Sunday, 28 September 2008

Reasoning out our peculiarities

posted by Rhiannon

Martin Kelley has just made an excellent blog post called Sorting Quaker peculiarities in the modern world. It prompted me to think about my peculiarities, and specifically those I attribute to being Quaker-there are many which are unrelated! I'm especially aware of this as I'll be attending a new-to-me Meeting for Worship this morning (I'm in Leeds), so other Quakers will be trying to guess how new I am (the usual questions are: does she need a leaflet? should I speak to her over tea at the end? will she know what's going on? It's easy to get this wrong, leafleting cradle Quakers and ignoring totally new enquirers, especially in a large Meeting. But I disgress.)

Martin discusses two specific 'Quaker peculiarities': the use of 'thee' (in place of singular 'you'), and calling days of the week by numbers rather than names.

I don't, as a rule, do either. Having been brought up in Quaker circles, I can; I know something is wrong without knowing why when people use thee and thou the wrong way around (it's 'what canst thou say?' not 'what canst thee say?'). However, because English speakers agreed with the early Quakers and discarded the status-ranked pronouns, I feel there's no need to keep using 'thee': 'you', used equally for all, has the same effect.

(To quote from Martin's post, on those who choose to do so: "I'm glad they do and don't want to double-guess their leadings." As normal for liberal Quakers, our different leadings are not to invalidate other leadings, especially in matters pertaining only to personal conduct.)

The principle that we should seek to reflect our testimony to equality in our language stands, though. To that end, I am considering taking up another pronoun pecularity: genderless pronouns. At the moment, we have no natural-language way to refer to single individuals of unknown (or non-binary) gender, and the 'correct' thing to do is to assume that they are masculine until further information arrives. This isn't a practice which values women equally, and may (depending which feminists you read) be considerably worse than that.

In speaking, I currently use 'they' as singular when the need arises. I haven't yet settled on an option for writing, but am experiementing with some of the many possibilities.

As for days of the week, this is where I part ways with many Christian Quakers. I think it's right that those who consider themselves Christian should avoid invoking other gods; I, however, consider mayself a pagan, and as a consequence I have no problem using the days of the week as they stand. I do so mindfully, knowing that the name Wednesday should remind me to thank Woden for His blessings.

I even have a Quaker principle which backs up this useage (a useage which is fully aware, not one which does not suit my religious beliefs): every day is sacred. Historically, this was used to reject over-emphasing celebrations such as Christmas and Easter, and seeking awareness that communion with the Divine was possible any where and at any time, not just in churches on Sunday mornings. (There I go again, acknowledging the Divine in the world, in this case, in the power of the sun.) As a Quaker pagan, I have to reconcile this principle with paganism's emphasis on awareness of the cycles of the natural world, of equinoxes and soltices and the mid-points between. I like to think of this as a creative tension, more like the volcanic regions where Gaia creates new land as two tectonic plates pull away from each other, rather than a simple tug-of-war.

I believe there's a balance to be struck here, between awareness and over-emphasis, between rejecting all special days and forgetting that special days are useful reminders. For me, part of that is to call every day by a Divine name. I'm only human. I often forget. But it's there, and just as a Christian Quaker might use the terms 'second day', 'third day', and so forth to remind themselves of One God in Everything, I can use the terms 'Tuesday', 'Wednesday', and so forth to remind myself of God(s) In Everything.

Would this pass Martin's 'Elevator rule'? I don't know, and I think I'm unlikely to have the chance to find out. People usually want to know about my hat, which isn't Quaker at all.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Back to Meeting

posted by Kathy

After the August break, Meeting for Worship starts again. Next Meeting will be on 7th September at 10.30 a.m. at the Day Centre.

Much as I like the illustration, I assure you that bonnets and hats are strictly optional and seating will not be segregated.

For the benefit of any visitors, everyday dress is usual at Quaker Meetings and all are welcome. There is no collection. At the end of an hour of almost (or entirely) silent worship, there will be an opportunity for conversation over tea or coffee and biscuits. Visitors are welcome whether they come regularly, occasionally or just drop in for a single visit.