H is for… Habit

“A traditional Quaker; thou comest to meeting as thou went from it, and goes from it as thou came to it but art no better for thy coming; what wilt thou do in the end?”

Thus ministered Anne Wilson, with her finger pointed at Samuel Bownas – a second generation Friend who had, by his own account, been sleeping through most of Meeting for Worship. (Read the full story in Quaker Faith and Practice.) Apparently her words spoke most directly to his condition.

Sometimes I suspect that I’m rather like Samuel Bownas, not much changed by meeting, attending mostly from habit and for the social aspects, and without much of a leg to stand on in ‘the end’ (debates about the nature of that deferred for another day). I don’t think that necessarily all wrong, either; many Friends have found value in meeting even when “angry, depressed, tired or spiritually cold“, and if it is something other than the waiting worship which supports you in those times, that’s no reason to reject whatever supports you.

Doing Quaker service out of habit bothers me more, actually. It’s one thing to, say, run a Brownie meeting purely habitually, once in a while – you’ve done a lot of it before, it benefits from familiarity and continuity, and it doesn’t do any harm to run more or less on autopilot (so long as you can snap out of it when the unexpected, inevitably, happens). And Quaker jobs do, like any jobs, take a while to settle into; you get the hang of them eventually. We limit the terms of most of them, though, for good reasons: to share the work around, to have new perspectives on any given job, and to help prevent groups falling into bad habits and becoming unresponsive to changing needs and circumstances.


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