Reflections on the ‘Red Book’: Tender sympathy

Jill Allum reflects on 'Advices & queries 18'

‘As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our Meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.’

From Quaker faith & practice, Advices & queries 18

To me this quotation offers a tremendous challenge and we too often fall far short of it. I especially love the last four words: ‘God’s love and forgiveness.’ How easy these words are to say and how hard they are to live up to. We are Quakers, so we think we do this extremely well, but do we? My experience is that we are not good at being loving and forgiving.

We bring up old grudges. In my own home a weighty Friend told a relative newcomer how I had failed to get permission from Business Meeting for spending a sum of money twenty years ago! I cannot go into detail, but I was in tears and I wondered where God’s forgiveness was.

‘Love’ is a word we bandy about and pride ourselves on doing so well. But do we really? Are we really good listeners, or do we so often jump in with our own opinion? I want to ask you to read again Jocelyn Bell-Burnell’s 1989 Swarthmore Lecture, Broken for Life. It stunned me when I read it and never ceases to move me. She quotes from Henri Nouwen:

Few are able… to enter deeply into human suffering and speak from there

If we do not know that:

Love is the hardest lesson in Christianity; but, for that reason, it should be most our care to learn it

(William Penn)

…we perhaps have not really begun on the Quaker way.

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