Lin Patterson shared this contribution made on behalf of Bath Quakers to the Bath Mayor’s annual Interfaith evening. This held virtually on 7 Sept 2021.
There were six speakers, representing Quakers, Islam, Druidism, Buddhism, Salvation Army, and Christianity. The current Mayor for the year, June Player’s theme is Keeping it Clean, Green and Friendly – Promoting Pride in Our Community. John James, our representative on the Inter Faith Group, invited Lin to speak on our behalf.
I imagine I’m not the only one wondering how to spiritualise our topic. It helped to look at the words separately. And it was a start remembering the Quaker belief that all of life can be seen as spiritual, politics included. Quakers are a very broad church, with agnostics, non theists and even professed atheists. But traditionally, and most of us today, believe that God can be accessed directly within us at any time and place, especially with an inner silence, when that unfathomable presence, truth and goodness can be sensed in a responsive way.
So what would a Quaker say about “clean”? Litter might at first seem a superficial issue when “our house is on fire.” But it is a serious subject, reflecting conscious and unconscious attitudes that need to be addressed if our society is to regain health and not fragment further. Like the “broken window syndrome,” litter creates a social snowball effect, which multiplies if not tackled. And the depressing impact of a littered street is something we have all felt. It shows a need for community building.
Yet ‘clean’ could be more than simply freedom from litter. It can mean being led by conscience. Clean politics, clean living, and a clean conscience. Quakers put a lot of store by conscience. George Fox, one of the founders, said in 1654, (translated into modern English)
So may God Almighty open the minds of every one of you, everywhere, so that you can see yourselves. And if you pay attention to that light in you that activates your conscience, it will enable you to see yourselves. And this eye in you, the light, will enable you to see God.”
So the Divine is found within, by locating the metaphorical equivalent to light guiding us to truth and love.
What about Green? The colour green is caused by radiant light. That radiance and the air, the animals, soil, sea and we ourselves, spring from the suffusing spirit which loves it into existence over immemorial time. Now, the council’s commitment to act on the climate and ecological emergency is meant to pervade everything the council does. Pensions? Transport? Planning? Can we act quickly enough to avoid the worst? We can pray the council will be seized with enthusiasm for making the sweeping green changes necessary.
And friendly? Quakers are Friends, with a capital ‘F’. “The Religious Society of Friends” is our official name. One original usage was “Friends of the Truth”, truth which we discern in silent meetings, interrupting the silence to quietly share truths from the heart. Quakers, as Friends, aspire to know each other in “the things that are eternal,” and reaching for the eternal together knits us as a group, giving us strength to work to improve the world and nonviolently “punch above our weight” on current issues such as same sex relationships, antiracism and disarmament.
Ordinary friendliness is a deep and precious way of being kindly involved with others. It is the bedrock of community, society and civilisation; to care.
Finally, “Promoting pride in our community”: Religions warn that egocentric pride is an obstacle to connecting with God, but this is not that kind of pride. The relevant dictionary definition is “to be conscientious in maintaining high standards”. “Promoting pride” here means encouraging, literally, giving courage to maintain the effort to make our community better, which links us to that most beautiful first word of the Mayor’s theme: “keeping” — persevering, not giving up, to patiently keep on keeping on, with enduring faith, hope, and yes, love.
Lin Patterson is a Bath Quaker and former Bath & NE Somerset Councillor.