Tag Archives: X

X is for… eXperience

Okay, so I’m totally cheating here – experience begins with an E not an X and also I wrote an E for Experience post last year. However: my blog, my rules, so I can change them whenever I want, like Humpty Dumpty in the age of the internet.

Quakers talk a lot about experience – speaking from your own experience and knowing things experientially (or experimentally, as I think Fox actually said). Why is that? To understand this, I think we need to remember that alternatives. If you don’t know something from your own experience, how do you know it? Well, you might have heard someone talk about it, or have read about it somewhere, or you might just have a feeling that it is so. (We won’t worry here about which of these constitutes true knowledge and when – epistemology another day.) One of the problems faced by people at the time when Quakerism began was that they were reading the Bible in English for the first time and realising that it didn’t say what they’d been told it said, or that it hadn’t been accurately represented. This gave them an understandable reluctance to take spiritual matters on someone else’s authority.

Quakers, then, say that you can each and all have a direct connection with the Divine, with no need for someone else to help you or a special ritual. Waiting and listening is enough to hear that Still, Small Voice. You can then check what it says with the experiences of others – in your meeting, your wider community, and the experiences recorded in the Bible, for starters – but you begin with that personal and direct experience, wherever you find that, and build from there.

X is for… X-Files

“The truth is out there.”

What does some old sci-fi TV show have to do with Quakerism? Well, nothing really, I cheerfully admit it. And yet when I think about some of the attitudes which Quakers have, I can’t help thinking of Mulder and Scully. Mulder and Scully, I’m sure you remember, had a lot of conversations which went roughly like this:

Mulder: It’s aliens, I know it.
Scully: Don’t be daft, aliens don’t exist. It must have been [complicated science thing].
Mulder: Just you wait and see.

Sometimes Scully was right, and sometimes it seemed that Mulder had to be right. That doesn’t really matter (and was to quite an extent an artefact of the show’s storytelling anyway). What I’m thinking about is the structure of this debate. In a lot of cases, I’m a Scully sort of person. If you ask me about reflexology, or acupuncture, I’ll be firmly in science camp: I might ask you about studies and about how in physical terms this is supposed to work, or the underlying logic of it, or something else I learned from Ben Goldacre. If you ask me about aliens or ghosts, I’ll accept some theoretical possibilities, but demand much more evidence before I agree that they are actually real. On the other hand, I’m more like Mulder when it comes to God. The God for which I find evidence isn’t always much like the Gods other people talk about, and often the nature of that evidence is such that I don’t expect other people to be convinced by it (why should you be interested in or moved by my religious experience, for example?) but I do think there’s a Truth even if it’s as much In Here as Out There. (Just to confuse things, Scully as depicted in the show is a practising Catholic, but that’s too complicated for a blog post which is not actually meant to be about the X-Files at all.)

Scully doesn’t write Mulder off, though. For some reason only possibly related to his physical attractiveness and/or needing to keep her job, she keeps following him around and investigating whatever mysteries emerge. Mulder’s searching for the truth which he believes is out there – which he thinks probably involves aliens, let’s face it – and Scully’s also searching; she might not have the same ideas about where it will lead, but she’s actively looking for the evidence and not sitting around hoping it will come to her.

One way of describing Quakers today would be to talk about a community of seekers. We’ve got lots of Mulders and some Scullys (and some boths and neithers, of course), and we’re all trying our best to understand what’s going on with the evidence we have available. Sometimes, Mulder gets upset when Scully asks questions which he finds hard to answer – but those questions usually lead to better answers in the end. Sometimes, Scully gets upset when Mulder keeps insisting that it must be aliens when it was clearly a bear – but those arguments often lead to better answers, again, when it was neither aliens nor a bear but a neighbour dressed as a bear. (Or was that on Scooby-Doo? This analogy is getting away from me.) My point is: in both cases, we have to be unafraid of the questions, knowing that they will often help us in the long run, even when they upset us and challenge our current ideas about how the world is or should be.

X is for… X

X can be used to symbolise a lot of things. Sometimes it just means ‘cool new spelling’, but it also stands for the cross – both the cross of Christ, in Xmas, and ordinary crosses, as KGX, the railway abbreviation for London Kings Cross. We also use the X shape to vote and to mark things wrong.

I confess I can’t get this around to Paganism in any way. It’s been a busy few weeks, excuse me.

X is for… Xeno-

Xeno- is a prefix, from a Greek word meaning alien, stranger, or guest. We find it in words like xenophobia, fear or hatred of the foreign, and xenomania, love for the foreign. (In Paganism, I think we can see bits of both of those!)

I hope that we don’t practice xenolasia, the ancient Spartan tradition of excluding strangers (or making them obtain special permissions) – on the contrary, I hope we have a (metaphorical) xenodochium, a room for welcoming unknown guests. I know that there is quite a lot of xenogamy, cross-fertilisation, happening, and I’m sure that in the eyes of many we, as a community, as xenomorphic, having a strange or unusual shape.