Thought for the week: Marigold Bentley takes another look
When my daughter pointed out the warship moored in the bay, I couldn’t see it at all. I was waiting for cataract surgery, and details had completely disappeared for me. Things around us were somehow not there at all. I relied on someone describing them, but they were inevitably less real. The shock and delight of having one eye restored in May has not left me – I had missed so much.
During Ramadan last year I was invited to speak to a mostly Muslim audience about fasting in the Christian tradition. This is interesting to explore, but I had little to say directly about the Quaker experience. I felt I had done a poor job. I was profoundly struck when the Shia Imam said that, while what I had to say was interesting, he had thought I was going to describe what he thought of as the Quaker fast – our fast from talking and noise. He helped me to see our religious practice in a new way. The experience was deep and revelatory; I am so grateful for it.
The Quaker Committee for Christian and Interfaith Relations recently had a first ever meeting in Ireland. The committee has always had a member nominated from Ireland Yearly Meeting, and it values the religious perspective from there, as it does from Wales, Scotland and England. We had structured conversations with faith leaders and those who are active in spiritual exploration but have no named faith or religion. The gathering, hosted by Limerick Friends, explored the practical projects in which faiths are involved, particularly looking at the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, and sustainability.
British Friends listened carefully to Irish Friends from north and south as they described the many changes across Ireland over the past twenty years, including the change in attitudes towards the Roman Catholic Church, which had been so central to social and political life and now has a much lesser role. Given our recent work on the The changing face of faith in Britain report, it was thought-provoking to hear these Irish stories of the role of faith, now so separate there from public life. Those who reject religion but talk vividly of spiritual approaches to life issues say they represent eighty percent of the population. It was a fabulous opportunity for getting to know one another in the things which are eternal – to understand one another better and to ensure that relations between the Yearly Meetings are thoughtful, cordial and respectful. The Meeting for Worship on the final day was full of ministry, and the shared lunch was joyful. It didn’t feel smug or overconfident but a genuine sharing of insights. Most of all, it helped with new ways of seeing spiritual opportunities in the world around us.
These things are essential in our unsteady and volatile world. They help us all see our faith with new eyes.
Marigold is the head of Peace Programmes and Faith Relations for Britain Yearly Meeting.
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