We stood in the ancient meeting hall, our feet on a red brick floor laid in 1688, windows leaded in tell-tale fashion.
The windows are the only giveaway from the outside, that this is such an ancient building. Its unfussy exterior looks almost 1940s in its utilitarian style. Each window catch, though, is beautifully, artlessly pretty. Worn benches face each other in the hall.
This is a place of worship. King James II said it could be, in that oddly named Declaration of Indulgence, which permitted men to worship freely in the way they wished. No longer must they adhere to the Anglican church’s rituals.
But compare this to the hushed aisles of a village church and so much is overwhelmingly different. No shrines, no tombs, no echo, no ancient churchy smell; no pomp. Not busy at all. Plain, silent, listening.
A more profound space I have rarely encountered.
This was Jordan’s meeting-house. It is where William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, and his kin are buried, and where Quakers have met and made a life for themselves these three hundred years and more.
It is simplicity itself. And every time I come here, there is someone to welcome me and show me around. Without intent, it is always a pure act of hospitality. I will never forget the woman who showed me everything on this visit. The best thing about this place, she said, was the silence. The space to contemplate.
We fill our lives with sound and fury, signifying nothing. Our minds, created to contemplate, have no time to do so and become frenetic, unbalanced. And the silence: well, that rebalances our spirits.
That place, a humble hall fit-for-purpose, surrounded by green, green Buckinghamshire gardens, and a burial ground where everyone has the same stone; a marker, no more. Jordans is a salve, a tonic for the fevered mind, a silver stream winding musical through the crammed, busy, gnarled old world.
What are these? I asked my Saturday afternoon guide, pointing to alcoves in the wall, plain white spaces with no statue or ornament to fill them.
People put their prayers there, she told me. Lots of religions do it. Us too.
Phil stood with me on the red brick floor, next to worn-wood benches, and the bibles on the shelf by the entrance. Look, he said: different translations.Lots of different translations, King James, New English, Jerusalem – the Catholic bible – and more. How typical of these people, he said,to have such a broad attitude.
It was. They have a library, crammed in a tiny room, packed with reading and texts from the major religions.
The Friends to the red-brick floored, white room and they listen. And when someone feels they must say something, they stand and speak and sit down again. And the silence rules once more, until words well up out of it in someone’s heart, and must be spoken once again.
It’s enough to make you wait for meeting time.
This is a place where every man is equal. Where contemplation banishes ritual.
Where one can hear oneself think.