‘Now we must try to retain that sense of mystery while physically separated from one another.’

Thought for the week: Jan Arriens dwells impermanently

'An invisible fellowship envelops us all.' | Photo: nito100 / iStock.com.

One of the most important things in any Quaker Meeting is the sense of fellowship. We come together because, for most of us, the truth we find within is more readily approached in the company of others. An invisible fellowship envelops us all.

To some extent, we may be able to do the same thing through online Meetings, or sitting at home at the usual time. But not everyone feels comfortable with this. Meeting in person was so important to early Friends that they took great risks to come together. Now we must try to retain that sense of mystery while physically separated from one another.

Doing so may be particularly difficult for some of us as we see our precious world and our society disintegrating. How can we reconcile this with the idea of a loving God? What kind of Creator would fashion such flawed beings, who are nevertheless meant to be in the image of their Maker? And what kind of God would then subject us to the torment of climate change and all that that entails for our wellbeing, combining that with a pandemic that is turning our world upside down? What then do we mean when we talk about seeing that of God in everyone?

But maybe these are the wrong kinds of questions. It is not the absence or inexplicable nature of the supposed direction from above that matters, but how we respond to these immense challenges. This is our Way, to which we must adjust equally as people have done down the ages to plague and pestilence and famine and flood. And warfare, with all its cruelty and dehumanisation.

For most of us, this will be the first sustained period of impermanence in our lives. That which had seemed solid and dependable has slipped through our fingers. We realise that the atmosphere through which the rays of the sun are shining is full of unseen substances that are changing our world. We see chimney smoke not just as what is left after the heating of a home but as adding to the burden on our environment.

For most of human history, impermanence has been an integral part of life. The last seventy or so years have given us an illusory sense of permanence and predictability. We are now having to learn to live as our ancestors did, except that we have more scientific knowledge, technology and education. We can harness that so as to live in harmony with the world around us. Or, after we emerge from this period of darkness, we can again allow the individual and materialism to reign unfettered.

Which of these we choose will be affected by the way we see the world and and other creatures, not least our fellow human beings. This brings us back to those tiny circles of ours known as Meetings for Worship. Here, we are led by different, wordless values. Whatever it is that we have discovered in such Meetings must surely be at the heart of all humankind’s response to the challenges lying ahead. Our task now must be to keep that spirit of communion and wordless sharing alive as best we can.

You need to login to read subscriber-only content and/or comment on articles.