Friday, 22 August 2014

Swarthmore Lecture Video

This is the video of Ben Pink Dandelion's Swarthmore Lecture, delivered at Yearly Meeting Gathering recently. There is a brief discussion of some of the issues raised in the lecture over at Transition Quaker. The book of the lecture is called 'Open for Transformation: Being Quaker', and a couple of copies are available in the Sheffield Central Quaker Meeting library.
It would be great to know what Friends think of the lecture, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Do It Yourself
We all know we are going to die. Well, technically. There’s a strong rumour going around that everyone dies. Most of us have no intention of actually doing so. (Most people don’t make a will. A will is something which you can’t do after you’re gone. It’s a sort of letter from the person who is now dead to those who are not yet dead, saying what he wants done with his body and other earthly stuff. Most people never write that letter, so most people don’t think it will ever happen to them.)
Many people believe that there is somewhere else you go to after you die on this Earth. (Many people do not.) They say, “You can’t take it with you.” Assuming just for a minute that there is somewhere or some dimension you go to when you die, is there anything that you can take with you? The ancient Egyptians seemed to think so, because they put a lot of good stuff (including food and beer) into the graves of the dead. We now realise that you can’t take your body and all the other earthly stuff you have accumulated. Money, house, garden, car, clothes? No. All those stamps or china souvenirs or Man Utd programmes you assiduously collected over the years? No.
Anything? Well, if you can take anything with you, it won’t be anything physical, which doubtless won’t make the cut. Possibly your memories, experience, wisdom. Possibly those. Many cultures (again, at least from the ancient Egyptians on) have believed that you take with you a sort of personal CV, a record of all the good deeds and bad deeds you did – as well as the good deeds you could have done but didn’t. Before you die, or even as soon as you are born, some cultures get you working for a Lifetime Achievement Award – salvation, sainthood, martyrdom. Other cultures say, “Live now. Now is all we get.”
I can not prove any of this stuff, but I suspect that Now is not all we get, but that we also get And Now for This Bit (even And Now for Something Completely Different). I have no idea what it will be like for me (who am still alive) or is being like for those who have already died. They know (or they don’t, if there isn’t) but I have yet to find out (or not, as the case may be).
On the other hand, I don’t agree with not living Now but saving up all the expectation of the good bits for the World to Come. If I was one of Them Up There (however you define them, up and there) would I be eager to greet someone who has been waiting all his life to get Up There with Us, and so hasn’t really lived Down There? I don’t think so. I might have to meet a lot of people who will be wandering around saying, “Blimy! I didn’t know all this. I mean, I’d heard people talking, but . . .” But I think I would rather greet someone to whom I could say, “You have lived x days or years on the Earth – tell us about it. What can you say?”
There was a time when, if you wanted something, you just plucked it off the tree or picked it up off the ground. Many of our nearest relatives in the animal kingdom still do that. Then we (and some of our relatives) learned a new trick: If you want some-thing, make it – you can make it yourself. We already stood and walked on only two of our four limbs, leaving the two handy ones to carry stuff. Then we got to the point where someone invented bags, so that we could carry a great deal more than just what we could hold in our two hands. That was extremely useful, because (since they could hardly walk for themselves) we had to carry our little ones.
But then we got to where the things we wanted to own became so complex that no one person could make all they needed for themselves. This is where the division of labour came in: “You’re good at knapping flints, so you knap the flints. I’m good at hunting – I’ll hunt. She’s good at cooking, so maybe she’ll cook for us.” This was rapidly followed by barter, coin of the realm, paper money, mortgage rates and the rest.
We now have an economy, in the developed countries, where most people don’t make anything, but do a lot of buying and selling of what some other people make. That may be OK when it comes to farmers growing food, builders building, or factories making clothes. It may also be OK to let other people write stories for you, furnish your house, write the messages in your greetings cards, make you laugh, and so on. But are you really going to rely on others for your memories, experience and wisdom?
Are you really intending, when you get Up There (if there is an Up There) and when They say (if there are They), “You have lived on the Earth – tell us about it,” to say, “Well. . . I did a lot of shopping”?

Monday, 28 July 2014

God the Supporter
Let us say, Brazil is playing Argentina. A Brazilian player kicks a goal. He makes the sign of the cross, and he points to the sky, signifying, “I did this with God’s help.” OK. We can believe that he felt helped by God, or that he was helped by his belief in God.
Then an Argentinian player scores a goal. He too may cross himself and point to the heavens. Same God. No favouritism. God supports Argentina. God also supports Brazil.
In 2007, there was a debate over whether Prince Harry should serve in Iraq. The Army thought that it would be too risky to let him go. It was a very neat example of how you get very different answers according to the level on which you approach the question.
Mr Reg Keys, whose son Tom was killed in Basra in 2003, was quoted as saying, “It would appear that Harry’s life is more valuable than my son or the other nearly one hundred and fifty service personnel who’ve given their lives.” At one level, you could say, “Reg is absolutely right. That’s outrageous, and any parent would feel the same.”
At another level, Her Majesty’s Government or the Ministry of Defence would doubtless retort, “For goodness’ sake! Can you not see the Bigger Picture? Terrorists and insurgents would immediately target Prince Harry, putting in danger both his life and the lives of those around him, as well as gaining a huge propaganda victory if they were able to kill or capture him. That would be totally unacceptable to HMG.”
Yet perhaps it is Mr Keys who is aware of the really big picture. God would surely say, “Reg, Charles, I love both your boys.”

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Quaker Origins

Zillah Scott gave a presentation on Quaker Origins recently as part of our 'Quaker Basics' series. This is her written version of the talk:

My first real encounter with Quakerism came through its history. I was an undergraduate studying history, I'd been brought up as an atheist and had never (knowingly!) met a Quaker. I had some stereotypical ideas about what a Quaker was - quiet, rather well-behaved, a bit straight-laced. I knew they didn't wear bonnets and say 'thee' and 'thou' any more, but I knew that they were the people who had done those things. When I came to study the Civil War and Interregnum I was bowled over by the contrast between my image of the Quakers and their radical, proselytising, fervent origins. I have been fascinated by Quaker history ever since. Many Quakers today, and the Society of Friends as a body, have a strong relationship with their historical antecedents. Quaker Faith and Practice is full of writings from Quakers of the last four hundred years, and they are a source of inspiration, contemplation and affection.

English society in the seventeenth century, from which Quakerism emerged, was a mostly rural one - around ninety percent of people lived in the countryside. That rural society was slowly changing, for example, there were developments in the market economy and the spread of enclosures, in ways that were making the poor more vulnerable. They were less able to weather bad harvests or economic crises, leading to more poverty, unemployment and vagrancy. There was also a growing and visible gap between rich and poor; a few people were making a great deal of money out of these changes. Why are these changes important when we are thinking about the birth of a religious group? Most people in the seventeenth century saw religion as bound together with economic, social and political life in a way that we do not today. Many people, such as Gerrard Winstanley, whose primary focus during the years surrounding Civil War is seen as political or economic, joined the Quakers, attracted by their message of equality and bringing their own ideas and influences to the growing church.

English religious observance before the Civil War was dominated by the Church of England. The Established Church, which was the only legal expression of religious life, reflected the social norms of the time. Only a very few held power, women had almost no voice in the church and many areas - especially in the north - were ill-served by inadequate parishes. Yet the tithe system meant that funding the Church was compulsory, even by those who did not wish to be part of it or who felt abandoned by it.

There was opposition to the Established Church. Since Wycliffe translated the Bible into English so that all could read the Gospel for themselves and sent out his Lollard priests to minister to the poor, there had been periodically resurfacing opposition to the monolith of the Established Church, its wealth and privilege. During the seventeenth century many of those who dissented were Puritans, that is, they believed that the basis of the church should be the Bible. They opposed the English style of state church, as the king and parliament could influence what happened in worship. Puritans believed that worship should be only apostolic - things that were not mentioned in the New Testament should be rejected. However, most Puritans believed in a reformed national church; they felt that the state had a duty to ensure that all were ministered to. Many believed that the Church of England could be reformed from within. A good example of this form of dissent was found at Fenny Drayton, birthplace of George Fox, where a Puritan lord of the manor was able to appoint a Puritan minister and try to protect his parishioners from the legal system.

However, some Puritans believed that a true national church was not possible. They felt that a church should be built of individually convinced members in a gathering of believers. These Separatists felt that the national church must be abolished in order for true churches to exist. The most well known Separatist congregation is that which was based at Scrooby and eventually travelled to America in the Mayflower, known today as the Pilgrim Fathers. They would rather face prosecution or emigration than attend their parish church. The Seekers are a more elusive group of dissenters from the Established Church. Existing mainly as isolated individuals, small groups or loose networks which have left little evidence, they believed in the primacy of the spirit within and found it absent in most existing churches, Established or Separatist. These people were to find a natural home in Quaker Meetings. Many were influenced by radical religious ideas from northern Europe and brought those ideas to the nascent church. Although Seekers are the clearest antecedents to the Quaker movement, Separatism and Puritanism also provided many early adherents.

The Civil War, which broke out in England in 1642, cannot be seen as a class war - there were people from all strata of society in both the Royalist and the Parliamentary armies. However, in the Parliamentary armies a gathering of individuals with radical ideas led to a general atmosphere of radicalism - social, economic and religious. Many in the country felt shock and fear at these ideas and believed, in the words of a ballad from the time, that it was 'The World Turned Upside Down'.

Quakerism emerged during the last years of the Civil War and the early part of the Interregnum. I want to tell you about that through the lives of three early Quakers. The first is George Fox, considered by many to be the founder of Quakerism. He was born in 1624 in Fenny Drayton, that Puritan parish in Leicestershire. His father was a weaver. He was an educated man, reasonably wealthy and independent, and a churchwarden in the Puritan parish church. His mother came from a family which had seen martyrdoms for Protestantism during the previous century. Young George Fox was apprenticed to a shoe maker. However, in 1643, at the age of nineteen, he broke off his apprenticeship and began a period of physical and spiritual wandering and searching. Seeking answers to religious questions, he travelled to London, through towns where the Parliamentary army was garrisoned, and returned home, unsatisfied with what he had learnt. After a period of despair he heard a message from God that 'there is one, even Jesus Christ, that can speak to your condition.' For Fox this was the answer to his spiritual search - he needed no preachers, teachers or ministers, the Spirit within him was all that was necessary.

He began at once to preach in the counties surrounding his home, but with limited success. He did make some important convincements, and even experienced the first of many Quaker schisms, but there was no mass-conversion at this stage. He then travelled north and, in 1652 after a vision on Pendle Hill, he began to preach to, and convince, thousands. This period saw the birth of the Quaker church. Fox saw that whilst his vision of the spirit within was all that was needed for the individual spiritual journey, to be a church which would endure these individuals must be organised into a community, a family of believers. He began to put in place the organisational structures which we still see the echoes of in Quaker Meetings today. Convinced Quakers also began the work of spreading the message across the country, going out in pairs to preach across England and beyond. For Fox evangelism and the creation of settled Meetings were of prime importance, but they also contained the seed of a conflict at the heart of Quakerism, that between the needs of the group and the individual. In the life of James Naylor we encounter the problem of what happens when the message of God heard by one individual puts him in conflict with the needs of the group.

James Naylor was the son of an independent farmer. He fought in the Parliamentary army and was a preacher there. Following a visionary encounter with God whilst ploughing, he left his family and became an itinerant preacher. In 1652 he met George Fox, and recongnised in Fox's message similarities to his own ideas. He became a Quaker, a friend of Fox and a pivotal figure in the early church. He was a charismatic and appealing speaker, and in 1655 went to London to spread the message of Quakerism there. He met with considerable success. At that point, if you had asked a Londoner 'who is the leader of the Quakers?', they would probably have answered 'James Naylor'. However, there began to be serious disputes within the London Meetings, with Naylor's supporters disrupting Meetings. It is from this point that there began to be hostility from George Fox towards James Naylor. Naylor travelled to the west country to visit Fox, who has imprisoned there, but was himself arrested at Exeter. He was then released and was moved to enact a sign. Many early Quakers enacted signs from God. George Fox himself had walked barefoot through the mud into Litchfield crying out to condemn the people there for failing to support the Parliamentary army. Other Quakers gave signs of the Second Coming - going naked, putting burning coals on their heads. Naylor was inspired to re-enact the entry of Christ into Jerusalem. He rode on a donkey into Bristol, accompanied by his supporters. He was arrested at once, tried for blasphemy, convicted, tortured and put into solitary confinement. George Fox and the other Quaker leaders distanced themselves from him. The Parliament was hostile to Quakers and a conviction for blasphemy put the entire early church in serious jeopardy. In 1659 the more sympathetic Rump Parliament set all Quaker prisoners, including Naylor, free. He was reconciled with Fox, but never fully recovered from his ordeals and died a year later.

James Naylor died in 1660, in the same year Charles II was restored to the throne and the hopes of many Quakers that there would be a world-wide movement of Quakerism, beginning with a general conversion of Britain, were dashed. Although Charles II was personally sympathetic to the Quakers, his parliament was not, and series of harsh laws were passed against them. In spite of this, alone of all the radical groupings of the previous twenty years, the Quakers survived. What was it about Quakerism that enabled it to survive the difficult years after the Restoration? First, was the very great depth of spiritual need which was met by the radical religious message of Quakerism. Secondly, the strength of church organisation enabled it to survive. Central to this organisation was Margaret Fell. She was born in 1614, daughter of a wealthy landowner. She was married at seventeen to Thomas Fell, a judge and politician. In 1652 she and her household, apart from Thomas, were convinced by George Fox, and from that moment she put her considerable personal, financial and social resources to the use of the Quaker movement. Although Thomas Fell never became a Quaker, he helped those Quakers who he encountered in the legal system. Margaret Fell was a formidable organiser. For example, from 1653 she established a fund to assist imprisoned Quakers and their families; her home was the center of a postal network keeping Quaker missinaries in touch with the leaders; and she ensured that missionaries who passed through her home went on their way well clothed and shod. However, it was not only as a organiser that Fell served Quakerism. In 1660, whilst she was in prison, she published Women's Speaking Justified in which she argued that women should have an equal role in the church. Her considerable stature within the Quaker movement greatly aided those who were arguing for an active place for women within Quakerism.

With the Toleration Act of 1689 the legal position of the Quakers was considerably eased, and the burden of persecution was for the most part lifted. However, the things which had enabled the movement to survive had transformed it. By the last decades of the seventeenth century the fervour, passion and fire which had characterised the early decades had been replaced by Quietism. For more than half a century the Quakers became a separated sect. The deliberately hedged themselves off; their dress, language, manners and behaviour marking them as a people not of the world. There was a dominance of discipline, the subsummation of the individual to the group. Marriage out of the Society was forbidden and transgression of moral codes could lead to expulsion. The close community, discipline, group loyalty and communication which had enabled the Quaker church to survive persecution meant that it spent decades in relative isolation. From the middle of the eighteenth century Quakerism began to emerge from this separation. The bridges to the world were built by Quaker scientists and engineers, whose professional interests took them into close contact with non-Quaker organisations and individuals; by those campaigning on issues such as the abolition of slavery, who began to work among broad-based campaigning groups; and eventually by the return of an interest in evangelism amongst British Friends.

A few book recommendations.

John Punshon Portrait in Grey. A short history of the Quakers (2006). John Punshon's history is a excellent starting point for those interested in the history of Quakerism. Fascinating, well researched and affectionate.

Pink Dandelion An Introduction to Quakerism (2007). Woodbrook Programme Leader Pink Dandelion's take on Quaker history is a more academically, theoretically focused one than Punshon's. His examination of present day Quakerism in its varying, world-wide manifestations forms the second half of the book.

Christopher Hill The World Turned Upside Down (1991). First published in the 1970s, Christopher Hill's seminal study of radical ideas during the English Revolution is still compelling today. A fascinating view from a non-Quaker historian of the world from which Quakerism emerged.

Christine Trevett Women and Quakerism in the 17th Century (1991). Christine Trevett tells the story of early Quaker women - the appeal of Quakerism, the impact they had upon it, the challenges they faced, their lives and the unique opportunities they had as Quakers.

Rex Ambler Truth of the Heart. An anthology of George Fox (2007). This book came out of Rex Ambler's undertaking to study all the available writings of George Fox. He found strong themes emerging, which are perhaps hard to appreciate from Fox's readily available works. This book presents an annotated selection of Fox's writings, organised by theme, in both Fox's original words and Ambler's sensitive 'translation' into modern English.

Gerald Hewitson Journey into life. Inheriting the story of early Friends (2013). Gerald Hewitson delivered the 2013 Swarthmore Lecture at Britain Yearly Meeting, and this is the pamphlet version. An account of the transformative effect of the writing of early Quakers on Hewitson's life and faith.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

'Quaker Basics' - Worship

What was the Quaker Basics session on worship really about?

A few weeks ago, by request we posted a ‘handout’ from the session. It was called ‘Quaker Practices about Ministry’. But the handout was merely an add–on to the main part of the session. So what was the session about?

We talked about four aspects of worship: the nature of Quaker worship, silence and stillness, ministry, and silence and ministry in our daily lives. Mostly we referred to sections from QF&P, and George Gorman’s ‘The Amazing Fact of Quaker Worship’.

We thought about silence and stillness in terms of prayer, drawing on George Gorman p.37 (centring down) and p.39 (the ‘gathered meeting’). I’m so sorry I can’t quote these because I went and lent my copy to someone! In 1937 Rufus Jones wrote of ‘the intensified hush’:

QF&P 2.16
[The early Friends] made the discovery that silence is one of the best preparations for communion [with God] and for the reception of inspiration and guidance. Silence itself, of course, has no magic. It may be just sheer emptiness, absence of words or noise or music. It may be an occasion for slumber, or it may be a dead form. But it may be an intensified pause, a vitalised hush, a creative quiet, an actual moment of mutual and reciprocal correspondence with God.
Rufus Jones, 1937
In the ‘ministry’ aspect we thought about ministry from three angles: in Meeting for Worship, practical ministry (to minister = to serve), and outreach. Mainly but not completely we focused on ministry in Meeting for Worship, both vocal and non-vocal.
QF&P 10.05
We recognise a variety of ministries. In our worship these include those who speak under the guidance of the Spirit, and those who receive and uphold the work of the Spirit in silence and prayer. We also recognise as ministry service on our many committees, hospitality and childcare, the care of finance and premises, and many other tasks. We value those whose ministry is not in an appointed task but is in teaching, counselling, listening, prayer, enabling the service of others, or other service in the meeting or the world.
The purpose of all our ministry is to lead us and other people into closer communion with God and to enable us to carry out those tasks which the Spirit lays upon us.
London Yearly Meeting, 1986
QF&P 2.66
Ministry is what is on one’s soul, and it can be in direct contradiction to what is on one’s mind. It’s what the Inner Light gently pushes you toward or suddenly dumps in your lap. It is rooted in the eternity, divinity, and selflessness of the Inner Light; not in the worldly, egoistic functions of the conscious mind.
Marrianne McMullen, 1987
We acknowledged the challenges of worship in our daily lives.
QF&P 2.18, 2.20 and 2.21
Be still and cool in thy own mind …….
George Fox, 1658
Do you make a place in your daily life for reading, meditation, and waiting upon God in prayer, that you may know more of the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit? Do you remember the need to pray for others, holding them in the presence of God?
Queries, 1964
I read that I was supposed to make ‘a place for inward retirement and waiting upon God’ in my daily life, as the Queries in those days expressed it… At last I began to realise, first that I needed some kind of inner peace, or inward retirement, or whatever name it might be called by; and then that these apparently stuffy old Friends were really talking sense. If I studied what they were trying to tell me, I might possibly find that the ‘place of inward retirement’ was not a place I had to go to, it was there all the time. I could know the ‘place of inward retirement’ wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, and find the spiritual refreshment for which, knowingly or unknowingly, I was longing, and hear the voice of God in my heart. Thus I began to realise that prayer was not a formality, or an obligation, it was a place which was there all the time and always available.
Elfrida Vipont Foulds, 1983
In small groups, we used the creative listening process to consider these four questions:
  1. What are you seeking in a Meeting for Worship?

  1. How do you ‘centre down’ or enter the silence? What gets in the way?

  1. How do you respond to ‘Quaker routines’ about ministry?

  1. Does your life feel different or changed from being associated with Friends? If so, how?
These questions have stayed with me since the session, making me re-visit my initial thoughts. What would your thoughts be?
Rosie Roberts

Friday, 16 May 2014

A while back, Maurice gave a personal view of what it means to be a Quaker. I agree it would be good if different Friends would have a go at expressing their own views on this. I’ve taken up his challenge.

I felt even more that I should follow this leading when I turned the page from Maurice’s article in Sheffield Quaker News (essentially the same as his blog) and read, in another article, an encouragement to try the website for Cape Cod Quakers ( as a good general account of Quaker ways. I myself visited one of those meeting houses, a quaint little building, many years ago, soon after I started attending meeting in Sheffield.  This chimed in, with strange co-incidence, with a book I was reading at the same time. I will give that a recommendation in passing too.  It’s quite a long novel, by Geoffrey Eugenides, called the Marriage Plot. Amongst other things, it is about a young man’s spiritual journey. The final part - quite out of the blue! – starts with the words ‘There were a lot of things to admire about the Quakers’. He finds some peace and a welcome haven in the Quaker Meeting of Prettybrook, New Jersey. (see the Friend 10.08.2012)

I love ‘happy co-incidences’ or synchronicity. I believe that life does make meaningful shapes around us. Such is the experience of a powerful MfW, when the spoken ministry of others chimes perfectly into what you yourself need, whether you knew it or not.

Community is for me a very important part of being a Quaker. It’s about being with others, with a sense of shared purpose and commitment. We don’t all see things exactly the same but there is a bedrock of shared values. We want to come together regularly to worship and, growing out of the worship, to create a happy and active community. Quaker work, eg on committees, is primarily a further way of building the community.

I love the Quaker tolerance for uncertainty – or recognition that life is complicated and ever-changing.  I love the Quaker instinct for a great metaphor to try to give some sense to the ineffable: ‘Please be patient those of you who have found a rock to stand on, with those of us who haven’t and with those who are not even looking for one. We live on the wave’s edge, where sea, sand and sky are all mixed up together: we are tossed head over the heels in the surf, catching only occasional glimpses of any fixed horizon. Some of us stay there from choice because it is exciting and it feels like the right place to be.’ (QFP 20.06)

I am one of those who can only really make any sense of the notion of God, when it’s put into the human context – how we love and care for each other, how we live our lives in community. Being part of Sheffield Central Quaker Meeting is, for me, ‘exciting’ and ‘like the right place to be’.                                           

Monday, 12 May 2014

My Prayer Story.

Recently, I invited a friend to share more of their inner experience publicly without knowing if they were able to do so. It's something of a revelation to discover I feel able to do so here. I'd like to thank Sheffield Friends and readers of this blog for creating a climate of respect, fellowship and trust without which, I suspect these words would not have been prompted*.

All of eighteen years ago, a bright, summer sun found me one afternoon in the fair city of Portsmouth sat within a chapel at a table, attempting to learn verses from the Bible in preparation for two years of missionary service on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I often let myself in to the chapel on my way home from work to read and pray in the silence or to enjoy the use of a piano. Although alone, I kept being interrupted by unwanted thoughts popping into my head, making it difficult to achieve the task in hand. The verse I was trying to memorise was from the Book of James, chapter 1, verse 5, which reads "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally...". It occurred to me that I lacked wisdom in that very moment - "How could I learn these verses with these interrupting thoughts?". Reflecting on the verse, I realised I could ask God to explain to me how I could learn the verses. This sparked an inward debate - did I really believe that God could or would answer in such a direct fashion? Well, yes, I did - the Mormon faith is founded on many personal visitations in answer to such a prayer and the ability of every individual to get answers straight from God is very much the cornerstone of the religion. In fact, this very verse is purported to be the same verse which prompted Joseph Smith to ask God which church he should join. Being alone and with no pressing engagements, I decided to try the experiment for myself. I would ask in faith and see what happened. The verse continues "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord." This describes something of the quality of the asking - one has to believe that one shall receive in order to receive.

I retired to another less-used room within the chapel so as not to be disturbed should anyone else come into the building and geared myself up for the task in hand. After some deep breathing and firming of my resolve, I knelt down and began to pray. Upon doing so, I was filled and surrounded by a feeling of love and light and had a picture of someone - a man, stood behind me. My analytical brain kicked in and explained that this was clearly a representation of my higher self and not actually God, but as I thought so, the quality of the experience faded, so I decided simply to believe, as a child, that I was talking to God and allowed myself to go with the experience. The feeling returned and increased in intensity as I asked my question - I can't remember whether I asked out loud or vocally inside my head, but I was used to praying vocally, so it may well have been out loud - "How can I can learn these verses of scripture?" An answer came immediately - into what? My mind? No, more than that. A voice which sounded like my own, but filled with infinitely more love and wisdom filled my being, saying - well, I won't tell you what was said. Suffice it to say that an answer came in plain English, describing my situation using a very everyday metaphor that I could readily comprehend. I asked for further clarification and was asked in return what I thought the answer could be. I was indeed having a conversation with the Almighty " one speaks to a friend." (Exodus 33:11)

For some time I was quite unable to leave, being filled with the spirit and the singularity of the experience, but eventually, I returned to a state of some normality and rose to my feet, enlightened, confirmed and astonished.

As you can imagine, I was very excited about the experience and wanted to rush off and share it with someone - who first?! Before doing so, I remembered the counsel of our church leaders "We'd have more spiritual experiences if we talked about them less." And that experiences like this "...are generally for our own edification, instruction, or correction." So I kept it under my hat for a long time and have told less than a handful of people in my lifetime. This is certainly the first time I have committed the experience to text and only do so here having been constrained and prompted* over several weeks and months to share that experience here.

Having done so, I realise how strange it is that knowing such experience is possible and freely available that I have not availed myself of it more in my life since that time. It is true that I used to pray a great deal, especially as a missionary and that answers to prayers sometimes came not as directly as this one but through situations or feelings - indeed, the incident of meeting my best friend, companion and wife, Stephanie coincided with a prayer and could certainly be seen as an answer to that prayer, but that is another story.

I can only explain the absence of prayer in my life by likening it to a period of my life when my earthly Father and I were estranged. I didn't want to talk to him because I knew what he would say and I didn't want to hear it. My take away from this is that I can and once more, want to pray.

Thank you for reading, friends.

Paul Newman.

*Promptings are how I describe gentle inward nudges, felt more than thought or heard but there are occasions (often in ministry) when it's like receiving dictation - words which come through me, perhaps from a deeper part of me I do not yet recognise as self, perhaps from God.