A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive... And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us try then what love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone...
George Fox

Monday, June 25, 2012


My Couchsurfing hosts in Sommieres; Celia, Nathanael, and Frederic"

The Community of L'Arche de Lanza del Vasto, La Fleyssiére

My Quaker friend Alastair, waiting patiently for a bus towards La Fleyssiere
After my sidetrip to Sommieres, I went with my Congenies Quaker friend, Alastair, to visit one of the communities of L'Arche de Lanza del Vasto. I had first thought about visiting while I was in Morocco; a friend had sent me some information about the communities begun by Lanza del Vasto when Gandhi had told him to spread peace in Europe.
I thought about visiting again when I was in Montpellier; my host there, Patrice, suggested I do so.
I didn't finally decide to make the visit, though, until I was with the Quakers in Congenies. Alastair told me he had spent seven months at the community in La Fleyssiere, that he was going to visit in a few days, and he asked if I'd like to come along. When he offered to pay the bus fare, how could I refuse?

Our shared room at La Fleyssiere, L'Arche de Lanza del Vasto

Alastair working hard

Weeding the garden

La Fleysierre's vegetable garden
Alastair met me in Sommieres, where, after various buses and trams, we arrived in Lodeve. As the school bus we were hoping for to get us to La Fleyssiere did not arrive, Alastair called the community, and a car made the long journey down to pick him up. Unfortunately, there was no room for two passengers, so I started walking, then hitchhiking (which I can do when I'm off route). It wasn't long before a lady from the Buddhist monastery near La Fleyssiere gave me a ride.
When I walked onto the community's grounds, everything was quiet, and I walked up the steps of an old building to have a look around. Inside there was a man sitting, quietly preparing sweet peas for jarring. He had the appearance of a Hindu ascetic, though I was to learn later that he is a Muslim, and a Sufi.
"You're Ken," he said softly.
"You hitchhiked."
"That's right."
"You are walking for peace."
I nodded, eagerly awaiting the next prophetic declaration from Sebastian, but he offered a chair instead, and showed me how to help him clean the pea pods he was preparing. As we worked together, he explained that he too was walking for peace, in France, and specifically for Ekta Parishad, which is an activist movement for land rights in India. Sebastian had already spent time in India for Ekta Parishad with his wife (who is a Quaker), and now he is hoping to raise awareness for the movement in France. His blog is: marchedoucementsurlaterre.blogspot.com
While we stored the peas in jars and prepared them for boiling, to preserve them, we compared our walks. The conversation ran from what our motives were to whether we walked with a staff or not, or where our minds were while walking. Sebastian hopes to finish his pilgrimage in Paris, and he hopes people will join him as he enters the city.

I met with Alastair later on, and he showed me the room we would be sharing, which was simple and sufficient. He gave me a tour of the grounds, showing me the showers, the dry compost toilets, the vegetable garden, and the various places where the community gathers for prayers, music and dancing. He also showed me what was once a pottery, and a shop for making sandals, but these rooms are no longer in use as the community grows older, with fewer permanent members.
I joined the community for evening prayers, where I met most of its permanent members and visitors. Prayers are held twice a day, once in the morning, with everyone in a line facing the mountains and the rising sun; and again at the end of the day, with members gathered in a circle. Though I didn't understand much of what was said, a sense of peace and joy ran through me at these gatherings.
The site of morning prayers

Where to wash clothes

The showers. Hot water once a week.

Lunch! This is the most important meal served, as it is the one meal of the day where all the members of the community, and all the visitors, gather to share the product of the community's labor.

Sebastien, also a pilgrim, walking in France for EKTA Parishad. 
I spent only one full day at La Fleyssiere, but I came to understand the routine, at least for visitors. After breakfast and morning prayers, there is a meeting where the work for the day is proposed, and where visitors tell the group where they would like to work. The day's work while I was there was essentially weeding in the vegetable garden and in the potato patch. Before setting out to do this, however, the community's visitors prepare all of the vegetables for lunch, under the guidance of the cook for the day. Céline, who had been at La Fleyssiere since the previous Autumn, had the role of cook, and she instructed us on exactly how to chop the carrots, onions, and other vegetables. Once we had set out to weed the gardens, she had everything she needed, ready to cook lunch, the biggest meal of the day.
After an invigorating morning of wholesome labor, the communal lunch of purely vegetarian, homemade and homegrown food was delicious and filling. La Fleyssiere makes its own cheese, which was also delicious. After this midday break, there was more invigorating work in the potato patch near Bori Noble, which is another L'Arche community a few kilometers away.
In the evening, after dinner and prayers, several of us met Sebastian in the common room with his guitar and he taught some of us some very beautiful and spiritual music and chants. However, having little aptitude for learning chants in Hebrew (I think it was),  and being tired, I went to bed.
Alastair and I talked a bit before we fell asleep; our short time together had convinced us we were already close friends. The next morning I was on the schoolbus with two of La Fleyssieres' teenagers and two of its long standing members on worldly business to descend from the mountain and return to the relative chaos and madness of our society.
La Fleyssiere's potato patch, near Bori Noble

The potato patch crew

Céline, the cook of the day while I was there. Wholesome, organic, nutritious food!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Quakers of Congénies, Part 1

Libby, a Quaker since 1985 who is a member of Congénies Meeting, and my very generous  host.
One of the aims I had set for this peace walk was to visit Quaker meetings, few though they be, from Portugal to Egypt. The Quaker Meeting at Congénies was one of those at the top of my list. Not only was it  along my route, it is also a well attended and historical meeting.

While there is no formal creed among the Quakers, or The Religious Society of Friends as it is more formally known, its roots are in Christianity; and while there is now a diversity of beliefs among Quakers, all Quakers (I presume) have in common a belief in a universal 'Inner Light' which, if we mind it, leads us to live our lives in simplicity, peace, integrity and equality.
Like the original Quakers of the 17th century, the Quakers in Congénies ( and in all of Europe, generally), worship in a reflective, hopefully gathered silence, speaking only if moved by the Spirit to do so. Quakers abolished the laity and established a 'priesthood of all believers', making even non-Quakers who are attending a meeting into 'priests' if they are genuinely moved by the Spirit to deliver a message.
Quakers generally try to live all aspects of their lives under an ordering of this 'Inner Light', and Quakers are well known for being active in peacemaking and social justice.The Congénies Quakers, for example,  have recently protested immigrant holding camps in France.

I had been in contact with the Resident Friends of the meeting in Congénies, Bonnie and David Parsons, so I knew I was welcome there. However, I hadn't nailed down the details of my arrival, so I wasn't sure, when I entered Congénies sometime around 9 p.m., that I would find anybody around to host me for the evening. 'No matter,' I thought; 'I've got my tent,' and I was so overjoyed to see 'Avenue des Quakers' and then 'La Maison Quaker de Congénies' that I would have willingly and happily slept inside a hollow tree that night.
As it happened, there were several Quakers sitting at the table beside the meeting house, having a little conversation after dinner. I was promptly greeted and fed, and of course, asked a lot of questions. It may have been in response to a question regarding my monthly meeting (Winona Monthly Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting) when I had to confess that, though I unreservedly consider myself a Quaker, they may not consider me to be one, as I had not ever attended a meeting with other Quakers! Furthermore, I have never been to Winona, Ohio! I quickly explained my long-distance affiliation with and acceptance by OYM, my isolation from other Quakers, and my experience in Portalegre with a group (well, there were two of us) which worshiped in the manner of Friends with the approval and nurturing of the Friends World Committee for Consultation. I also mentioned that the original Friends had simply declared themselves to be Quakers, and I was doing the same. And to the best of my knowledge, none of the Quakers I met in Congénies considered me to be anything other than a Quaker.
After dinner Bonnie brought me to the other side of the village, where I met Libby, who was to provide me with material and moral support the whole time I was in Congénies. Libby has been a Quaker since 1985, and when I asked what had drawn her to the Quakers, she said the Quakers permitted one to doubt. Indeed, there are Quakers ranging in doubt from the doubt of non-theism to the doubt of the agonizing father in the New Testament who said, 'I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!'. The meeting at Congénies is a Liberal meeting, having a broad range of spiritual beliefs, while my own meeting in Winona is a Christian meeting; but no matter to me, for as William Penn said:

The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask, they will know one another, though the diverse liveries they wear here make them strangers.

I believe it is our task to know this truth now, and, whether as Quakers among our own diverse Society, or as believers in a particular faith among a diverse world of faiths, it is our task to know one another, not as strangers but as friends.

The meeting house for the Religious Society of Friends in Congénies. It is the only Quaker meeting house in France that was originally built to serve that purpose.

The grounds of the meeting house.

The Quaker cemetery behind the meeting house.
The day after my arrival, Saturday, was meeting for worship. Though it was my first meeting with Quakers, I wasn't very surprised by much, as I had been worshiping in this manner for a good year back in Portugal. I may have been a bit surprised by the relaxed manner of those sitting in silence; Quaker worship is not zazen, and while I didn't stir much for that hour of silent waiting, there were others who did quite a bit of shifting, sighing, or even yawning. But rather than put me off , I was pleased to find a way into a gathered silence that is not forced by our own efforts, but is instead submissive to the Spirit that blows like the wind.
Nevertheless, while I didn't stir much physically, I spent most of that hour not at all 'centered down', and thinking about how glad I was to be sitting with Quakers. I prayed a bit, listened to my breathing a bit, tried to be receptive to the Spirit, but mostly I listened to those sighs, wondering what was happening in the others to bring the sighs about. The meeting went the hour without any ministry, but afterwards there was quite a lot of sharing of those reflections we had had which we had not regarded as coming purely from the Spirit.
After the meeting there was more food; there is always food, it seems, at the Congénies meeting (and I always enjoyed it immensely). I got to know some of the Quakers visiting at Congénies, including David from a meeting in North Carolina, and Jez Smith from England.
I had more of an opportunity to speak with Jez than with the others, so I was able to learn that Jez works at Friend's House in London, and attends Peckham Meeting. He discovered Christ while at university, though he does not call himself a Christian (as, according to his blog, that is for God to judge). Jez was at first a lawyer working for the marginalized, and in particular for asylum seekers, but after he'd found the Quakers-- he has been a Quaker for 12 years-- he became a fundraiser for Quakers in Britain. He's got a quality blog: Nayler.org, which should be of interest not only to Quakers. If you search a bit, you can, ahem,  find a piece on a Quaker pilgrim visiting Congénies.

Congénies Quakers and visitors enjoying lunch at the meeting house.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Montpellier to Congénies

I took the scenic route to get out of Montpellier...

...then the pilgrim's route in reverse. A pilgrim on her way to Santiago de Compostela.

Another pilgrim on his way to Santiago.

More pilgrims.

And more. Did I think I was the only pilgrim in these parts?

By day's end I had reached Avenue des Quakers in Congénies...

...and then the Friend's Meeting House.