Monday, 29 February 2016

Quality Assurance- A reflection of what we can be like from the inside out.

One day, when I was quite young, my family took me to visit a great aunt. We brought with us a box of chocolates not knowing quite what to expect. I remember thinking on the journey there that chocolate was a very good present for the occasion because (hopefully) she would open the box, pass it around, and we would all get to have some.

Unfortunately it did not seem this elderly relation received chocolate very often. She was so pleased with the gift, began to open it right away, enjoying every moment. This savouring of her present made it the slowest unwrapping ever! I watched in shocked fascination. After so much concentration, the cellophane somehow survived intact. Then it was folded so as not to waste anything. She stopped to admire the picture on the box, then said quite a bit about it. Everyone politely joined in.

All this time I was just longing to tell everyone about the contents of that box. By enjoying the wrapping so much, we were missing the point. Chocolate can be so amazing when you get past the layers. Just like Quakers..

Those Cellophane moments are for me still a source of frustration. There's that phrase about "having a Quaker presence," because letting other people know you have an opinion is so often a beginning. Cellophane layers help make us feel all shiny and clean. They can be incredibly reassuring although people have sometimes asked me whether there is anything more to Quakers than our willingness to be heard. We have a well-established reputation for peace, a predictable presence at certain events, but just like those chocolate moments, I keep wanting to tell them there is more.

Quakers can also present a very pretty picture on our box. We have a record of finely woven tapestries put together over time, so if someone asks about us, we can illustrate the reply. When you approach Quakers from the outside in, testimonies stick to the surface, become a covering, simply a way of life, something to aim for rather than actually do.

For those wishing to spot the ingredients, there's worrying uncertainty because we have no creed printed on the outside of our box.
A barrier, like corrugated paper shows our diversity. Some slip in happily, say they have found their spiritual home, having found the right shaped slot in the box right away. We call each other Friends but not all their flavours are predictable and they may not be very like you. Some Quakers can be a bit chewy. Others come with strange fillings, unexpected crunchy bits, or so well wrapped up, it takes time to understand them. It would be nice to slip in easily but I think we are supposed to be a selection, even jostle about because that process of learning from our mistakes is a way in which we can grow. If you eat the whole box of chocolates in one sitting, it would probably make you ill.
Worship governs our sense of direction. We are there to look beyond the layers. It is not supposed to be focused upon each other. 

For some, choosing chocolate is an intellectual exercise that can be worked out through reason. To do this you need criteria. So what are you looking for? Is it size, appearance, the result of scientific research, nutritional benefit, cost, number of calories, social impact, convenience or some other factor that is going to determine choice? Chocolate is complicated when you try to make it a logical process. Its doesn't work if you rely entirely upon knowledge and reason, just as with Quakers.

 At the centring down of Chocolate there is essentially a bean. We may also be likened to having a seed within us, to cultivate and harvest. Like chocolate, we do not process ourselves. Through worship we receive guidence and the potential to become what we are meant to be.

After we had left my great aunt, I would like to think she finally encountered chocolate, recognised the contents of her box not just as a source of sweetness, joy and of food, but also as a memory of family who chose to come and see her.