Letters - 03 March 2023

From Unpeeling an onion to Review the process?

Unpeeling an onion

I would like to make a very affirmative response to Joanna Dales’ letter (10 February) in response to Abigail Maxwell (27 January).

Discovering one’s ‘true self’ is like unpeeling an onion, but unlike onions, this is not finite, but a lifetime’s task.

When I made the decision, on Boxing Day 2015, to set out for Calais, I had a hazy idea what I was up to, and relied on two books, one of them by Stefan Zweig, Beware of Pity. Here he asks one to question why one is doing something that apparently is a generous gesture. His book shows the folly of activity based upon knee-jerk pity, with no thought to the consequences. This book has continued to have importance in my life, along with many other times of quiet retreat, reflection, and wise words from better people than myself, and has helped me understand that as soon as I have reached one level of understanding, it has been discarded for a deeper one. It would be so easy to ‘look in the mirror’ – as quoted by Joanna – and become complacent, but a willingness to continue the onion-unpeeling process leads to a deeper commitment to activity, not less. It also leads to a discarding of irrelevant preoccupations, and a honing down of what really matters in this short life – genuine compassion.

A well-intentioned Friend asked me why I continue to be as active as I am. His question made me revisit my Zweig. The answer is somewhat like asking mountaineers why they climb mountains – because they are there. If, like me, one is blessed with excellent health, one is fortunate in being able to follow through what is essentially necessary against the many dark forces around. Uncovering layers brings one in touch with both the good and evil all around, and I found there is truly an open of goodness being harnessed against forces of repression. Evil flourishes when good people stand by.

Evil, too, has its layers. Continuing to go to Calais I discover more unkindness and malice that constitutes the ‘hostile environment’ across the waters. Discovering these is a spur to returning, to continue to offer my tiny contribution to support the humane counter-culture there.

However, there are a few howevers. Sometimes the standers-by are active in other ways because they are prevented by good reasons for doing more. In these days of alarming price rises fewer people can be active via travel.

Nonetheless many who seem passive have found, within their own quiet times of meditation, prayer, poetry or Bible reading, a generosity of spirit which encourages the actives. This is so sustaining.

Anne M Jones

Equal marriage

I feel the Religious Society of Friends would be misrepresented if the marriage declaration was altered along the lines suggested in the Friend of 10 February in order to accommodate non-theism, unless we wish to abandon our traditional view that marriage is a ‘religious commitment’ as set out in Quaker faith & practice (1.02, 23).

The declaration not only reflects the couple’s view of marriage but also the view of the Religious Society of Friends as a corporate body.

In my opinion the way in which we define commitments such as marriage and membership reflects how we see ourselves as a faith community. If we wish to remain a religious society, why would it be right for us to define either in non-religious terms?

Richard Pashley

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