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This morning I took part in Meeting for Worship in the small 18th century Friends Meeting House at Calf Cop in North Yorkshire. Situated in that area known to Quakers as '1652 country' where the borders of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria come within a few miles of each other, the Meeting House stands in a quiet burial ground bordered by pine trees and looks across an open landscape to the massive flat-topped mountain of Ingleborough.
It would be difficult to imagine a more peaceful setting. Access is via a footpath lying off a narrow lane which in turn, parts from a quiet minor road a few hundred yards below. The silence, both outside and within the Meeting House was profound. No traffic noise reaches here and the only external sounds were tiny threads of birdsong.
We heard of a Friend's sister who had died that night and were asked “to hold her soul in the Light and her family in our hearts with love and compassion.” As a visitor, I had no personal knowledge of the family concerned, but this was a moment of great emotional power.
Reflecting on the generations of Friends who had sat in this building - and for whom such complete silence would have not been such a rare experience as it is for us today - I wondered how often they would have heard similar words. The mystery of the cessation of physical existence and the crushing experience of loss is the same in all generations. But I never before realised with quite such force how essential silence is to placing ourselves in a right relationship with suffering and incomprehension.
There is so much in our daily experience which is incomprehensible in its capacity to cause pain. We are buffeted by cruelty, greed, injustice, indifference to others and, it has to be said, by our own impotent anger. We may become aggressive, cynical or apathetic in response; we will almost certainly become stressed by the pace and pressure of modern life and by the troubles which come “not in single spies but in battalions.”
We are about to enter on the month widely seen as being one of holiday, relaxation and re-creation. For myself, working with the reporting and analysis of news and comment upon current affairs, I have to consider what this means. I don't advocate idleness – I have health, strength and capacity and I need to make a living. But I am learning that occasionally standing back is essential, not just for perspective, but for emotional and spiritual health.
John Greenleaf Whittier's words from 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind' - sometimes known as the 'Quaker hymn' came into my mind in that remote and beautiful little Meeting House this morning:
Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.
It is a counsel of perfection and I shall fail more often than I succeed in receiving those gifts of quietness. But I shall remember Calf Cop and its gentle reminder that from time to time it is necessary to “attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness.”
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen