Sunday, 4 March 2012


The Quaker Meeting House at Sedburgh
Quakers - as far as I recall - have this idea of 'waiting on god'. There is no service, people say more-or-less what they want. I'm probably wrong in this but it always seemed an interesting idea. It is a fine thought that a whole 'service' can pass without a word being said and for those present to see this as good and valuable.

The first that enters into the place of your meeting. . . turn in thy mind to the light, and wait upon God singly, as if none were present but the Lord; and here thou art strong. Then the next that comes in, let them in simplicity of heart sit down and turn in to the same light, and wait in the spirit; and so all the rest coming in, in the fear of the Lord, sit down in pure stillness and silence of all flesh, and wait in the light . . . . Those who are brought to a pure still waiting upon God in the spirit, are come nearer to the Lord than words are; for God is a spirit, and in the spirit is he worshiped. . . . In such a meeting there will be an unwillingness to part asunder, being ready to say in yourselves, it is good to be here; and this is the end of all words and writings—to bring people to the eternal living Word.

It's OK, dear readers, I am not rushing off to sign up for the Religious Society of Friends, but the idea of waiting for 'the light' - however we may want to define that 'light' - is a very appealing idea. We are too ready to shout over others, to engage in a babble of debate, bandying words, opinions, numbers and statistics around as if by their sheer quantity we will demonstrate the truth or proof we seek.

I like also the idea that we listen - I'm not very good at this but I like the thought. Not just to the opinions of others as if we were some sort of knowledge sponge but to the deeper sounds - what I guess the Quakers would call 'god'. We are enjoined to be logical as if that state is the antithesis of spiritual. We are told to seek truth yet do so without either the tools or a map for such a search.

Politics exists for one reason - we have to make decisions. There is no other purpose to the profession - the good folk of Bingley Rural elect me to do that for them. My problem is that, when the work informing us is done well, those decisions are not easy. We get little chance to contemplate, to wait for that 'light' - so often we end up uncomfortable with the compromise, questioning of the evidence and unsure of the options. Yet a decision must be made. So we make one.

For me the result of this is to doubt. I've said before that no-one without doubt can be a conservative and this remains my view. And I believe that the central importance of doubt should lead us to political inaction rather than political action. Since we cannot be sure that the changes proposed will make things better, the current arrangement should be preferred unless it is broken beyond redemption.

Perhaps, before making those decisions - before changing something, ahead of curtailing someone's rights or ending someone's business - we should sit in silent contemplation of the decisions we will take. We should maybe listen to the deeper sound of society, think closely about what it might mean for our neighbour and then decide whether we make the change. Perhaps, instead of filling rooms with statistics, analysis and documentation that no one person has read let alone understood, we should instead think whether, when we think of what we've chosen, our heads will go up and a smile will come on our face.


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