Staying Hopeful

I have just watched the 2020 Swarthmore Lecture, ‘Openings to the Infinite Ocean: A Friendly Offering of Hope’ by Tom Shakespeare on the Woodbrooke Quaker Centre YouTube channel.*

It is packed full of mainstream British Quaker Christian insights and highly relevant to our present condition. Tom is a regular contributor to Radio 4, is well read, and conducts research into disability. He speaks to those who might be feeling despair at the way the world is going, with an exhortation to realistic, active, and ‘infinite’ hope. 

It is a long lecture, nearly an hour, and will repay longer and careful consideration. It was a weighty contribution to reflections on the coronavirus experience as well as other current trends, such as Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, #MeToo, climate emergency and work for justice and peace. He speaks to those who follow a path of faith and all who search for meaning and hope. 

 I watched it sitting in the garden in the welcome cool of the evening after another scorching hot day. Getting through the heat, surviving the pandemic and trying to find words to express my thoughts about life and the future all made the lecture timely for me. I do not share his comfortable use of traditional Christian God language, but so much in what he said, including the examples of practical work to bring hope through action, did encourage me. 

One of his themes was about how we create hope and change for good by working together. This need for companionship was realised for me this week on a couple of walks. One at Ashridge, a National Trust site, where we wandered gently for a couple of hours through the trees, taking with each other and just being together. The other at Rushmere Country Park where again a gentle stroll to the lake, making little discoveries of swans and their cygnets, spotting a squirrel, a heron, swarms of small fish, and passing families also just enjoying being outdoors. 

In the open air Quaker Meeting for Worship on Sunday, I began to think about life not through the metaphor of a journey, but of a time when we stay here on Earth. When many a hope for a holiday abroad has been dashed, and staycations seem to be the better option, staying in one place and enjoying the moment seems to be a way of finding calm, release and peace. I remembered the line about taking time to stop and stare. It is from a poem, ‘Leisure’ by William Henry Davies.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Standing and staring is not enough to change the world, but without some time to stop and reflect we might never find the hope we need to be the change we want to be.

* see

One comment on “Staying Hopeful

  1. Thank you for your comment on this year’s Swarthmore Lecture. Bolton Meeting hold a regular Tuesday Evening Talks and Thoughts where we have a discussion planned for 22nd September ‘Themes from Swarthmore Lecture 2020- ‘Openings to the Infinite Ocean: A Friendly Offering of Hope’ by Tom Shakespeare. You would be welcome to join us on Zoom and give your perspective.

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