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Thought for the Week
There is a chamber of the mind prepared for me.
When I am ready, willing to surrender. When I am quiet, I may enter there To find a place of stillness, a place already occupied
By the light of the welcoming Presence.
From ‘Practising the Presence’ by Kenneth Bird
When we read the words ‘practising the Presence of God’ we often overlook the fact that practising has two meanings – preparation and (as in practising medicine) performance. Kenneth Bird’s poem ‘Practising the Presence’ illustrates the inward task of preparation but to George Fox preparation and performance were linked: performance had to be preceded by insight gained through practice. Such insights came from ‘that of God’, the life-giving Spirit that runs through all creation and into which we are able to ‘tune.’
To his followers Fox gave the message with which we are so familiar: ‘First, be patterns and examples [practice]… then walk cheerfully over the world (answering) that of God in everyone [performance]’.
Trying to live aware of the Presence within is, for many people, their ultimate goal but as Thomas Kelly wrote: ‘George Fox and his followers threw themselves into it with all the passion of a new and glorious discovery and with all the energy of their devoted lives’.
It was not only the Quakers who tried to live in the Presence. Christians try to pray continuously using the Jesus Prayer; Buddhists walk murmuring ‘Om Mane Padme Hum’, which is an invocation to the Goddess of compassion, but, as William James wrote in The Varieties of Religious Experience, it was the Quakers who were best at practising the Presence. They went into silence waiting on the Spirit. If an individual then felt led into taking action, he or she referred the call to other Friends who met in the Spirit – thus ensuring that the call was not one of the ego.
Once, when talking of this to an experienced Friend, I jokingly said that we were used to being told to ‘answer’ that of God in those we met and, since we were not often asked a question, it had just become a saying. He responded that in our encounters our response need not be verbal, it may be a case when just a smile or a light touch may be appropriate. As to whether he knew of any way that might help Friends to stay prepared to respond, his unexpected reply used the analogy of a ship’s figurehead. Although not a working part of the vessel, it was an integral part of it. The figurehead could not be seen from the deck by the crew, who might well forget that it was there. Wherever the ship went, the figurehead led the way. He tried to imagine that the Presence was his figurehead and that it led the way into his every encounter and influenced the way he behaved. ‘Useful,’ he laughed, ‘when I go to complain about something’.
Quakers believe that the Presence (that of God) is within us and we therefore have no need of a mediator. This belief was the cornerstone of the Quaker faith and directed our practice. Despite the challenges we face today it remains at the core of the Society. True Quaker action is the outcome of inward guidance.
Edward Hoare Long Sutton Meeting the Friend, 20 April 2012