‘We need to be with others who are inspired.’

Thought for the week: Peter Varney has a way of being

‘God is at work specifically in community.’ | Photo: Detail from ‘Flow’ by Peter Varney.

There are many voices expressing concern about growing individualism, continuing the discussion which followed when Ben Pink Dandelion asked if everything in Britain Yearly Meeting is to be related to personal choice. In his review of James Cone’s Black Theology of Liberation (28 August) Mark Russ has pointed to the importance of community. ‘The black experience should not be identified with inwardness,’ Cone wrote. Rather, God is at work specifically in community.

A week later Carole Sutton re-affirmed the importance of spiritual experience and community and linked this with a talk by Isobel Clarke at the Quaker Universalist Group conference of 2013. The speakers that year examined Quakerism from a psychological viewpoint. What was most telling in Clarke’s talk was the recognition that humans have two ways of knowing. In one we are bounded in our individual self and by science, which can never reveal everything. In the other way of knowing our ‘relational subsystem’ opens unacknowledged connections with our ancestors and those who come after us, the animals and the ecosystem of earth itself.

Clarke suggests we may have a spiritual quality of experience when our relational subsystem is strong, an experience beyond time and place where everything feels connected. One expression of this relationship, reported throughout the ages, is with the spirit or the divine.

My abstract painting (above) suggests a community in which there is flow, perhaps linked with an experience beyond time and place that puts us in touch with creativity.

We need to be with others who are inspired and have the courage to act, to live sustainably and stand up for justice for the earth. ‘Being with’ in this way opens us to the wonder, love and sustaining power of the divine.

Can we go outside our Quaker boundary and share the vision of Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the US Episcopal Church? He suggests communities can be places ‘where all people may experience dignity and abundant life and see themselves and others as beloved children of God. Together, we are growing as reconcilers, justice-makers, and healers.’ Are we willing to continue our own journeys along this path?

Whichever of these two ways of thinking we take as a starting point, the words of Etty Hillesum – a young Jewish woman whose life ended in a concentration camp – affirm how she knew God was with her: ‘There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too.’

That is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.

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