Quakers don't really 'do' Christmas. Partly in order to offer a sign of contradiction to the consumerism and commercialism of the season which is in conflict with our Testimony of simplicity; partly because we believe that all of life and all its days and times are sacramental; partly because there is such a wide range of views in the Society of Friends as to the nature of the man Jesus.
But we are also drawn to acknowledging and, in some form joining with, the communal experiences which mark these days, and to drawing from the wells of wisdom and reflection which the tradition has to offer. So it was that on the last Sunday before Christmas, the Meeting of which I am a member, worshipped for half an hour in the usual format of silent attentiveness to the leadings of the divine spirit and then – varying the customary practice of our weekly gathering – offered 'gifts to the tree'. This consists of writing a short reflection, prayer, quotation or hope for the coming year on a tag which Friends then hang on the Christmas tree whilst offering a brief exposition of their choice.
We heard of experiences of suffering transformed by hope; of reflection upon individual Friends' experiences; of joy at new life, gratitude for light in times of literal and metaphoric darkness and of unlooked for transformation in unpromising circumstances. Our oldest Friend, in a voice ringing with certainty and a strength which belied her 95 years, reminded us of the beautiful phrase from John's gospel about the “dayspring from on high” whilst our newest member challenged the government to formulate policy with justice and compassion. Another Friend, his speech quavering a little with emotion, spoke of his desire that as a businessman he might play an active part in striving for integrity in financial dealings.
In the coming days, as I struggle with deadlines and try not to succumb to irritation and despondency in the search for parking places and brussel sprouts, I realise how blessed I am to spend time amongst people who, in George Fox's words, strive always to “know one another in the things that are eternal”.