Posted by Georgina Pugh
On Friday the autumn sun was just too much – I had to leave my cave like dwelling and head out somewhere you can touch the sky. On the advice of a friend I found myself at the edge of the North York Moors, just past the aptly named ‘surprise view’ at the village of Gillamoor, searching for an old Quaker Burial Ground. In the 1600s non-conformist churches were persecuted and not permitted to bury their dead in consecrated ground so Quakers used private land.
Lowna was used as a cemetery for Quakers between 1675 and 1837 – I guess even after the ban was lifted, the Friends still preferred their lovely corner of peace as the final resting place for their earthly remains.
The burial ground has well and truly returned to nature but remains defined by dry stone walls just high enough to create a space that feels gently enclosed and yet part of the woodlands that surround it. A beck flows nearby. There is an old bench on which you can sit (so long as you are happy to ignore the ‘no entry- falling branches’ health and safety warning sign) and soak up the peace and quietly blessed atmosphere that in my experience always pervades Quaker spaces.
It was quite easy to imagine the Friends all those generations ago, quietly and reverently carrying the bodies of their dead to Lowna and laying them down into the earth – perhaps a prayer if anyone felt moved to speak one, otherwise the rich silence saying all that needed to be said.
I have often mused how afraid we are of silence these days –I used to teach a meditation class at a boarding school in Surrey that was originally established with an hour of silence enshrined in each day. The headmaster described how over the years the ‘Frensham Silence’ had shrunk, being slowly squeezed out by various (I’m sure noble) activities until it was completely absent in the modern school. This seemed an interesting example of how silence has perhaps lost its value in modern society – it’s just not considered productive enough.
I am curious to know of others’ views/experience of weaving silence into modern funerals. I sometimes suggest to a family they might like to have some brief silence as part of a funeral ceremony and sometimes they agree.
Sometimes those silences feel natural and rich and sometimes you can feel people are just not comfortable with it……. Personally I love words and music but I also love quiet and instinctively I feel it has its part to play in a ‘good’ funeral but the whys and hows – I have my thoughts but it would be lovely to hear yours.
Here is the ‘surprise view‘.