My understanding of God has evolved over time
My understanding of God has evolved over time. When I first found Quakers, I felt safe here, realising that no-one was going to tell me what I ought to believe. I believed in a power greater than myself. Sometimes I would have thought of this as love, or an inner Light that was at times centring, at times inspiring, and at times challenging. I was very uncomfortable with Christian language.
Over ten years worshipping with Quakers my understanding has changed. I spent some time with the ecumenical Christian community at Taizé, ending with a one week silent retreat. In the daily rhythm of prayer, worship, mindful work, and meditation on Bible passages, my relationship with God deepened. I had a strong sense of Jesus as a powerful loving presence.
Now when I join Quakers in gathering for silent worship, I often begin by first centring myself in God, by dwelling on words such as love, peace, compassion, joy, truth. Then I centre myself in Jesus, using words such as teacher, friend. Finally I centre myself in the Holy Spirit, God within.
I don't have any great faith or belief in God
I don't have any great faith or belief in God. The word comes laden with all sorts of meaning and misconception; the baggage of history. Too often has somebody's God been used as the basis for division rather than unity. I don't like it.
What I do have is a sense that there may be something bigger than me, bigger than my ability to comprehend, that sometimes I manage to glimpse.
When I sit in the stillness of meeting for worship, surrounded by Friends. When I can still the hubbub of everyday life and listen, carefully, for the simple voices of equality, peace and truth. When I do these things, which I think of as “listening for the big stuff", I can find myself strangely moved, enlightened, lifted.
I don't have any great faith of belief in God, but I do find that if I live my life on the assumption that there may be something out there, too big for me to comprehend, which I can sometimes glimpse in meeting for worship, it enriches my life.
Other people's ideas got in the way
I started with an unquestioning faith in God: what my mother thought, I thought. A habit, really.
At university, I experienced a sort of evangelical 'conversion', which gave me a personal faith, but seemed prescriptive and formulaic. I didn't care for the 'rules' of this way of thinking about God. I had to find out for myself.
Reading for a degree in theology didn't contribute much; though afterwards, working at a big missionary society, I found him agreeably taken for granted, in a warm, ill-defined, accepting, generous way. He seemed safe; I felt safe.
But later, as a feminist, attending a local parish church where the priest was very conformist about the place of women, gays, etc., made me feel more angry than holy. It seemed difficult to get God right. Other people's ideas got in the way.
At meeting, God was allowed to be God: that other Friends didn't feel as I did wasn't a problem. The freedom to believe in the truth as I experienced it seemed at once exciting and reassuring, and I came to the conclusion that God was beyond crisp definition. The only appropriate word was 'love'.
I've got quite used to God now.
Quaker openness allowed me to make my own spiritual journey
My experience of that which I call God happened unexpectedly as an overwhelming energy of love without any specific religious context when I was 18, sitting on my bed during my first year at university. Since then I would describe my journey as going deeper within and the Quaker meeting of silent waiting which I discovered several years later has been helpful. Quaker openness and tolerance to individual experience allowed me to make my own spiritual journey which has embraced Buddhism and the Christian mystical, monastic and contemplative traditions. I have found my response resonates with the faith that God is unknowable, undefinable, beyond us totally and yet can be experienced as a continuing presence in an accompanied life. In my daily practice of meditation, prayer, reflection and reading I create the possibility of a deeper response to that first impulse which bowled me over so long ago.
When I was younger, I used to worry a lot about God
When I was younger, I used to worry a lot about God. Did God exist? Why didn't he answer people's prayers? Did I need to praise him? Confess my sins?
A Quaker quotation helps to explain where I am now: 'Friends maintain that expressions of faith must be related to personal experience… The deeper realities of our faith are beyond precise formulation' Quaker faith & practice 1.01 (offsite link)
Experience has taught me that each of us possess an Inward Teacher/Light that can lead and guide. I no longer worry who or what this Teacher/Light is and simply accept the reality of it. Intellectually, I accept that this Teacher/Light might have its source in something other than myself – God – but I can also accept that it is no more – but no less – than an important aspect of being human.
What is important to me now is to be open, trusting and responsive to the leadings I receive.
I discovered the circle of silence in a Quaker meeting
When I was a teenager, I was told that God could be experienced in Christian churches on a Sunday. So I knelt, offered my hands and my mouth, and a clergyman gave me a wafer and a sip of wine. 'Take, eat… Take, drink...' But nothing happened. God did not come.
Ten years later, I discovered the circle of silence in a Quaker meeting, and I fell into it. It was like the stillness of a deep pool, where I could float, swim, or even, for a few precious seconds, sink. I joined the community of Friends.
Thirty years later, still a Quaker and needing to seek for Mother Earth, I found myself among pagans. Here was a more formal ritual, a more active mystery. One morning at dawn, I joined other women on Glastonbury Tor. We danced and sang, then stood in a quiet circle while an offering of seeds and juice was passed round. I wept. This was the communion with the divine, with the Goddess, that I had longed for.
Now my Quaker community gives me spiritual bread and butter, while the Goddess flows through me like water and occasionally like heady wine.
God is strength, comfort and within all living beings
I believe that God is within and through me. God is strength, comfort and within all living beings. God is consistent and forgiving, loving and giving. God is an energy that sustains and empowers me. God is quiet and loud. God is calm and chaotic. I am grateful that my path in life has been a Quaker one as this faith expresses my beliefs most appropriately for me. With other Quakers, I can find a place where my language to describe God is understood.
I am content that God is expressed and recognised differently for different people and believe strongly that this is to be respected.
In my life I have felt God holding me and giving me a quiet strength to get through tough times. I have felt God reminding me to be thankful and to be still when I am struggling or bursting with emotion. I have been lucky enough to feel the power and love of God through gathered meeting for worship and more often through the meeting for worship in a Quaker business meeting.