23 November 2011

The Ministry of Books

Quaker Faith & Practice
If I lived in a hypothetical world where I could only keep one of my books, I’d have to choose Quaker Faith & Practice. Faith & Practice is a collection of passages from Quaker writings that give advice and help explain what Quakers believe. It’s one of those books which always has something to offer whenever you open it.

Most meeting houses will have at least a few copies hiding on their shelves. Often when I go into meeting for worship, I pick one up and let it fall open randomly.  This means while I’ve read a good portion of the book, I can struggle to find specific passages.

For the last few months I’ve been searching for one of my favourite passages. I’ve searched and searched through my copy of Faith & Practise, but couldn’t find it. I’d just about given up when I went into Manchester for the mid-week worship. I picked up an old copy of Faith & Practice from the shelf and let it fall open.  Finally there was the passage I was looking for:

Quaker Faith & Practice 21.13
When we descend from our towers, and come out from our sanctuaries, and take our place in ordinary homes, and workshops, and are surrounded and jostled by our fellow-creatures, we find that our sensitive souls shrink from some of these contacts: that this man humbles our pride, and that one offends our aesthetic sense: that this woman takes our words amiss, and that one misconstrues and resents our actions. It is so much easier to feel enthusiasm for humanity, than to love our immediate neighbours.  -  Phyllis Richards, 1948

I suspect this was the book from which I first read this passage.

When a member of the meeting is moved to stand and speak, we call that ministry - and it occurred to me that each copy of Faith & Practice offers its own ministry. Over time the books become worn and well loved passages easily fall open.

If the book is owned by an individual you may find their voice within its pages, but if it’s a communal book like those found in our meeting houses – does it become something more?

I like the idea that each book has its own voice and personality, offering something different even though the words are exactly the same.