Viewpoint from Hilary Grundy for21st Sept 2012
Member of Yarmouth Quaker Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.
Yarmouth’s peaceful early on Sunday mornings.
Member of Yarmouth Quaker Meeting
of the Religious Society of Friends.
You have only to hear the words “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” and you start to hum the delightful tune to yourself. The tune was composed by Hubert H. Parry and is called “Repton”. I love this hymn. It’s the repetition of the last line of every verse which makes it so evocative, in my opinion. The author, though, of the hymn itself was a Quaker. He was a Massachusetts journalist, anti-slavery campaigner, and prolific poet. His name was John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892).
The hymn is an extract from one of Whittier’s poems called “The Brewing of Soma”. In it, he contrasts the practice of imbibing an intoxicating, and probably hallucogenic, drink used by ancient priests to bring them closer to the Divine Presence, with the greater truth, he believed, of quietly listening for the authentic word of the Sprit; the ‘still small voice’ that speaks through earthquake, wind and fire (I Kings, 19, 11-13). He captured the essence of quietly listening for the Spirit in the words he used: reverence, trust, eternity, hush, silence, whisper, noiseless, quietness, peace, balm and calm.
Today, the earthquake, wind and fire, physical realities though they are, can be a metaphor for the clamour of our everyday lives. Underneath which there may be a felt spiritual longing; a need which remains unanswered as we tend to the day to day realities of doing the best we can in the circumstances we find ourselves in, such as responding to the ‘ping’ of an email in our inbox, of earning a living, running a house, keeping the peace with difficult neighbours, and especially at this time of year, adjusting to the emotional aftermath of sending our children away to University. Or, perhaps you look at your life right now and sense that God’s left the receiver off the hook.
Whittier then and Quakers now, continue to quietly listen. At 10.30am on a Sunday morning, at the Quaker Meeting House in the centre of Gt Yarmouth, there is a safe place to be ‘inwardly quiet, away from the stirrings and commotions of the world’. (John Woolman 1770). There is no order of service. No hymns. No bible readings and no sermon. There is no preacher. No-one conducts the service. No-one is judging you, or your thoughts. You don’t have to declare your commitment to anything. Nothing disturbs the reverential hush of this hour; not even the seagulls squawking, or the buses going past, or the burglar alarm of the pub opposite when they open for business. So a Quaker Meeting isn’t noiseless, but an experience of attentive stillness, balm, and calm. The marvellous thing is that in quietly listening you contribute to the peace of a Quaker Meeting – a peace which passes all understanding.
As John Greenleaf Whittier asked:
‘Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.
The beauty of thy peace.’