What is the source of our faith, hope and love? Is it the Bible, or tradition, the natural world, our own experience, or other people.
I was contemplating this question as I gazed at the table in the centre of our Meeting for Worship. As usual it had a small vase with cuttings from the garden, surrounded by two copies of Quaker faith & practice and several copies of Advices and Queries. On a shelf underneath was a copy of the Revised English Bible. I have been thinking about the authority of scripture as part of my studies and I wondered why the Bible was on the lower shelf. Did that signify that it was a ‘secondary’ authority, as an early Quaker theologian, Robert Barclay suggested? Was the position of Quaker faith & practice on the top shelf meant to suggest that it was now the revealed truth and our primary authority? What was the significance of the cuttings from the shrub in the vase? Perhaps the possibility of inspiration from the natural world? What about our own experience, which for Quakers has always been crucial. Is it in our own spiritual experience that ultimate authority lies? And what about the people gathered in the Meeting Room worshipping together, what part does the community play in collective discernment?
Someone ministered about the hope that they had found in words written by school-children on tags on a Christmas tree, expressing concern for the homeless and refugees. Another told the story of a neighbour who, nearing the end of her life, treasured her fond memories of music and friends and was content, and this was a source of faith and hope.
This week I was babysitting our two youngest grandchildren overnight, and then spent the morning with our two-year old grand-daughter. She is a delight. We spent an hour in the soft-play area of a garden centre, and her enjoyment was a pleasure for me too.
For the next two days I was at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre attending a Trustees Meeting. I had re-read the biographies we were invited to share with each other to help our working together. I was awestruck again by the experience and wisdom gathered in that group. When I was led to make a contribution about the future, it was with some trepidation!
So, yes, the people we know and love are a source of faith, hope and love. So too is the world which gives us life and sustains us physically. My allotment may not be seeing much of me at the moment in its winter sleep, but it is a place which gives me much more than just the vegetables that grow there. The history of Quakers which I am learning more about, the values and traditions that influence our witness, and the Friends that I meet also are an inspiration. The Bible still surprises and challenges me, particularly to make sense of it from my own experience.
So the source of faith, hope and love is not confined to one thing or another. I cannot say it is all down to my own experience, because I am intricately connected to other people, and set within a particular time and place. My story is happening here and now in this context, but it is my story, and I have to accept responsibility for who I am and what I do. Faith, hope and love are not only words and ideas but they are about living. Perhaps we are called to be a source, creating faith, hope and love in others for the future.