Acknowledging that we were from differing backgrounds and to some degree different belief systems (two of us weren't Quakers), the tutors used an excellent exercise early on. We were asked to identify terms that gave us trouble when people discuss their beliefs. "Lord," for example, is famously difficult for some feminist believers in God. We were also asked to suggest terms we felt more comfortable with when dealing with, er, well, you know - the Big Supreme Idea thing.
I'm well past the stage at which people talking about God troubles me, in a general way. I think I also grasp the idea that God can be a metaphor for something other than the sort of God I believed in for a while in early adolescence (that's not a sneer, just a fact.)
But if I'm in discussions in which "God" is used a lot, it does rather push me back out of it, because behind the word still sits an anthropomorphised image like the chap above. I have no connection with him.
Gods can be believed in as actual entities in a supernatural world, or symbols of universal forces, or...I don't know, maybe there is a god called Ganesh with an elephant's head somewhere up there, but it seems, to my efforts at rational thought, and it feels, to my emotions and intuitions, unlikely.
We discussed the concept of a Spirit, the dove descending in Christian iconography, which could never be more than a symbol to me - and that is not necessarily to devalue it.
We talked about prayer. That's a problematical term for me, if it means talking to God. What God? Why doesn't he answer, when it's obviously a prayer for the general good? You'll be familiar with this feeling:
to which believers have many answers, I know, but they tend not to work for me.
However, I felt happy with the idea of an inner light, with waiting in silence for a presence, a feeling of connection with the total isness of everything, the universe, It - a reality beyond words and concepts.
This post isn't about beliefs, mine or anyone else's, it's about belief terms. We sorted out the ones that might get in the way of our discussions and silent explorations, and the ones that wouldn't. That was really helpful, for someone amongst believers who, by and large, shared beliefs I don't have.