A personal experience of the half hour Quaker meeting for worship at “Present,” a shopfront near Leytonstone tube station, held on 11th Sept 2012.

About 10 min in to this Meeting for Worship I began to have the feeling that this was a really good meeting.  I felt peaceful, but waiting; sort of in touch, “gathered” as we call it.  In touch with what?  I call it God.

Then a Friend spoke about forgiveness – he’d just been to the F word exhibition in West London.  There were stories there of people forgiving other people the most awful acts.  He thought maybe if we could all forgive each other more our lives would be better.

Then a bit later one of the guests became rather restless and used the other F word.  Later he said ”waiting…waiting.”  That word certainly spoke powerfully to me.  I was sitting there thinking over and over:  “keep a green bough in your heart and the singing bird will come.”  This was a phrase which I have up on my wall at home – a friend wrote it for me in beautiful handwriting, and decorated it with pictures of flowers, about 30 years ago.  It has been up on my wall ever since.  I usually walk past it without noticing it, but for some reason I had noticed it this morning.  And now I sat with it: “keep a green bough in your heart and the singing bird will come.”  It felt to me that we were waiting on God, and God was around; I mean I think God is always around, it’s just I’m not always aware.  God is present.  And when I am more present then I know God is present, I can feel it.  And I could feel it here, presence.

My work for the ‘Present’ project was eating a lunch with Frances in her space.

I set up lunch, which was a can of tuna, a can of corn, a can of tinned fruit, salted peanuts, some bread and water. I didn’t supply plates or cutlery, but I told Frances we could use anything that was available in the space. We used two sheets of paper as plates. As we were eating, I told her about my memories and experiences as a solider in the Israeli army.

In 1990, as required by all eighteen year old Jewish Israeli citizens, I was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces.

I volunteered to become an infantry soldier and served for the obligatory three years.

Once I was discharged from compulsory service, I continued to serve in the military reserves.

During my service in the infantry unit, I participated in military action in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The duration of a mission during military action was often undefined.  Therefore to prepare for a mission, the armored personnel carrier (APC) was loaded with all the necessary equipment and military hardware needed as well as enough food and drink to last until the next time supplies were replenished.

We would mobilize as instructed in our APC through various populated areas. We were instructed not lo leave the APC under any circumstances, due to threats of sniper activity and landmines.

However, when night fell or if there was no precise mission to accomplish, we would enter one of the local houses in the area.

If there were people in the house, we would gather them all into one room and one of the soldiers would guard the room.

We split our unit into two groups. One group guarded the surrounding perimeter and the other group was free to eat and rest. Then after a given time the groups would switch.

The combat food rations came in small cardboard boxes. The contents of which were intended to feed four soldiers for up to twenty four hours. Each box contained a can of tinned corn, can of tuna and can of chickpeas, as well as Halva, salted peanuts and chocolate spread. Usually the rations included bread, but if a mission continued we would run out of the bread.

We would sit somewhere in the house in a place that was carefully considered safe and also comfortable to eat in. During the meal we would pass the cans around from person to person.

At the end of the meal, looking around at the arrangement of the empty cans left on the floor, you could imagine where each soldier had sat to eat. You could see where a soldier sat alone, where two soldiers sat together and where three soldiers sat to eat.

We didn’t always have the strength or motivation to clean up the remnants of food and cans after ourselves, sometimes we would simply fall asleep. On occasion we would be ordered to urgently continue of our mission before we managed to tidy up. In both cases all the cans were left in the same place and arrangement in which we, the soldiers had sat to eat in.

When the family came out of the secured room, or when they returned to their home once the mission was completed, they would find the cans and remnants of food as we had left them, as “our presence” in their home.

I suggested to Frances that she could leave the remnants of our meal where they were, as evidence of “our presence” in her space.

by Michelle Letowska

7.30am. There was music and I danced. The invitation was there on a blackboard outside and people joined me. Some glanced in passing, some stopped and stared, many smiled, some didn’t seem to notice. Some danced too.

It was easy. Turn on the music and started dancing. No nerves, shame, embarrassment. That was good. Small children seemed to understand, smiling, dragging big people back, joining in.

Had I been there all day?, asked a pregnant mum wearing a baby on board badge and bringing her daughter in. They’d seen me in the morning on the way to school and had a boogie on the street an the girl had wanted to come in. What was I doing it for? Just for fun I said. They had a dance.

Perhaps art (that which is intended as art) in a shop with big windows next to a busy underground station during rush hours can’t not be a performance or exhibition-ism.

Perhaps it’s only a performance because we have a strong idea of where and when we are supposed to or allowed to dance. To move our bodies in response to music, a beat, in any way we like, unselfconsciously. Remove the alcohol, the entry ticket, the darkness and questions appear. Why are you dancing? What for?

What does it look like? I don’t know.

What does it feel like? Try it and see.

Linda Murgatroyd led a session of guided watercolour painting with meditation. We painted onto wet watercolour paper with our eyes closed for a while, and then opened them to work further into the painting we had started.

Linda asked us to consider our journeys to get to the space that day, and what is happening in the wider world at the moment, and also to listen to the sounds we could hear around us. Then we started painting.

After we had finished we each said something about what we had done and how we had found the experience. We then composed a poem together.

During the woskshop we had the door open to the street because there is no ventilation in the room otherwise. This meant that it was quite noisy, and also someone came in while we were talking about our paintings. He stood and watched but refused to join in. Some people didn’t mind this, but after a while I started to find it too threatening and we asked him to leave. It seemed to confirmed my worries that space is a difficult one to use for a workshop activity where you dont want to be disturbed. But it also made me wonder about whether the activity could happen in such a way that people could come in and out. It seems to me that the more you create a scenario where people can come in and out, the more proscribed the activity has to be, and the less room for participant input. I wonder if thats really is the case.

The participants all seemed happy with the workshop, and said that it had given them something, either a break from their busy day, or something to think about, or both.


Ling came today and conducted her Feedback interview/questionnairre. It looks like a page from Facebook, and asks questions about how much you use digital devices and how you feel about being with them and without them. This is an experiment for her. I asked if she was going to do something with the data, or if it was more about the experience for the person filling in the form, and so more of a performance, and she has not decided that yet.

I found it interesting to consider what the idea of being present means in terms of lo-tech and high-tech. Do people turn off their phones and computers to be more present? And if so, what about being present with people remotely? via skype for example, does that count?

Julie Stevenson brought in two photos with captions that were about what being in the present means for her, one is an image of a cake she made, the other is a view of beach and sea. I put them on the wall and then I drew her portrait while we talked.

Sam Watterson came in and asked if he could show his book in the space. I asked to see it and he went home and brought a copy back. It is a small book with minimal text and colourful illustrations of his journey along a pilgrimage route in Spain. I think his book is a beautiful description of the experience of being on pilgrimage walk, and found this interesting in terms of the theme, so I invited him to do something more with it in the space. He is going to come on Wednesday with more copies of the book to share, and talk about how it was done and the walk itself.

Chris was here again today and we talked about ways to invite people in. He suggested making a simple questionnaire on a single sheet of paper, inspired by the one Ling brought, to give to passers by. I asked him what being present meant to him and he told me about a quote from the film Kung Fu Panda, which he has promised to put up on the wall.

Ling and Chris both offered to do something on paper to bring back and share on the walls, reflecting on the day and ideas that had been generated for them.

We now have a calender in the space. Now we just need some more things to fill it with.

I heard that Davies Lane School was getting rid of furniture and that there was a bookcase going. I went and picked it up and cleaned it up and now it is in the space. I have brought in some books that I want to share with people, and hope that others might bring books that they want to share, or that it might even turn into a book swap, which has been suggested by a few people. It also has leaflets across the top that are to do with things going on locally, so if you have anything you want to leave here please bring it down.

Today Takako and Sophie came and we started drawing each other. Then Hilary and Sarah came in and Sarah talked about the ideas the project had given her so far. Hilary then started to take notes of points she thought were salient, and Takako drew Sarah.

I decided to try putting all the writing and drawing up on the wall to see if that might enable us to keep a record of what we were doing, and enhance the discussion. The space was instantly transformed into and art school studio like environment, and drew a lot more attention from passers by.

Two women came in with their young children and we drew them and carried on talking. I was amazed at how the girl I was drawing was so excited by the drawing and recognised herself and her mother. It was a beautiful moment for me.




present from insearchofsilence on Vimeo.

Study of the space by James Bull.
Work in progress – there might be sound to go with it later on.