Tag Archives: Y

Y is for… Yawning

I think it happens to everyone sometimes. You were late to bed last night, or something woke you up unreasonably early, or it’s been a long week, or there isn’t any obvious cause at all… and you’re yawning in Meeting for Worship.

It’s not easy to sit through the urge to yawn. If I want to cough, I can often swallow hard or at least keep it to a throat-clearing; even the urge to sneeze can sometimes be resisted if I focus on keeping my breathing steady. Noticing and focusing on the urge to yawn, though, only seems to make it stronger (in fact, I’m yawning just writing this, because thinking about it is part of the contagion. Are you yawning yet?). I can try and stifle it, keep my mouth closed and try and pass it off as a sigh, but I still end up yawning.

Because this just happens sometimes, it can become a space to look at how we react. Sometimes I find myself irritated by needing to yawn, or sneeze, or whatever. I blame it on my no-good body that can’t rest enough or at the right time or fight of a simple cold or whatever; or I blame it on my failure to plan ahead properly or resist the temptation to read another page. Sometimes I blame the Friend on the other side of the room who started it.

All of these may be real possible causes, or it might just be something which happens at random sometimes. In Meeting for Worship, I don’t think any of them is actually helpful – in every case, trying to find something to blame takes my attention away from the real focus of Meeting, doesn’t stop me yawning or sneezing anyway, and makes it harder to re-focus afterwards. This is good talk of the kind that I often don’t live up to, but I aspire to notice that I need to yawn, yawn quietly, and then set it aside, rather than letting it disturb my worship.

Perhaps there’s even a non-vocal, not-quite-silent ministry of yawning: a time when we bring our tiredness and vulnerability into the meeting, acknowledging the needs of our bodies and how that relates to our worship process.

Y is for… Young

“We need young Friends like you.”

“It’s so nice to see so many young people here.”

“You’re so young and full of energy, why don’t you [move these chairs/sort out this problem/reverse climate change]?”

There are Young Friends – capital Y, capital F – and they have their own General Meeting, and I wish them all the best with it. However, I am not now or have I ever been, for various reasons of my own which I don’t think should need defending, a Young Friend. I am a Friend, a Quaker, certainly, and I am also ‘young’ in the sense that I cannot yet be described as retired or even nearing retirement. I am also, though, an adult. I live alone, I pay bills, I manage my own time, I take responsibility, etc. I can, if I choose, drink, drive, marry, and/or join the army. (As it happens I don’t at present, but I reserve the right to change my mind.)

Here are some myths about youth and age which creep into Quaker conversations sometimes. I think people don’t always notice that they’re there – or at least, that’s the most generous way to account for the fact that they continue to rely on them. I’ve tried to keep this post not too angry, although in all honesty the patronising attitudes I have met among Friends do hurt me deeply.

  • Pain is related to age; young people don’t know about pain.

This is pretty obviously wrong, I hope. If you think of a horrible childhood disease – there are, alas, plenty to choose from – it’s clear that some children experience considerable amounts of pain. If you recall that a considerable number of moderate to horrible diseases are invisible, it becomes clear that a child could be in pain without this being obvious to strangers and acquaintances. Now, it’s true that the chances of experiencing severe or sustained pain probably increase with age, because you’ve had longer to injure yourself or get an illness, but that doesn’t mean that you can assume young people don’t know about pain. Also, I’m a bit worried if older people are assuming that their pain is just part of ageing; some pain, including some of mine, is hard to treat or incurable, but I hope you ask that question of a doctor (or two or three) before you decide it’s an ordinary part of life.

  • Young people have more energy.

Clearly not true in all cases; stress and fatigue, like pain, can affect everyone. Some older people may have more energy than some young people, and energy expenditure can, again, be invisible. This myth often comes up when we are considering nominations, and those conversations don’t always take into account the other commitments (exams, work, hobbies, children, etc.) which ‘young’ people in our meetings are juggling. Actually, everyone is usually juggling something against the time and energy they put into serving the Meeting, and time of life is only one factor in the complex calculations here.

  • Young people are the future.

At the moment, David Cameron is the future. By which I mean: the people who shape our collective future are those who have the power to shape the world we live in now. Granted, I might see a bit more of the future than someone older than me (unless the Tories wreck our economy some more and I’m unable to earn a living of any kind, at which point I might choose to jump off a bridge instead). But I shape the future of my current meeting by the things I do now – leading a study group which sets someone thinking, giving a newcomer (whatever their age!) the information they need. We are the future. ‘We’ is you, whatever age you are, and me, whatever age I am. If you want to improve that future, don’t opt out, but acknowledge the power you have now. Don’t abdicate and leave it to ‘young people’ – especially if you’re going to leave it in a mess. (Do you hear me, Dave?)

Another way to approach this topic – in contrast to the myth-busting method above – would be to talk about privilege and ageism. Discrimination based on age can cut both ways in our society: people looking down on, ignoring, or fearing the young (not listening to children, treating teenagers like another species, assuming that young adults – even at 20 or 25! – are less capable or less responsible), and people rejecting, ignoring, and thinking the worst of the elderly (not listening, treating them like another species, assuming that they’re less capable… seem familiar?). There are stereotypes for all of this: racist grandma, violent teenager, dotty old man, drunken student.

Sometimes when we talk about an axis of oppression, it seems that the power flows in one direction – within the genders spectrum, for example, usually the more masculine you are the more privilege and unearned power our society grants you. For age, though, it seems that the problem is being at one extreme or the other; your age is only unnoticed if you’re in the middle stretch, 30-50 or maybe as much as 20-60. I suspect that this correlates with when people have most power generally – most responsibility in a job or childcare, for example, and most money going through the household even if not much stays.

The problem manifests differently at each end, of course. If you’re at the young end you’re likely to get the kinds of myths I discussed last week. If you’re at the older end there’s a whole other set of nonsense. I think we, as Quakers, need to realise how much of it is nonsense, though. Of course there are people who for whatever reason can’t do a particular job, but these reasons are not automatically age-related – I can’t be an overseer because I’m terrible with people, and it’s no good asking my incredibly forgetful and disorganised friend A to convene a meeting because it would never happen – but we’re both in our mid to late twenties. Making assumptions based on age, rather than taking individuals as individuals, is going to lead you to a lot of mistaken answers.

Y is for… Year

It’s been a long year – it takes a certain amount of effort, more than I’ve ever made before, to blog once a week every week for a year. However, I’m nearly there and I’m looking at the possibility of doing it again next year – this time, focussing on Quakerism rather than Paganism.

One place people often begin comparing them, actually, is our approaches to the year – what in paganism, we often call the Wheel of the Year. Most neo-pagans, myself included, celebrate eight seasonal festivals which fall pretty evenly throughout the year and which are tied to the natural and astronomical cycles around us.

Quakers, traditionally, don’t celebrate festivals at all. All days are equal, and to be equally celebrated. But I notice that we do, as a community, actually celebrate things. We’ve always celebrated life events like weddings, and increasingly we take note of seasonal events like Christmas. Even ministry is sometimes seasonal – most Quakers will have heard snowdrop ministry, and daffodil ministry, and autumn leaves ministry. That being so, I think that the call of honesty demands that we acknowledge the change in our traditions.

Noticing and enjoying the changes through the year is also, I think, part of our need for connection to nature – important to Pagans, who hold nature to be sacred, but also important to Quakers, who are working on their commitment to sustainability.

Y is for… Young

It’s sometimes said of Paganism that it’s a very young religion. I think there are ways in which that’s true: neo-paganism, as a matter of fact, has only become a religion – as opposed to a rumoured secret society, a heresy, or an occasional leaning of an individual or isolated small group – in the very recent past. I won’t summarise the history here (you should read Ronald Hutton and Margot Adler and Cynthia Eller if you want to know), but it’s less than a century old. Futhermore, the more eclectic and solitary kinds especially often attract teenagers and young adults, so that it is sociologically young (compared with other religions – Christian churches tend to have ageing populations in the countries where western neo-paganism is on the rise).

In other ways, of course, Pagan religions are very old; indeed, it sometimes seems that antiquity is all that the major neo-pagan sources of inspiration have in common. One can trace connections – the Norse and the Egyptians both had contact with the Romans – and some patterns – the Celts, the Greeks, and Hinduism have known triple deities – but it is really being old which they have in common. Often, too, they have been extinct and neo-paganism is a revival, reconstruction, or reconstruct-and-reform movement.

Perhaps it is most obvious in the deeper matters. Neo-paganism, as a community, is only beginning to explore these issues, although there are many trailblazers; Quakers, at only 350 or so, are relatively young in global terms but have had three and a half centuries to work on such things. I think the youth of the movement is what we see when more advanced practitioners complain about the wealth of beginners’ books and the dearth of publications for the already expert. The answer is to publish them, and it is happening, but the process takes time especially in such a scattered community – if it can be called a single community at all.