Temples and Hearts
God does not dwell in temples made with hands, but in human hearts.
George Fox, A Quaker Founder.
Night and Day
I always used to look forward to the dawn service on Easter Sunday, when I was living in Germany. The worship of our small Christian community began in pitch darkness. Then candles were lit. And slowly the day dawned as we celebrated the resurrection.
There is a story about an old rabbi who once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun.
"Could it be," asked one of the students, "when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it's a sheep or a dog?"
"No," answered the rabbi.
Another asked, "Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it's a fig tree or a peach tree?"
"No," answered the rabbi.
"Then when is it?" the pupils demanded.
"It is when you can look on the face of any man or woman and see that it is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night."
When I'm walking up Bridge Street and hear someone speaking a foreign language, I remember this story and try to think of them as my brother or sister.
Gordon Matthews, Evesham Friends Meeting (Quakers), Churches Together in Evesham and District from 13th March 2008.
No day more holy than another
Many of the testimonies and practices established by early Friends have survived only in part. One which has almost died out in Britain is the naming of days and months by number instead of by names of pagan origin. IC is rare now to hear `first day' instead of `Sunday' or `third month' instead of `March', though the practice is still acceptable.
Another testimony held by early Friends was that against the keeping of `times and seasons'. We might understand this as part of the conviction that all of life is sacramental; that since all times are therefore holy, no time should be marked out as more holy; that what God has done for us should always be remembered and not only on the occasions named Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
This is a testimony which seems to be dying of neglect. Many Friends, involved with family and the wider society, keep Christmas; in some meetings, Easter and its meaning is neglected, not only at the calendar time but throughout the year. What I would hope for is neither that we let the testimony die, nor that we keep it mechanically. I hope for a rediscovery of its truth, that we should remember and celebrate the work of God in us and for us whenever God by the Spirit calls us to this remembrance and this joy.
Janet Scott, 1994. Reproduced from Quaker Faith and Practice (27.42), © The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain, 1995
Possessions and Relationships
More than a few years ago I was a student at the University of Bradford. I remember taking part in an amateur production of a play about a Chinese village during the revolution.
I played the part of a peasant who was on trial for selling his wife. During the trial I broke down in tears. I explained: "I'm not weeping for my wife. I'm weeping for my donkey!"
Clearly, my donkey was more precious to me than my wife. I wonder whether some men nowadays might have to confess that their car is more precious to them than their wife.
I also remember going to a Quaker Meeting for Worship in Bradford, when one of the Quakers, a father with two young children, told us about a visit to the Ideal Home exhibition. He and his wife had seen all sorts of gadgets and modern equipment for the home. But he told us that creating an ideal home depends much more on loving relationships than on material possessions.
We should "love people and use things, not love things and use people". Jesus loved people. And his message to his disciples is that we should love one another.
Gordon Matthews, Evesham Friends Meeting (Quakers), Churches Together in Evesham and District from 5th June 2008.
Love, Peace and Tenderness
"Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness;
and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another,
and not laying accusations one against another;
but praying one for another, and helping
one another up with a tender hand."
Isaac Penington, 1667.
A Japanese Version of the 23rd Psalm by Toki Miyashiro
The Lord is my pacesetter, I shall not rush.
He makes me stop for quiet intervals:
He provides me with images of stillness
which restores my serenity.
He leads me in ways of efficiency
through calmness of mind,
and His guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things
to accomplish each day, I will not fret
for His presence is here.
His timelessness, His all-importance,
will keep me in balance.
He prepares refreshment and renewal
in the midst of my activity
by anointing my mind with His oil of tranquility.
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Surely harmony and effectiveness
shall be the fruit of my hours,
And I shall walk in the pace of the Lord
And dwell in His house forever.
Read at meeting one Sunday in January 2011
I've been thinking a lot about remembrance lately. We must never forget the sacrifice made by those who have lost their lives in war. We need to remember not only our own citizens, but also those of other countries, in particular those of our "enemies". We need to remember the bombing of Dresden as well as the bombing of Coventry. We need to remember the bombing of Hamburg, Cologne, Frankfurt and many other German cities as well as the bombing of London, Birmingham and Bristol.
We should honour all the servicemen and women who have lost their lives, not only in two world wars but also in current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm convinced that the best way to honour them is to work to prevent wars from happening.
We should also honour peacemakers who have sacrificed their lives, people such as Franz Jaegerstaetter, an Austrian farmer who was beheaded for refusing to fight in Hitler's army, and Oscar Romero, assassinated whilst celebrating mass because he dared to challenge the oppression of the poor under the dictatorship in El Salvador.
Jesus was also a champion of the poor and the oppressed. We do well to remember His sacrifice.
Gordon Matthews, Evesham Friends Meeting (Quakers), Churches Together in Evesham and District from 4th September 2008.
Need and Greed
There is enough for every man's need, but not enough for every man's greed.
Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Going Into The Garden
Sycamore seedlings are sprouting in the lawn. I shall have to start mowing the grass again. I should have anticipated this. The same thing happened last year. But once again I have left it rather late to get the lawn mower serviced and I won't be able to mow the lawn until I get the lawnmower back. Never mind, there are plenty of other things to do in the garden.
My life often gets too busy, so I am thankful that part of my work as warden of the Friends Meeting House is to look after the Quaker Peace Garden. If ever I get too agitated about something, I can just go out into the garden where I find that my soul is restored as I prune the roses or pull up the weeds.
There is a Chinese saying: Stupid people run. Clever people wait. Wise people go into the garden. When someone's behaviour upsets me, instead of giving my gut-reaction which might be hurtful and destructive, I can go into the garden and find a "heart-response" which is loving and constructive. Jesus exhorted us to love our enemies. Going into the garden enables me to do that.
Gordon Matthews, Evesham Friends Meeting (Quakers), Churches Together in Evesham and District from 12th March 2009.
The Wilderness Of Compassion
There is no wilderness so terrible, so beautiful, so arid and so fruitful
As the wilderness of compassion.
It is the only desert that shall truly flourish like the lily.
Sometimes the fate of a nation depends on the wisdom and courage of those who call themselves Christians.
In Nazi Germany most of the members of the protestant churches lacked both wisdom and courage. But a significant minority dared to speak up against national socialist ideology and the Deutsche Christen ("German Christians"), who allied themselves with Hitler's NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party). At the end of May 1934 a synod in Barmen agreed the Barmen Declaration which made it clear that our allegiance as Christians is to Christ alone and not to any other leader (such as Hitler).
To be an active member of the Confessing Church, which came together in Barmen in 1934, required considerable courage. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not the only one to be executed. Some, like Martin Niemoeller, endured several years in concentration camps.
Where do we stand as Christians in Britain today? Can we be true followers of Christ together with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoeller? Do we have the wisdom to see when the claims of our own particular nation for our allegiance become excessive? Do we have the courage to speak out against the BNP, as Rowan Williams and John Sentamu have done?
Gordon Matthews, Evesham Friends Meeting (Quakers), Churches Together in Evesham and District from 1st June 2009.
A Gift To Be Shared
Much violence is based on the illusion
That life is a property to be defended
And not a gift to be shared.
The Gift Of Friendship
Tony was a good friend of mine. We shared a wholehearted commitment to our local Quaker meeting and to working for peace and disarmament. And we shared a passion for folk singing. Tony was a friend, whom I could confide in.
Tony spent the last two weeks of his life in the Macmillan Unit in Evesham Community Hospital. I spent some time at Tony's bedside each day, sometimes with family and sometimes on my own. It was the least a friend could do.
Tony gave me - and many other people - the gift of friendship. It is really only since he died that I have recognised the depth of our friendship. It was the kind of friendship that makes life worth living. Thank you, Tony!
Jesus was a friend to his disciples. At the Last Supper he washed their feet as a servant would have done. He then chose to accept the torture of crucifixion rather than resist the powers of oppression with violence.
Today those of us who call ourselves Christians seek to know Christ in our hearts. Here, now, always, we have a friend, whom we can confide in.
Gordon Matthews, Evesham Friends Meeting (Quakers), Churches Together in Evesham and District from 1st April 2010.
Whatever God does,
the first outburst is always compassion.
No Room At The Inn
Into this world, this demented inn in which there is no room for him at all,
Christ has come uninvited.
But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is out of place in it, ...
His place is with those who do not belong,
who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited,
who are denied the status of persons, tortured and exterminated.
With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world.
He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.
There would be enough money, enough work, enough to eat,
if we were to share the world's resources properly,
instead of making ourselves slaves of rigid economic doctrines of tradition.