Sunday, October 10, 2010

A New Quaker Vision

 A couple of weeks ago during leave from work I was fortunate to have two nights at Silver Wattle Quaker Study Centre near Bungendore not far from Canberra (Ngunnawal land).  In its second year of lease from the Catholic Diocese of Canberra-Goulburn the centre currently provides a retreat and workshop program for limited blocks of the year.  The centre has arisen in part to provide a space for Quakers and others to reflect on the future for our planet and communities as well as being a place of spiritual renewal and direction. Those who have provided the leadership in this regard amongst the Quaker community are hopeful that the property can be purchased and developed further as a fully fledged study centre similar to the likes of Pendle Hill in the USA and Woodbrooke in the UK.  More info is available at http://www.aqc.quakers.org.au/ and the dvd explaining the overall background, vision and details of the property has recently been put on You Tube in two parts: Part 1  Part 2, I highly recommend a viewing.

Even though I was present at the centre for two days only I felt very quickly that it is a profoundly special place.  In my journal I found myself writing: "The silence immediately captured me when I got out of the car after Jim picked me up from Bungendore train station.  The silence of the land pressing in to my heart encouraged me to join the stream.  An invitation to join the flow of silence - soon my own inner silence coheres with the Greater Silence - what a marvellous gift - all I can do is respond."

I was looking for a short retreat that gave me solitude as well as time for learning about the vision for this place.  It was very easy to find this at Silver Wattle and contemplation became even more natural and less forced than in my normal round of daily practice back home.  While in this environment which is open to 'all seekers' I realised that all my seeking over the course of my life in all its ups and downs somehow is all relevant, somehow all purposeful even when I cannot see this.  I recognised that 'the seeking is a gift and in turn becomes a gift to give away to others.  Our seeking is not something for memorialising it is a living, burning, yearning movement towards what is most real".  The land can always help us with what is 'most real'.  The 'most real' is what we need in our journey with the planet at this time.  I walked the escarpment and looked out over Lake George (Wereewa) with the sun and the moon early in the morning...then during Meeting for Worship I felt the land as a powerful presence, pressing in on our worship and asserting itself as rightful participant.  How right this is!  The land is indeed an alive organism which joins with us and even carries us as friends despite all the abuse.

On the second night during Epilogue (daily evening reflection) we watched a biographical film from the 1980s on the life of Thomas Merton (1915-1968), monk, author and activist.  He embodied a new vision for monasticism that was less institutionalised and withdrawn and more powerfully engaged with the world and the Spirit.  In recent years my spiritual life has in part entailed a dialogue between quaker and monastic insights and practices...I find much life in both...At Silver Wattle the simple things of prayer, study and work are present and by their simplicity help to heal the land (and us)....another retreatant noticed how the land at Silver Wattle is responding to the care being offered to it.  Is this to be, to use a Celtic phrase, a new 'place of resurrection' for faithful people and the land?

My only regret from my visit is that I couldn't stay longer and introduce this place to my partner and our girls...hopefully an opportunity will arise. 

Later in the week after leaving Silver Wattle I discovered the following poem from Gerard Manly Hopkins (1844-1889) in my in-law's bookcase.  Hopkins was a  Jesuit and apparently one inspiration for Merton early on in his Catholic conversion.  In the following Hopkins shares his own optimistic vision of the world's resilience with deep theological overtones.  The opening line is contained in The Celtic Prayer Book that I use which is now gifted with more meaning....

God's Grandeur
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil.
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smells: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.
And though the last lights of the black West went.
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs.
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. 

Blessings on our 'bright wings' too.