Tag Archives: Yearly Meeting Gathering

Many Quake, but Few are Quoken…

My absence from the blogosphere for the last week or so can be explained by this: I have been at a Gathering.  Or perhaps it was a Meeting.  Was it a meeting of minds?  Or a gathering of bodies?  Or both?  Where was it?  Who was it?  What was it?  All questions will be answered, though only in the Quaker way.  This is much like the economists’ way: ie if you ask three Quakers a question you will get four different answers.

Quakers.  As Romeo might have cried, wherefore are ye Quakers?  The answer lies in history, in an insult hurled at Friends who, inspired to speak, might quake in body or voice.  In true Friends’ fashion they took the insult and turned it into a name for themselves.  (I don’t know, there are so many words we can’t use any more: queer, Quaker…)

A week is a long time at Quaker Yearly Meeting, also – confusingly – known as Yearly Meeting Gathering.  A Gathering happens but one year in three, and is a residential affair, a sort of cross between a conference and a retreat.  There are meetings for worship and meetings for business (thought it’s often hard to tell the difference) and a bewildering profusion of workshops, lectures and plenary sessions (I’ve never been quite sure what a plenary session is, though OH helpfully informs me that it’s ‘when everyone gets together.’  Thanks…)

So: that took place at Warwick which, apart from being Margaret Thatcher’s favourite university is a pleasant place, open and airy with lots of trees and leading quickly onto farmland and woods (where I walked one morning with a group of Friends.)  By the end of the week it seemed I’d been there half my life; long enough, indeed, to write a poem about my experiences.  I read this out at the final meeting and it was well received: many people asked for a copy, and you can read it below.  There were a couple of interesting lectures from Quaker politicians; one MP and one MEP, on their experiences of bringing Quaker ethics into politics.  I even managed a couple of early-morning meditation sessions.

After that I had only a day’s rest (or half-rest, since I did a poem at the Hiroshima day vigil in Loughborough) before being plunged into an unexpectedly ferocious walk.  At the moment I’m good for seven miles on the flat or up gentle hills; however this walk was seven miles not on the flat or up gentle hills.  The first bit was fine, meandering through a valley, but being Derbyshire there was no getting away from the hills, and up we went.  And up, and up some more and then much more seriously up and finally I could take no more and declared that it was time for lunch.  After lunch we climbed the final bit to the top, and I was assured it was all downhill from then on.  However, what was not specified was exactly what sort of downhill.  And this was not a gentle downhill; nor was it even a steep downhill, it was a quite unfeasible downhill.  A path quite clearly marked on the OS map was simply not there; and following where it ought to have been led us down a vertiginous and unreasonably thistly slope to a thicket of bracken and thorn bushes.  The way seemed hard, if not impossible.  The words ‘going back up’ were pronounced, whereupon I mutinied.  I could not, and would not, go back up.  And that was flat.  It was the only thing that was flat but flat it was.  So we hobbled, skidded and fell down the bumpy slope into the valley and struggled through an inhospitable landscape to find the path which our more sensible friends had found half an hour before.  It was not fun.  The rest of the walk along the river Derwent would have been delightful had I not been so exhausted.

However, the views were tremendous.  And the company was good.

And that’s us up to date.  How have you been?

Kirk out

PS Oh, I nearly forgot – here’s the poem.

Gold Star

(on my first Yearly Meeting)

 

First I was afraid –

you might say, petrified –

when the plan was laid

that QYM be tried;

I wanted to refuse

curl up like a recluse

but something told me: choose

to be a Yearly Friend

 

From early intimations

upon a box of oats

of wholesome men with hats on

dispensing Quaker quotes;

vague notions of the logo,

love and peace and cocoa

(though not like John and Yoko)

that’s what I knew of Friends.

 

As the years increase

I find my spirit’s kin,

witnesses to peace

that never were sworn in

link arms around the fence

sing madness into sense

and speak the present tense

that’s what I learned of Friends.

 

Midway along this road

I happened on a Meeting;

I sat, I shed my load

amid that silent seating;

but I had no prognosis,

no great apotheosis:

it happened by osmosis

that I became a Friend.

 

So here at QYM

(or is it YMG?)

I’ve come to sense the stem

of something that is me:

though I wobbled at the gate

and got into a state

something told me: wait

and find your way with Friends

 

And now I am afraid –

you might say, petrified –

because our time is played

and, Friends, I need a guide

to light me back to earth

where peace has little worth

and where there is a dearth

of people who are Friends.

 

Let’s lift up that gold star

and set it in the sky

so when we travel far

we hold its halo high

the circle growing vast

we feel the light that’s cast

until we come at last

to meet again as Friends.

 

© Liz Gray, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

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