Ben Pink Dandelion and Deborah Shaw

Being fully present to God

An evening with Ben Pink Dandelion and Deborah Shaw on 21 May 2015

On an eagerly awaited, warm and sunny evening in May, Ettington Friends had the pleasure of welcoming over fifty members of the Society to the talk given by Ben Pink Dandelion and Deborah Shaw.

Ben Pink Dandelion has worked as a tutor at Woodbrooke for over twenty years and has written widely on Quakerism. He was also the author and presenter of The Swarthmore Lecture at Yearly Meeting 2014, Open to Transformation.

Deborah Shaw is a recorded minister of North Carolina (Conservative) Yearly Meeting. She has travelled among Friends extensively, and visits Woodbrooke once or twice a year. She directs the Quaker Leadership Scholars' Programs (QLSP) at Guilford College, Greensboro, North Carolina. She explained that Conservative in this context means simply that the Meetings for Worship are unprogrammed, as are our Meetings in Britain.

Two men relax in a garden People gather before a small marquee Visitors are welcomed to the marquee Friends relax with a cup of tea in a marquee

The evening was fully booked within a month of invitations being sent out in March. We were very sorry not to be able to accommodate all those Friends who wished to attend. As it was, due to several cancellations, a few Friends on the waiting list were only contacted the day before the event! In addition to our own Area Meeting, those attending came from the surrounding Area Meetings, even including members from as far afield as Sutton Coldfield, Oxford, Worcester, Cirencester, Hereford and Forest of Dean.

A table is set with sandwiches and cakes Friends pour out tea Animated discussion at a picnic table Friends offer food

During the hour before the start of the meeting, Friends gathered in our recently acquired marquee where light refreshments were served. Groups sat around picnic tables in the garden and were also interested to see the displays in the children's room, particularly the one depicting the history of Ettington Quakers. As 7 o'clock approached, those present moved without any prompting, into what more than one person described as ‘your atmospheric Meeting House’. In the time honoured manner of Friends, almost on cue, but without any, the expectant murmur of conversation diminished and fell into a deep silence.

Talking in a marquee Talking outside a marquee Talking by a bench Some talk raises eyebrows

In their talk, Deborah and Ben shared how they had encountered the Divine in their lives, and how they have nurtured the sense of being in the presence to God. They drew from their experience and the Quaker tradition and suggested ways that the Meetings might do more to create a corporate intimacy with the Spirit.

Talking in a garden Talking by a path Talking across the tent Talking over a glass of juice

The talk was so vibrant and inspirational that we have found it impossible to write about it in its entirety - it needed to be experienced! However, we will try to share a few of the points that Ben and Deborah made.

From the beginning, the meeting was approached in a spirit of worship. We were reminded that as Quakers, we know we can encounter the Divine individually, and constantly need to discern what is required of us. We were encouraged to follow QFP 2.22 in which Thomas Kelly writes ... How then shall we lay hold of that Life and Power and live the life of prayer without ceasing? By quiet, persistent practice in turning all our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender, towards Him who calls in the deeps of our souls........

We heard how we need to live together communally; as Quakers, we are a highly individual Society, but we are not good enough alone - we need each other. Experience binds us together and we need that binding if we are to live the faith well. If we are fully present to each other, then we will be more fully present to God. We are not always good at sharing our experiences - Americans have a much more open assumption of faith, eg discussing it in the supermarket queue! Once more, Ben referred us to QFP: 19.08 in which Francis Howgill describes the sense of communion amongst the Westmorland Seekers in the 17th century.

Deborah suggested that we take the risk of having the faith to talk to God. She recounted her beautiful morning prayer which she says at the start of each day and reminded us that we can be present to God in body, mind and spirit at all times.

After about an hour's talk, shared between Ben and Deborah, comprising song, prayer, humour, faith, and encouragement, we entered into a very deep silence, out of which, a number of spoken contributions were made by Friends present. After two hours of intensely spiritual experience, the meeting drew to a close and Friends made their way home.

The comments below were received later:

Jan and I found the meeting yesterday very deep and moving, and we enjoyed experiencing your atmospheric Meeting House in such a lovely setting.

It's amazing how settled we are as a group, even if we hardly know anyone else... The talk was inspirational and clearly had affected many others as well. I particularly valued the emphasis on Quaker Faith and practice from our origins as seekers of truth which I think sometimes gets lost in the effort to deal with the social ills of the day.

For me, the presentation was unexpected and amazingly deep in its personal content of humour with anger, fear, forgiveness, prayer, love and commitment. This produced a gentle outpouring of the spirit from so many Friends.

I can't thank you enough for making last night at Ettington possible. I am so happy to have been led there in such a magical and unimagined way. I was moved, challenged, inspired, humbled and many other things. However, perhaps above all, I was so strongly held and aware of the connectedness in that wonder of love and light that was a true gathering in the presence of the Divine.

We have all experienced the unique atmosphere of Ettington's beautiful old Meeting House that has been called the weight of worship. There was that and more at this wonderfully inspiring gathering of Friends, many of whom were strangers to one another at the beginning of the evening, but who felt deeply connected by the time we left for home.

A fair weather sky closes a wonderful day