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To be made to pause and to listen anew can be to experience the subduing of “all our words and works.” It doesn't happen all that often so to have been offered this grace twice in the space of a week demands that I pay attention to blessing.
It is the custom among Quakers to read the Epistle which expresses the gathered experience of our Yearly Meetings on a Sunday fairly soon after YM has closed (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20720) Having recently attended Meeting for Worship in different locations on consecutive Sundays, I heard the Epistle of the 2014 Yearly Meeting Gathering twice. On the second occasion, an inclination towards inattention soon passed. This second hearing, building on pre-knowledge, revealed new twists in the melody and offered snatches of counterpoint to those still only half heard. Thus reminded that very little information comes without a hinterland, I was perhaps more tuned to the grace of surprise when it arrived in the form of a short Radio 4 interview with Mary Brown.
This plainly-named woman is a 77 year-old Quaker from Stroud Meeting. She is a retired prison chaplain and a writer for LifeLines – a group which organises pen-friends for US death-row prisoners. I have been one of their writers and the coordinater for the state of Georgia is a good friend. There was therefore a danger that the 'Oh, yes, I know about that' reflex might have kicked in again. Just a few words from the interviewee dispelled that possibility. On this occasion, the impact was made by the manner in which information was imparted. Mary Brown spoke quietly, avoiding equally rhetorical ornamentation and predictable responses. She had no fear of silences, and her interlocuter Eddie Mair had the wisdom and confidence to let them stand – not always an easy thing to do on radio. His questions were plainly answered – sometimes with a single word. The emotion so quietly carried was immense as was the simple message of caring for 'that of God in everyone' in the face of wrong-doing, suffering, fear and death.
The qualities of these two experiences are inseparable – the pause for thought which makes possible fresh perception, and the power of the still small voice. As the brutal actions and skilled propaganda of Islamic State fighters places an infection in our minds, we become vulnerable to the fear-inspired rush to destructive action which, after 9/11, did much to create the situation which is now horrifying us all. The ill-examined desire to 'do something' has already led to alarming and profoundly anti-democratic posturing from the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London. It would be wise for us all to pause, to reflect and to listen beyond the earthquake, wind and fire.
© 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/quakerpenTweet