Letters - 31 May 2024

From Down with the kids to Is dogma un-Quakerly?

Down with the kids

Barrie Rowson suggests that we could say ‘spiritual mindfulness’ instead of ‘worship’, to be down with the kids (16 May). In my experience, young people are put off less by words like ‘worship’ and more by our attempts to paraphrase our faith and witness in the terms of the prevailing culture. Many young people like me are refugees from a secular culture that finds mindfulness a much easier thing than faith. For us, the power of Quaker worship is that we are gathered together and guided by a Divine hand, as we come to the end of our own answers and capacities. ‘Worship’ is as good a name for that as any. At least it clearly points to a Presence greater than us and our ideas, and it seems to me that our communal endeavour to help each other tune in to this Presence is why we bother to meet.

Matt Rosen

Moral clarity

While surely no one will disagree with Zoe Prosser that hectoring and debilitating uses of the word ‘should’ should (oops) be dispensed with (10 May), I’m not comfortable with expunging it from Quaker vocabulary. Experience of ‘leadings’ and ‘callings’ invariably carries with it a sense of obligation to do some particular thing, which, in greater or lesser degree, may well have the force of an imperative – it should, or even must, be acknowledged, attempted or pursued. Collective discernment, properly undertaken, can indicate the rightness or otherwise of one course of action over another, and energise a community to follow or accept it.

There’s more to a disciplined spiritual life than simply being kind to oneself and to others. Foundational as these are to Friends, a socially-engaged faith cannot be reduced to sensible self-care or to finding joy in service. ‘Living in truth’, and our testimonies more generally, require more than this. What of justice? I can think of no people of deep faith, from most early Friends to Martin Luther King Jnr, who did not have a clear spirit-led sense of what should be done to improve their societies, even when it entailed ‘carrying a cross’.

Given that historically so many Quaker testimonies have been against prevailing forms of order in the world – from refusing tithes to opposing war and violence – would Zoe encourage us to abjure the term ‘should not’ when we deliberate and speak about, for example, the dilution of environmental protections or Israel’s actions in Gaza? I hope not. I don’t believe she should. Moral clarity in dark times requires that Friends keep this word, and use it discerningly.

Mike Nellis

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