George Fox, Jeremy Corbyn and the value of waiting.

By Jill Segger
October 4, 2015

“'Up wi' thee, George', says God. And being up,
He saw the Lancashire sea, and God's people,
Waiting to be found.”

Thus UA Fanthorpe describes the start of George Fox' s mission in her poem Fox Unearthed

Having just taken a few days holiday (for the first time in perhaps too long), I find these words much in my mind. Being up, and waiting are opposing states and most of us are better at the former.

Our work culture affords status to the density of our engagement diaries, to influence measured in appearances of opinion, to miles covered and length of hours worked. We all know people who are ever 'up' and in motion and assume that this must equate with utility or achievement. We may be one of those people. We may also be mistaken.

Waiting, on the other hand, implies passivity, a lack of initiative or ambition. The balance is not easy to find and although Quakers have been both described as contemplative activists and active contemplatives, we are the products of a common culture and may find that balance as difficult as anyone else.

But last week, walking by the Cumbrian sea and in “the high, the muddy, the beastly places” where George Fox “shins up further Firbank/Drinks water, preaches to a thousand”, having deleted all work-related emails from my phone unread and unplugged myself as far as possible from the news-cycle, I began to find space to reflect on the challenges and virtues of waiting. Not just waiting to be 'found' personally, but also of waiting in the sense of understanding the importance of allowing matters to unfold into the finding of possibility and promise before engaging in too much analysis, comment or fixed opinion.

That may sound like a uniquely commentariat-centred problem. But it really isn't. We take decisions, pass comment and formulate opinions every day of our lives, whatever our trade. And some of those decisions may have to be taken quickly if we are to be effective, or even safe in our dealings. We have livings to get and 'up' is most certainly not an inferior state. But it may all too easily become a self-defeating and destructive one if it never factors in the 'waiting' with its attendant humility and awareness that the instant opinion may so easily harden into the long term prejudice.

Some of the barrel-scraping comment which has shamed ink and airwaves in the three weeks since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party has illustrated this danger in a manner which would be comical if it were not so damaging to our understanding of a newly evolving democratic climate. One piece of absurd confirmation bias stimulates the next, which in its turn forms the foundation for building prophecies of doom and destruction. It doesn't take long for this structure to become the norm from which everyone starts to take their bearings, for or against. That it may be a house built on sand may escape us in our anxiety to find a comfort zone cemented by the group think of our tribe (and non-conformists are just as vulnerable to this intellectual seduction as Establishment thinkers). Standing back a little may not save us entirely from such failure, but the exercise of waiting may just be more profitable than the less thoughtful drivings of unexamined 'up'.

I am grateful to my Tweetmate @GeorgeFoxFriend who helped me sift my thoughts on Fanthorpe's poem by pointing out uniquely how she grasps his character. Fox Unearthed – possibly better than any biographical study – catches the quality of journeying and change in the life of a man who managed a pretty good balance between the being up and the waiting. She understands the significance of his evolution from a lonely, confused teenager to a much loved, spiritually and morally mature man who, shortly before his death, was able to say “I am glad I was here”. Significantly, he added: “Now I am clear. I am fully clear” – in a context which shames politicians' frequently clichéd use of that term.

If we would be fully clear, if we would seek truth rather than follow the promptings of ego, we need to avoid equally the pitfalls of quietism and the idolatry of relentless activity.

* Read Fox Unearthed here: (scroll down to 11.) http://www.mezzocammin.com/timeline/timeline.php?vol=timeline&iss=1900&c...

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© 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

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