Monday, 1 January 2007

Certainty and Uncertainty

Life is full of uncertainty. There is very little that is totally sure (‘death and taxes’?) Each time we say goodbye to a friend we hope to see them again – next day, next week, next month, next year…. But all sorts of unforeseen things can intervene. For that reason, I rather like the old-fashioned phrase ‘God willing’, which people used to attach to remarks about or plans for the future. I don’t speak the phrase out loud: it is unspoken but understood.

I rather think that people sometimes turn to religion (or stay within a religious tradition) because of the desire for certainty. For example, if you are good – you will go to heaven. That’s nice. That solves the biggest uncertainty of all – what happens after this life? Or the way religion usually lays down rules, and sets out dogma – which you can’t question. That’s just the way it is.

If you come to Quakers you won’t find this kind of certainty. People who find that a Quaker meeting is a place where they are spiritually ‘comfortable’ are probably people who have a certain ability to tolerate uncertainty, to be prepared to ‘go with the flow’, but also to enjoy exploring unknown territory.

Our meeting for worship is new and different every time. That is such a wonderful exciting feeling: that the meeting will be alive and dynamic and evolve according to the way the Spirit leads us and speaks through individuals in the meeting. Or it could be totally silent, as the group sits together, sharing a rich and deep experience of stillness and peace.

For all of the ‘uncertainty’ around in a Quaker meeting, it still often can meet the needs of people who have been buffeted by life’s problems and troubles. It doesn’t provide the sure promises that some other churches may do (‘If you believe in such and such, you will be saved….’ Whatever that means.) But I think there are some certainties which are worth identifying.
You would be welcomed warmly.
You would be accepted and valued, as you are.
You would experience a sense of safety and security. (To me it can feel like a safe harbour, for a storm-tossed boat…)
You would be challenged, inspired and uplifted by the ‘ministry’ that you heard.
You would learn that it doesn’t matter if you cannot respond positively to each and every ‘ministry’ – but it may be speaking directly to the heart of someone else in the group.
You would find a very varied, interesting and kind bunch of people, a true worshipping community, which also offers all sorts of further activities for those who want them.
No doubt there are other certainties too. I can only speak for myself, that I am certain it does me good to come to Meeting and I am certain it is a community that would meet the spiritual needs of many others, if only they knew about us.

1 comment:

Craig Barnett said...

Thanks Laura for your article. It reminded me of this by John (formerly Bishop) Spong:

'Security is so seductive, and insecurity is so frightening. But security is always false, and insecurity is always real. No religion can make anyone secure, though it, like the drugs on which our society is so dependent, can give the illusion of security. True religion enables one to grasp life with its radical insecurity and to live it with courage. It does not aid us in the pretense that our insecurities have been taken away.'