Monday, 27 September 2010

"Tell them stories"

My favourite story-line from Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' triology is leading the ghosts to freedom, found in the third book, 'The Amber Spyglass'. Lyra and Will contrive to enter the land of the dead – complete with Stygian boatman – to find Lyra's friend Roger, and Will's father. There they find the ghosts of the dead being tormented by harpies, who feed off their misery. Lyra realises that the fantasy world she has invented to protect herself enrages the harpies and make them attack her even more. Then she shows the harpies that they can get far richer nourishment feeding off true stories, and that if the ghosts tell the true stories of their lives, they will be led to freedom through the door that Will makes with the Subtle Knife. That freedom is to become one with the universe, to dissolve into all that is life, which they discover is a moment of true bliss. This is what Mary Malone witnesses when she finds the door from the land of the dead as the ghosts stream out in their thousands:

'Tell them stories. That's what we didn't know. All this time, and we never knew! But they need the truth. That's what nourishes them. You must tell them true stories, and everything will be well, everything. Just tell them stories.' (The Amber Spyglass, end of ch 32; Folio 2008, p387)

And so it is in our world. We live lives of pretence and fantasy, thinking we are at the pinnacle of our civilisation, when in fact we are sucking dry the life of our planet, and the lives of one another. We are bombarded, harpy-like, by statistics telling us how bad it will be. But this just drives us more and more into fear and denial, as we sit frozen, rabbit-like, in the awful glare of the future bearing down on us.

This is because statistics and facts can only engage our minds, and the only response available from our minds is either fear or denial. We invent ways of avoiding the truth, thinking we are 'doing our bit' by making trivial changes to our lifestyles, such as recycling more or using the car slightly less.

What we need is motives to drive the necessary change in our lives, and these cannot come from the head, only from the heart, the belly and the groin, - our passion, our anger, our creative action. So where are our stories? Stories of hope and perseverance, of resilience and determination, of heroes and demons, of love and compassion.

Click to see how Fra Angelico saw the freeing of the ghosts from the land of the dead (limbo) (c 1450)

Thursday, 23 September 2010

What price a plate of beans?

Esau and Jacob were twin brothers, sons of Isaac. Esau was born first, and so, in the patriarchal society of the time, Esau would inherit his fathers wealth. Esau grew up to be a hunter, and was much loved by his father, whilst Jacob became a farmer, and was more loved by his mother, Rebecca.
And so one day, Esau had been out hunting and came back to the camp famished, to see Jacob preparing some bean stew. So Esau asked for some stew, but Jacob saw his chance and said to Esau: “You can have your fill if you sell me your birthright”. And Esau was young and impetuous and had no thought for the future, only his hunger, so he gave up his birthright to his twin for a plate of beans.
Jacob became the founder of the Jewish people and Esau was forgotten apart from a couple of stories. (Genesis 25 24-34).

And so it is with us. Our whole society is built around having convenience now, with no thought for the future. All the way from the short term policies of high finance down to popping out in the car rather than using the bus.

We use the supermarket rather than the local market, even although fresh local produce from the greengrocer and butcher is way better, and often even cheaper. We use the car rather than walk, even though we know that we are not fit, and miss the pleasure of the sun and the air and meeting people. We buy bland mass produced bread, when the locally made artisan bread is a joy to the senses. We buy cheap and think we have a bargain when in reality the stuff is often rubbish and people and the environment on the other side of the world have been trashed. We fly rather than use the train, even although St Pancras International train station is way more beautiful than Heathrow, and we can enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

We have squandered our inheritance for a plate of beans.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Websites and networking and communicating, oh my!

I'm at a Quaker Website Support group right now. We've just been speaking about how we do things and communicate (what we do) to and between each other. How do you think the blog, our website and the Newsletter best interact with each other? We've had an idea about potentially having a repository and online sharing/holding/discussion space for us to post Minutes and other things. But we need ideas and people to help us: inputring data, developing protocols, making connections and being creative so depending on what your talents are, we can use them.

Do you have skills or are you interested in blogging, social networking or websites? If this you, let us know. You don't have to be "super Quaker" to come along. Post a comment or catch one of us after Meeting.

Nadine, Laura and Gordon

...Creating Action

Yesterday's workshop, 'Creating Action' - the second of two, for the exploration of personal responses to climate change - gave a dozen of us the chance to journey together through themes of hope, interconnectedness and empowerment.

Our point of departure was a simple, yet profound, exercise. We all stood in the empty room and chose, without indicating who, two other people with whom we would seek to maintain an equal distance between, in the configuration of an even-sided triangle. Those two people also each chose two others - any two people - to keep equidistant within their own 'triangle'.

The only rule to this exercise was that we would all try, as best we could, to maintain even distances between us and our partners, even as everybody else tried to do the same with their own chosen partners. In this way, the entire group formed a constantly shifting, self-regulating 'organism', which naturally moved about the room, fast and slow, never quite reaching stasis.

This game provoked many immediate responses; sometimes laughter, often surprise, occasionally frustration and always a feeling of change. With our focus directed outward into the spaces between our bodies, we relinquished our identity as separate beings and found that we were truly moving as one. Like geese flying in formation, we only needed to remain aware of the geese at our beak and at our tail to know we were in our 'true' place: here and now.

After this, we moved into an exercise that gave voice to our future grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They'd come to meet with us, from the future, to ask how we had found the courage to save our planet at this time of crisis. These humans - free, thanks to our efforts today, from the suffering born from a planet in crisis - gave heartfelt thanks and gratitude for the efforts we'd made in our lifetimes; efforts that secured their future.

Finally, we followed a 7-stage process, starting with the question, 'If you knew you could not fail, what would you be doing for the healing of our world?' The 7th and final question brought us right into the present: 'What can you do in the next 24 hours, no matter how small the step, that will move toward this goal?' Within 30 minutes, we'd all created visions for a future to be possible: all that was required was our 'next step'.

'The peace testimony involves thinking and uttering the unthinkable, in the conviction that this may lead to a fundamental shift in attitudes. What is idealistic in one generation becomes a cherished right or precept in the next.' (The Quaker Testimonies)

These two workshops have hopefully served as kindling for sparks of affirmative, compassionate - collective - action. Sheffield Living Witness Project remains a newly opened door through
which we're all invited to 'take next steps', to 'find our true place' and to 'hear the call' of future people in this time, now.

Watch this and other Quaker spaces for details of our next meeting...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Taking Stock...

On Monday evening, 14 of us came together for an opportunity to reflect upon climate change in the context of a workshop offered by Sheffield Living Witness group. 13 of us 14 had little idea what to expect of the 3 hour session, titled 'Taking Stock'. For my part, as the one who'd planned the session, I felt a great generosity of enquiry as this group of friends gathered in the Meeting House.

Feeling that I could respond to my own uncertainty about what was to follow by seeing the same unknowingness in others, we set off in a very collective spirit on what began as a physical journey - through simple, yet dynamic exercises that brought us into new and renewed contact with one another - and culminated in the collective witness of a deep sharing of our individual fears, angers, sorrows and emptiness. We spoke from the heart as we touched within us the reality of the environmental and social degradation that seems to so abound, presently, upon our Earth.

In connecting with our breath and our bodies, we moved deeply into a still space of deep listening - a true state of living witness. In this listening circle, I was reminded that within our Meeting - within us as human beings - we contain the story of what it is to be alive; to commune with both our joy and our suffering. Although we gave voice to our despair, we did so whilst standing on a ground of hope.

Simply, I knew that the air my friend beside me breathed in was the air that I had now breathed out. Perhaps, in an uncertain world, this reality of connectedness can stand as not only an ever-lasting Truth but also a physical, tangible guide to knowing that we are here, right now.

- Thank you to you 13, for making me 14

On Monday 20th Sep. (6:30-9:30pm) you are all invited - 14 and over! - to breathe into the unknown in the second part of this workshop, titled 'Creating Action'. This will be an opportunity to discern creative, practical action(s) that will seek to enable the Meeting to 'engage with others and the natural world as part of a wider spiritual consciousness.' (from The Quaker Testimonies, March 2003) If you would like to come, (but weren't at the 1st workshop) then please don't be shy: come!

Friday, 10 September 2010

My, my

I am writing this with my pen, in my notebook – I own both. I look out of my window, at my garden. I own both (or I shall do, when I have paid off the mortgage). My city is Sheffield, my country is England.

Well, there are not many people who can say ‘my country’ because they own it, not even Queen Elizabeth. So there are two meanings of ‘my’: the pen which belongs to me, and the country to which I belong. Much grief and difficulty come from people who can not tell the difference between ‘my’ car and ‘my’ wife (or ‘my’ children). Who belongs to whom? As a possession, or as a loyal member?

Is God my God? Or am I God’s Paul? Is my soul my soul? Or am I its?