Archive for March, 2006

What do ducks know that I don’t?

March 30, 2006

I like to run. I run up mountains in the early morning in the Summer. I run through the trees in the botanic gardens in the Winter. I run up the stairs, and to meetings. I like going fast, getting places, exploring and achieving.

In the early mornings in the Summer I run around the river, and the ducks are on the bank, beaks tucked under their wings, sleeping. Some of them open one eye slowly, then close it as I pass. In the autumn it's too dark to run early in the morning so sometimes I run the evening. In early twilight, before it's even really started getting dark, the ducks on the bank are settling down to sleep. When they are awake during the day they just float on the water.

What do they know that I don't? How is that they seem so much more restful, so much more calm and at peace than I am? What would it be like if I could just float on the water for a day, or go to bed early and get up late? Or just stop running for a moment?

I guess that's why I like Quaker Meeting so much. I get to be a duck, floating gently on a slow moving river…


Living faith

March 27, 2006

Yesterday I had the privilege of being at Wellington Meeting. I went to the bible study group first, which given the level of sharing, put me in a much calmer state of mind than I normally have at the start of Meeting.

One of the women ministering at Meeting for Worship spoke about the doll she had as a child, which had been handed down from generation to generation in her family. The doll's clothes had been built to last. She also talked of climbing a mesa in the desert in the USA, getting to the top, and wondering how she would get down. When she turned to descend she found handholds that had been carved out by Native Americans long ago. She asked what we were leaving for future generations.

This got me thinking about while being away from Quakers in my 20s, how the monthly newsletter had been my only link. This along with other writings like QF&P we leave behind us could perhaps be seen as handholds for future generations. Thinking about the bible study group though expanded this for me. The way in the group the conversation flowed between analysis of who may have actually written the words, what Jesus did or didn't say and our own experiences and interpretations of what these meant for us made me acutely aware of the value I place on the living experience of faith, over the written word (yes, I know I'm using the written word as a type right now…)

It feels to me that the handholds I value are those of a living faith. It was the experience of being in that living faith that brought me back to Quakers once my children were old enough. I wanted them to have that experience, to be immersed in a faith community rather than miss out on one, or even worse to just be lectured at about faith. It is this living faith that means so much to me. The words spoken in ministry, or written down in books are just guides. They're not to me essential, or a necessary step to faith. The direct connection with the spirit, that is what is important, that is what enlivens the words, gives them meaning, and enables me to be in this loving community.

Applied faith

March 17, 2006

Pete’s post “No suffering for the chosen few” reminds me of a story about a man who was very sick, and believed that God would heal him. His friends were very worried and sent the local doctor to see him, but he said “no, do not come in, I have faith that God will heal me”. So his concerned friends sent a specialist, and the specialist convinced the man to let him see him, but then refused all treatments the specialists prescribed. “God will heal me he said”. A few days later the man died. Once he got to Heaven he met with God. “God”, he said “I had faith that you would heal me and you did not”. God responded “I sent all those doctors, what else were you expecting?”.

I question the belief that God acts only in miracles, and only for those who are ‘worthy’ or ‘devout’. To me the story above illustrates the difference between blind faith and applied faith. Napolean Hill said that faith “has to be actively directed in some direction”.

I do consider it possible that those who have applied faith may often do better in life, and have less suffering. Regarding the quote Pete cites “…I was young, now I am old, but I have never seen a righteous man go hungry, or his children begging for bread.”, I think it is possible that it’s not some arbitrary reward handed down from on high, but that this applied faith leads the ‘righteous person’ to do something about impending hunger, to provide for their family. That said, I acknowledge the terrible suffering that can come to people no matter how much applied faith they have, Tom Fox being a very clear example of this to me.

This leads me to the difference between physical suffering and spiritual suffering. Faith may not always be able to protect us from physical suffering. Perhaps though, it can make a difference in emotional/mental/spiritual suffering. On this line of thought, maybe it’s not so much what happens to us, but how we react to it, the meaning we assign to it. Victor Frankl writes in Man’s Search for Meaning about the holocaust victims who lived with him in a Nazi concentration camp, that those that survived were the ones that were able to create some meaning for themselves in the situation. Many lived because they were resolutely committed to surviving to tell their story, to make sure this never happened every again on Earth.

He says “Everything can be taken from a man but …the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” p.104. There are some more quotes here.

Rage and Anger

March 12, 2006

Yesterday morning I read Anna’s post about the death of Tom Fox in Iraq. I have been struggling very hard not to feel angry and outraged about this. It’s the first time the war in Iraq has affected ‘one of my own’. I never met Tom Fox, but I know people who worked and trained with him.

Even more so than Harmeet Sooden who is a New Zealander, I seem to be affected by this happening to a Quaker. The threat of a similar fate befalling Harmeet also weighs heavy on my heart.

During the controversy with the Danish cartoons, I had my first stirrings of anger. Previously I had considered the Iraqi’s the ‘innocent oppressed’. But to see people killing each other, and reacting so violently, to what seems to us in the west just some cartoons, I found very difficult. It just seemed so ludicrous, such a ridiculous overreaction. It made me really start thinking about the harm we can cause by assuming that everyone thinks the way we do.

I was horrified to hear that Tom Fox was tortured before he was killed. In wanting to find out more, I googled ‘Tom Fox tortured’. The first result was from Tom’s own blog Waiting in the Light. It described the torture of four palestinians by the new Iraqi secret police. In reading this my anger abated. It seems so clear that the cycle of violence is so intertwined, feeding on itself, and consuming all in its path in its rage and anger. That Tom could still speak to this issue, could speak to my condition even though he had passed was a true wonder to me.

I think I now understand the Quaker Peace Testimony better. I found this statement on peace from NZ Quakers to make a new, deeper kind of sense to me.
“We totally oppose all wars, all preparation for war, all use of weapons and coercion by force, and all military alliances: no end could ever justify such means. We equally and actively oppose all that leads to violence among people and nations, and violence to other species and to our planet.”

I was also heartened by Tom’s own words, and felt them softening my outrage:

“We reject violence to punish anyone. We ask that there be no retaliation on relatives or property. We forgive those who consider us their enemies. We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening nonviolently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation.”

I see that this path we as Quakers and peacemakers choose has no guarantees, it might not even work. It might be slower, or cost more lives in the short term than going to war. But it is the only way that is right. I am convinced it is the only path that will lead to peace. If we have the courage to keep following it perhaps we can turn rage and anger into love and light.


First Day

March 5, 2006

I’ve become aware recently through various readings that Quakers used to call Sunday ‘First Day’. I’ve always thought of Saturday and Sunday as the weekend, that is, the end of the week, or the last two days of the week. Over the last few years when I’ve installed new calendar software on a computer, it’s often asked “Which day would you like to be the first day of the week”. I found it curious to have a choice.

What would it mean for Sunday to be the first day of the week, rather than Monday? For me it’d mean not starting the week with the mad rush of school and work. It’d mean starting the week with Meeting for Worship, spending time with family and being (at least slightly) more quiet and contemplative than I am during the working week.
So, I think I’m going to start the week on Sunday.

Le voce della sera

March 1, 2006

The last two days I’ve been running in the evenings. Last night it was beautifully calm and still. The blue sky was turning grey and orange as the sun set over the hill. As I was running I was entranced by the stillness of air and the trees. It felt peaceful and cool and complete. It reminded me of a novel I read at University called ‘Le voce della sera’,in English ‘The voice of the evening’. The evening seemed to have a presence, a oneness about it.
Tonight there was a blustery southerly coming in. It was a stark contrast to last night. Dark foreboding clouds were rising, and the wind whipped the trees. There was a power there, a conflict, a force of nature.

It got me thinking about why I value the stillness so much. Is god more there, than in the rushing storm? If god is ‘that which is’, is transcendent and completeness, then god must be just as much a part of the storm as a part of the still cool evening the night before. So why do I feel more connected to the stillness? Is it because I’m less distracted by my own need for physical safety? In the storm I’m wondering, will it rain, will a branch hit me. In the stillness am I just less distracted? Am I just more able to see ‘that which is’ when things around me are still? If it’s always there, why can’t I see it all the time? What would I have to do to be able to?

It seems it’s not really the world around me that’s turbulent, it’s my reaction to it that is tossing and turning. What do I need to do to find stillness in myself?