was the word used either for more than one person - so one might say "Would you like to come in?" to the group of 4 carol-singers on the doorstep - or for important people like the king or one's boss. "Thee/thou" was the form used for a friend, or one's spouse, of brother/sister - the intimate, family term. It's falling out of usage has meant that we have lost the understanding that, once upon a time, we used to address God as if He were our dear, familiar friend :0)
Among Quakers it's part of the Equality Testimony - it was started up in the days when there was a choice of "you" or "thou" - they chose to address every person in the form used for a friend.

Cora - yes, the Pagan way can be a very quiet and gentle spirituality - it doesn't have to be all bacchanalian raucous debauchery! The Plain Quakers tend to seek fellowship with each other online, meeting up occasionally, and going to meeting at whatever expression of Quaker fellowship is near them - usually a liberal meeting.

Thanks, Alice! :0)

Buzzfloyd said...

I was going to suggest that you go with the grammatical version so that your family aren't tempted to kill you, but then it occured to me that perhaps the Quaker version is good because only the word 'you' is changed, and people who don't understand don't have to learn a whole new grammar. But if you could at least say the correct one out of 'thee' and 'thou', that would help!

Ember said...

It gets worse, Buzz. They say "thee is"; as in "If thee is really minded to kill me I'd better get out of thy way until thee's put that carving knife back in the drawer".

Ganeida said...

Thou that wouldst killest over grammar ☺ ~ remember English is an ever changing language in a state of flux & that this was true for the early Quakers too. They simply disposed of the more unweildy [& complicated] elements of the language simplifing it to fit their plain speech testimony. My take ~ but look what's being done to our language today. Some words have done a complete about face. Who would ever have thought *wicked* was something terrific? If you are lazy like me, it is easier to simply dispense with working out thee & thou & just go with thee. I used to *thee* my kids when they were little. They hated it because it was weird but I find it so intimate & loving.

Pen, I was fascinated by what you had to say about the Family. Having really struggled with that passage [because most churches just seem to ignore the fact we are all directed to come prepared] we have tried to be very eglatarian with our home Meeting. Dearest always asks who has scripture. Sometimes no~one does. Sometimes lots of us do. Sometimes there is a particular song. It is interesting working with a smaller group that allows for great freedom of the Spirit without confusion & disorder. Thank you for sharing.

"Tis a gift to be simple" said...

I want ya'll to know that I wore my head covering today for Meeting..
Not an eye blinked.. not stare..

It was a a REALLY cool experience..

more on this later on my own blog..

Love love!

Denise in TN

Ember said...

WoooHOOOO!!! Denise! Brave! :0)

Family of writers, Ganeida - grammar is a biiiiig deal in this tribe! :0) I agree on the smaller group - I think even that might be the way to go with church; less of the large buildings and more home-based fellowships maybe... at least part of the time.

"Tis a gift to be simple" said...

Oh Lordy your family would hate me then.. lol


Ember said...

No, no Denise! We were only talking about killing peope - not actually hating them as such...

"Tis a gift to be simple" said...

LOL..ok ..that makes me feel better lol


Ganeida said...

Pen, Pen, Writers! You made me laugh. Do you remember how many words Shakespheare invented? I never do but it was lots & lots & lots. Hopkins too. And grammar is meant to be played with ~ for effect. Lit major. I had to study this stuff. lol And some English dialects do some really, really odd things to syntax & grammar ~ especially amongst the Celtic language speakers where English is a second language & they make it sound so beautiful ~ if weird. No, no, no. Love you to death, m'dear but gramatical rules are not, set in stone. And isn't it exactly the miuse of grammar that sets the Quaker thee apart as *Quakerly*? I'm sure your editor would not agree with me. lol Up here in Queensland you often hear, "I seen". Now that is a gramatical error that has me frothing at the mouth. OK, I will go away now & play in my own sandpit.

Ember said...


Maggie said...

Pen, your post made me chuckle. I haven't been called to Plain Speech (yet!) but I know that I would feel that niggling sense of discord in using "Thee" instead of "Thou". I am hoping not to be put to that test - it would drive me crazy.

On the other hand, is the current usage truly the traditional one? I am currently reading Jan de Hartog's "The Peaceable Kingdom". It is a fictional account of the first Quakers (copyright 1971), and it doesn't set my teeth on edge to read it. "Thou" is used, as is "Thee", and "Thy" - all in their correct forms.

Jill said...

Dear Pen;
I always enjoy reading your blog. Sometimes I don't understand some of your words due to the differences in language. I love the thee's and thou's but I am quirky!
I do have a serious question though, could you explain the basic tenents of Quaker belief. I clicked on Cora's comment trying to understand her use of pagan and so now I am confused. Could you help me?

Ember said...

Maggie - aha! I will read that book!

Jill - The Quaker way is very inclusive. There is more than one strand of it. I am what is known as a Conservative Quaker (well, I am now; I was a Methodist for most of my adult life). That is to say I (try to) hold to the Quaker path originally seen in the life and teaching of George Fox. His belief (and mine is the same) was that our experience of God could be personal and direct, because Christ has come to teach His people Himself, and can be personallty met and known. In order to know Him we do not require the mediation of any third party - priests, for example. George Fox taught that there is 'that of God in every man', and that within each of us there is a divine spark. I believe this, and I believe that the divine spark can be kindled by faithfulness and by obedience to the call of God on our lives.
Conservative Quakers revere the Bible, searching, reading and familiarising themselves with the scriptures, and turning to Scripture for teaching and inspiration, seeking the word of God that can be found in the Bible that shows us the way to live.
George Fox urged that we should 'let your lives preach', which is to say we should demonstrate in our daily lives in every smallest detail the reality of our faith.
Out of this developed the concepts of Quaker Testimony - not a testimony of words but of the way we live. The testimonies are of Peace, Simplicity, Equality and Truth.
There is loads of stuff online about Quaker beliefs. Wikipedia has a very good article here:
and if thee scrolls down the right-hand side-pane on my blog here thee will find a section headed 'Quaker Links'. If thee clicks on any of those thee will be able to read more about Quaker faith and practice.
Because the Quaker way is very respectful and inclusive, it embraces a wide diversity of views within its membership and affiliation. Sometimes this cause much heart-searching and discussion, especially among those Conservative Friends who feel strongly that meeting should consciously and intentionally centre on Christ, and people who cannot call themselves Christian should not be there.
I am a Conservative Friend, but I do not share this concern for exclusiveness. I am happy to sit down together and draw near to God in the silence and ministry of meeting with whoever is willing to sit down with me. I believe that all truth is God's truth, and though I am a Christian, the property of Jesus Christ, I have learned a great deal from Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus and New-Agers.
Also my desire is that the Lord Jesus might be known and loved everywhere, and I think I may give more of a chance of that happening if I spend time with friends who have not yet come to know Him for themselves.
If there were a meeting of Conservative Friends near me I might attend that, but there is not. The meeting I attend has the liberal character of many Quaker meetings and, though it is basicaly Christian, many are there whose thinking is heavily influenced by Buddhism, humanism, and other philosophies. They are wise and humble folk, gentle in spirit, and they have much to teach me.
Cora who reads and comments here is of pagan faith. I do not share her pagan faith and she does not share my allegiance to Jesus Christ, but we can still respect one another and learn from one another. We like each other and enjoy each other's company and have much in common, even though our views are not identical.

I hope I have not worn thee out with words, and that I have helped a bit with thy question!! x

Can I also check with thee, Cora, that that's all fair and reasonable, and I have understood correctly where thee stands?

Elin said...

I understand the feeling of it being incorrect grammar. I feel the same as I am used to using thee/thou in my native Swedish language and my brain says 'wrong' when I read a quaker text. I do love and understand the reasons for choosing this speech, I just wish that I could enjoy it at a grammatical level too...

Ember said...

There have been some discussions about this over at Quaker Quaker haven't there Elin? I think Ibbie Penraeth may have posted these links, which I found interesting to read -

this one

and this one from Ibbie's website:

x nice to see you here, Elin!