Spiritual searching 3: Knock …


Quaker meeting for worship

After Samye Ling my spiritual searching was dogged by the on-off return of the punitive god and so placatory one-off visits to a couple of churches – more sin and guilt, and then an odd brief diversion via the women’s movement into goddess worship; yes, which included dancing in a circle at midnight on a hill. At the age of 30, longing to find a spiritual path and a meaningful experience of God, I began to write a spiritual journal hoping then something might happen. And it did – via my work in child psychiatry I began to read Carl Jung. I liked his writings on religion and spirituality, and the way he accepted and saw the need for this central dimension in our lives.

‘Religious experience is absolute, it cannot be disputed … No matter what the world thinks about religious experience, the one who has it possesses a great treasure.’

I began reading the bible, and spending a short time every evening meditating – trying to think about God, and clearing my mind. In my journal I noted that this peaceful time seemed to be preparation for something. One day at work a colleague asked whether I’d like to join him on a lunchtime peace vigil run by local Quakers, and we stood in silence holding banners on a traffic island in the centre of Bristol. I was deeply impressed, so, when a new member joined the women’s group I was in, and said she was a Quaker, I went with her to the local meeting for worship … it felt strange, but I liked it. There seemed no expectations, no complicated ritual, little theology more about personal experience. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. Over time, I could see there was often a shape to the meeting, and thoughts that were becoming conscious in my mind were often articulated by someone else; at its best the meeting was guided by the spirit. I began to appreciate the need to centre down, and let go of distracting thoughts, so that I too was part of what was called a gathered meeting. The Quaker social testimony was also very attractive with no priesthood, women and men were equal, with children respected and included for part of the meeting: concern for the environment, pacifism, and so on. I began to see that God could be a spirit of love, of calm, and of peace, but what did I believe and did any of it have any depth? And not much sign of Jesus in all this.

A year into Quakerism, I had a strange experience on a beach as mist rolled in from the sea and I became overwhelmed by strangeness, as if I were also part of the grey mist and no longer existed in any form. I felt possessed by a sense of something more than myself, greater and more mysterious than I’d come across. I didn’t like the feeling, and felt frightened. Was this God? Or was it from my unconscious; perhaps what Sigmund Freud called the return of the repressed – the unprocessed past. I dreamt night after night of my childhood home and trying to shut the door against powerful angry figures trying to break in … spiritual searching had opened the door to what lay underneath the surface and that needed attending to.