In its worst aspects, modern society, especially in the West, is poles apart from Quakerism, and in particular from the experience of worship in its oldest form, that is, Silence.
This is not because the Quaker rejects all modernity — whose trappings need reassessment only when they negatively affect spiritual growth — but because all the frenetic economic, political, social, and sporting activity has a rhythm that gets in the way of the quiet reflection which would allow us to weigh up principles and practices as they in turn are presented and articulated.
Today's material things and actions have unintended negative side-effects: too much noise brings on illness and confusion; too much traffic, industrial production, technology, advertising, and so on, lead to physical and moral pollution; the overuse of stimuli makes for a flat uniformity; the spectre of poverty brings on fear and the race for success and power; the horror of death tempts one to shun its presence, vainly running after the pleasure that is the only diversion to escape it.
These causes of ethical and spiritual impoverishment, though superficial, are reason enough in themselves to do without them, or at best to try to find antidotes such as the search for true religious values.
Wherever it may be found, silent worship provides an easy approach to seeking, in the company of others rather than in despairing solitude, a full range of values, which in turn present themselves to the spirit in moments of meditation.
No matter how wounded or sorrowing a soul may be, in silent worship it experiences a sort of soothing, as if an invisible hand were laid upon it, bringing it towards healing; and the world, formerly hostile and distant, takes our place as the great patient to care for, indeed, to care for with our own hands, without resentment.
Not all meetings for worship are like this... therapeutic and creative; not all the messages spoken by inspired persons reach every one; it is not always clear where the good is and where the bad is; but it is always clear that without a vibrant religion, without meetings for worship, without long silent meditation, our time is wasted far from God, and by the same token, far from people.
The way to divine truth is long, steep, and strewn with man-made difficulties — and the obstacles increase as long as one goes along with this consumerist modernity of tricksters and party-goers — but the hand of God which can be felt almost physically in attentive meditation can help us overcome them one by one, without at all giving up a little healthy amusement and non-competitive sport.
Livorno, Ardenza, 9 XI 1990
Seek with me -
the last love on earth,
the gift of farewell to life,
the last blessing of man.
Today my purse is empty.
All that I had to give
I have given freely.
The little gifts that I receive each day,
a bit of tenderness, a bit of forgiveness,
I will take with me,
when I make the last crossing
in my little raft
to the quiet festival of the end.
Rabindranath Tagore, on his last birthday, 6 May 1941
Please send any suggestions for alternative translations of any of these meditations to Simon Grant.