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Archive for June, 2012

What peace?

On Wednesday we visited the holy site of the Baptism of Jesus. An interesting place that offers the suggestion that the place where John baptised Jesus was ‘just about there’. There in fact 2 places; one where it might have happened and where Christians have come to visit and conduct baptisms going back to the Early Church and another where the River Jordan now runs. The first place, in my opinion, is more likely as you can see that the Jordan did flow through that place quite freely, but doesn’t any more. Also I am inclined to trust the early Christians. The second place is where the Jordan now runs, but that has been diverted by the Israelis due to their claim on the water – as far as I understand it..
It is worth noting that at the time of Jesus national boundaries were understand differently, if at all. That Jesus came to what we now call Jordan is obvious. Other biblical characters originated here, so what we understand as ‘The Holy Land’ is important and needs to be broadened.
In a world of conflict the commercial benefits to having a claim on a special site is huge and the political issues that are related usually complicate this further. It is good that the Pope came here a few years ago and authenticated the site in the presence of the King of Jordan who has done much to protect it as a ‘holy site’ and is not over exploited commercially.
When we came to the River Jordan it was interesting to see such a small river. On the Israeli side they have gone to a lot of trouble to develop the experience. The Jordanian side has a wooden construction to keep out the sun, and a sizeable baptismal font for any baptisms that are booked. It is far less sophisticated. On both sides is the presence of the military. The Jordanian soldiers are placed approx. 200 meters away and the Israeli ones were sitting opposite looking at us.
I looked at both and reminded myself that after baptising someone we share the Peace. Terminology is important because in places of conflict it is crucial, when speaking of ‘peace’ to be clear on the meaning of peace. Common to Jews and Christians is the phrase, “Peace be with you” and for Muslims the phrase, “Asalaam Aleikum”, means the same. However, when you look at our shared history it begs the question as to whether or not we are all meaning the same thing. In thinking about the bloodshed and violence we have meted out to each other throughout history, one wonders if ‘peace’ connotes the same thing to all of us? I wonder whether a lack of consensus and clarity about the concept helps us to appreciate why there is an absence of peace in the world?
For some it means a lack of violence, held together by strong institutions maintaining stability and relative safety. For others it is related to a state of tranquility where there is no disagreement or dispute. Conflict is rejected and people live in a place of calm. And for others it goes beyond a preoccupation with an absence, but rather the transformation of destructive situations and relationships into more co-operative and constructive ones.
Peace and peacemaking are not about having techniques that are used to sort out differences when conflict erupts. People in this region hear a lot about Peace Plans or Roadmaps etc. It seems to me that peace is a philosophy, a way of living with values and principles which provides a way to understand, analise and regulate human relationships in order to create a more human world.
This helps me when thinking about those 2 sets of soldiers divided by a little muddy river, but much more than that. I was desperate to stand in the middle of the river and get them on either side to talk to each other – but our Tour Guide wanted us to move on and I was warned about being bitten by catfish! I may still get my chance as Br.Andrew the Institute’s Director has been discussing with me a church presence near to this site where people from all backgrounds can come together and meet each other. I have suggested a concept for this and he is interested. Each of those soldiers will have their own view as to what constitutes peace. I wonder what they are?
What peace? What kind of peace?
FYI – the swim in the Dead Sea later was brilliant!! The soft oily water, and the mud made my skin so smooth – I had a great time!!

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How many worlds?

How many worlds are there for us to experience? I have now arrived in Jordan and will be staying at the Holy Land Institute for Deaf and Deaf Blind Children. It is a project administered by the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East and takes children from particularly poor circumstances. It is a boarding school so the children live on the premises during term time. Currently, the teenage group are having their exams and so the concentration levels are pretty high. Although it is definitely a ‘Christian’ school most of the students, and staff, are Muslim – a factor that does not seem to bother anyone.
Salt, the town is half an hours drive from Amman the capital and could have been the capital before Amman was the eventual choice. We are near to various holy and tourist sites and I hope to be reflecting on visits to some of those in future posts. We have an itinerary worked out.
Back to my question – how many worlds are there?
This is my first visit to the Middle East – an interesting phrase because it begs a few questions – Middle of what, and East of what? If anyone can help me with the history of how this phrase came to describe this wonderful place I would be grateful to know.
But I am definitely in the Arab world. I am not sure to how to describe this yet, but life progresses in a steady and spontaneous way. It is a male dominated culture, although maybe it is to early to see how women impact on the culture. A visit to a large ‘post office’ yesterday highlighted this. I went with Br.Andrew, the Director of the Institute, to this place as he is selling 2 cars and has to register them and their value – that’s to do with tax – before the sale can be completed. On arrival at the complex, I was amazed at the hundreds of men around and inside – the only similar context I am aware of at home would be a football stadium, or the clergy changing room at St Paul’s Cathedral before a big service. Thankfully though, that demographic is changing! The noise of animated conversation was high and the seeming inability of forming queues was evident. I felt sorry for the clerks behind the desks dealing with about 5 different inquiries all at once. The atmosphere was good natured and somehow tasks were being addressed. I will never complain about a British Post Office ever again!
After about an hour with the paperwork complete we returned to the school, the journey being one of seemingly random forms of driving with each driver needing to be alert compared with the programmed and overly organised driving conditions in the UK these days. I am in a different world, I like it and the adjustments, were I to be here much longer, would be huge.
There is the world of the church and diocese. I heard that there are 26 parishes – a figure I had difficulty appreciating as the deanery I am in, Ealing borough, has 36 churches, many more clergy and a way of relating very different from my church world here. The 26 parishes/churches extend right across from Jerusalem and the Arab world. That is challenging to support.
Then there is the world of the school. This is a well run and disciplined establishment, shaped by the Director Br.Andrew who has been here over 35 years. He has immense drive and vision and the service it offers to the country is clear to see. It is a model institute for how to educate deaf and deaf blind students and has developed a teaching component that others come to from various parts of the Arab world to learn from. The world of a boarding school is new to me and I am interested to see how it works.
The world of other languages highlights my own weaknesses. I do not speak another language, one of my life regrets, and the starkness of that reality is clear here. However I continue to be amazed by the skills of others and also the human desire to communicate and find ways of doing so. This was true of life on the Camino, with people from all over the world, and no different here. I am grateful to the local staff and international volunteers who all speak some form of English for accepting me and being willing to speak in my language. I realise that to know another language is to enter the world of another and inhabit with them a world of possibilities. Sign language may be lacking in me, but with the adults and students who are deaf I have found ways of expressing myself to them and they to me. Whatever the incompleteness of our interactions, a smile and good eye contact help greatly. That is a gift as far as the deaf are concerned, eye contact is crucial for them.
But then there is the world of the deaf blind. It seems to me that their world exists as long as their arms and no further. The space beyond appears to be really, beyond them. Students who are deaf blind have 1 – 1 contact with a teacher and staff member all day. This is an intense relationship and the commitment of the staff is incredible. Hearing and speaking people like me can take human interaction for granted, and that became clear to me yesterday afternoon. I was being shown around the school by an English missionary. We met a teacher from Germany who is spending time here and stopped to say hello. She was working with a girl who is deaf blind. This young woman was found in a cupboard in the family home. She had been rejected by the family, who in poor circumstances did not know what to do with her. Government provision and education about this area is minimal. The girl was learning to walk (about 8 years of age) and she stood there. We talked. Another local member of staff in typical Jordanian fashion, gently yet firmly, suggested to us that we were not helping the girl as she knew we were there, but hadn’t established contact. I thanked the staff for this and immediately moved my hand to the girl and touched her hand. She responded and then explored my arms with her hands. I could see her visibly relax. I had entered another world and it was only 12 or so inches from me. The gesture was not much physically, but the potential it opened up was immense.
While on sabbatical I am exploring issues related to conflict and reconciliation. Maybe conflict arises when 2 worlds clash in some way and the boundaries around each one are fairly rigid? Perhaps the path to reconciliation becomes possible when, one at least, allows the boundaries to soften and moves towards the world of the other. In my case with this girl it really didn’t take much other than the willingness to reach out. The invisible boundary between us was breached and human contact was possible. In relationships where there is conflict how much better when this happens and is met with a similar response by the other.
All this and I haven’t mentioned the religious world. I think that is because I am seeing that it does not seem to matter. God as a reality in life appears to be taken for granted. Believers of Islam and Christianity live side by side and church and mosque too, as the call to prayer from the Minaret 5 times each day reminds me. I don’t think the issues in this world, inhabited by Arab, Palestinian and Jew are religious, rather it is political. A simple truth that can lead the way is to extend the hand into the world of the other – and how much better if it is met by an open response. I know it is easy or simple to say, but it seems to be the way, at least to begin with.

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Touching Heaven ?

It is 5 am and I am sitting in a closed Burger King section of Cairo Airport’s main terminal. I am looking through a wall of glass out to the airport where a plane is moving towards the window. I am staring at it’s nose wondering what might happen? A group of energetic people of African descent are into their 3rd bottle of wine, enjoying hearty conversation, a local is asleep on a bench,and there is me.
I am taking stock of my sabbatical thus far. To begin with I journeyed further along the Camino Way in Northern Spain and delighted in the simplicity of every day life with my fellow perigrinos, Tricia and John from home and also the many others from all over the world. I mentioned my journey with ‘pain’ my recent friend and all we are learning together. The joy of achievement, in reaching the destination you have set for yourself is wonderful to experience, so the pain is forgotten amongst the celebration of a job well done. The top of the Galician hills at O Cebreiro, did much to encourage me on the journey of life. Whatever the future might hold, challenges still await and I will have the strength to go forward.
The Forgiveness Project Exhibition, which I have yet to write about, was a wonderful time spent with interested people, in forging a way through the pain of suffering to a better world of healthy relationships towards dealing with violence and pain with a different approach. It was humbling to be with such people, to share experiences and to dream for the future.
The course in the US took this journey to a new level. The wonderful melting pot which was the university summer school’s community of about 100 people – enabled me to hear of stories from even further afield, of dreadful tragedy and suffering, but also to hear with wonder the humanity, compassion and strength of will to make a better world. I felt in awe of my fellow students and grateful for the wisdom and hope communicated by such knowledgable and experienced tutors. I left deeply touched by pain and very hopeful for tomorrow.
72 hours at home was not enough to re-connect with my family, but I was grateful for time spent with Shiobain, Elliot, Renee and Josh my nephew. And there was Joey, our dog. Some of my time involved investigating Joey’s health as we discovered that he is riddled with cancer and needs to be ‘put down’. This was a shock to us all and dear Joey knows nothing about it, although I am sure he cannot feel very well. The news has spread throughout our little grapevine at an enormous rate with text and phone messages of goodwill flooding in and some family and friends wanting to visit Joey and say goodbye. He is to be ‘put to sleep’ at 5.30pm on Monday. This friendly and mild-mannered dog will be missed, even by me who didn’t want a dog in the first place!! However, his good nature has reached through and we all have been touched by him. Indeed, one member of our extended family attributes, in a sizeable way, Joey’s contribution to his return to personal well-being.
I will write again, when I have had more time to reflect on our relationship with the natural world. We discussed this on the course, emphasising the need to be reconciled with nature. While at home and clearly unwell, I looked into Joey’s eyes and wondered what he might say to me? Animals seem to address suffering in an accepting kind of way.
While in the airport I have just finished a book on forgiveness, and much else, by a Palestinian doctor, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish entitled, I Shall Not Hate. Tempted as I am to offer a book review, I shall resist and enthusiastically recommend it to you – it is inspiring that someone who has experienced such pain, tragedy and abuse has not resorted to hate, as well he might. Instead, he works so hard, together with the remaining members of his immediate family, to foster understanding and healing between people. Out of terrible pain has come so much good.
My home felt different when I left to journey to Heathrow Airport. I remarked to Shiobain, my wife, that pain and suffering, even that of a dog and those suffering with him, has humanised the place. Attention was being paid to each other just a little bit more than usual. Sensitivity to others was noticeable, just a bit more. It is natural to want to avoid pain, and we go to great lengths to do so, but given it is a reality of life it leads me to ask if we can learn from its existence and use it to make the world a more human place?
I soon board a plane to Amman in Jordan. I will be visiting the Holy Land Institute for Deaf and Deaf Blind Children, a project that works with children traumatised by the conflict on the West Bank. Another type of pain and suffering, together,no doubt, with shared joys and smiling faces, with plenty of love and humanity to share. Keep watching folks, there will be much to digest, but I am keen to touch heaven again. Maybe that is something of what it might be like, having touched pathos and affected by it, you hold it and go on to the joy that flows. Easy to say I know, but I am finding people who have experienced this and also know how to smile deeply.
While writing this I am pleased to say that the plane journeying towards the window, and me, at the last minute took a turn to the right and parked right at the terminal entrance. I assume it was told to go there – but encountering that plane is a source of pain I have just avoided, for which I am grateful!

A few remarks about the blog:
i hope you are enjoying reading it? Please leave your comments and thanks to those who have already.
i am learning all the time about how to supervise a blog. Please bear with me.
I will add some pictures when I have learned how to do it – but I am also keen not to have people in pictures unless I get their permission. One of the things I don’t like about certain social media is how some post pictures of you without asking. However I will post pictures when I can.
to those who want a linear way – timewise (chronologically speaking) – in reading the blogs in order to understand the development of thought, I am sorry to disappoint. Experiences are coming thick and fast and I have found it difficult to keep up to date with the blog as much as I might. I will try to do better.
however thanks for the feedback and keep it coming!! Sorry, must go I have a plane to catch.

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On the course this week, we have been exploring what reconciliation might mean. Terminology is important as words mean different things to different people – so we needed to deconstruct this word a bit in order to understand its complexities. This was done by looking at reconciliation with – God/or spirituality, self, others, internationally and lastly with nature.
Our professor asked us as we approached the weekend to think about reconciliation in our lives and what that might involve. With a 2 day break, I took off to the mountains (Blue Ridge) and Shenandoah National Park – beautiful places.
Being reconciled with the natural world is important to our connectivity with creation as modern lifestyles despoil so much of it. We are in the habit of using what is available without taking the time to stop and explore creation and what it is saying to us. So for me,being in the mountains, walking in the woods with trees and being near to flowing water, including breathtaking waterfalls was a delight to behold. All of this did my soul good.
Not all of nature is easy to reconcile with though? On my way back up the hill, I almost stepped on a snake. This wasn’t a small garden snake, but a few inches thick and about 3 feet long. Yes,like a fisherman who has lost a big catch and tells the story,”it was that big!” When approaching it the snake looked like it wanted to be ‘reconciled’ with me, but I wasn’t so keen. I stepped by hoping it wouldn’t attack, which it didn’t, thankfully. However, on returning to it in the hope I might get a photo of it, the snake clearly took offense, felt rejected and wouldn’t co-operate.
Undeterred, I continued the climb and about 15 minutes later, turned a corner on the path and found a bear standing there starting at me – yes I have the picture, this time! After the picture taking, I followed the park instructions and walked backwards slowly in order not to be a threat to it. The bear soon walked in to the forest and I returned to the climb, grateful for this wonderful encounter – although I am not sure how reconciliation took place between us?
Today has been a lesson in that reconciliation with nature can be fun, but not as easy as might be expected. However,my soul was ‘settled’ or centred by 2 lovely days in ‘the wild’. It should be, for me, a regular experience and built into my weekly timetable; although I am unsure where reconciliation is more challenging, with nature or humans?!

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I live with pain. In many ways I have always done so, especially throughout my adult life. Back pain has been constant since early adulthood, but over the last 5 years, pain has really moved in and become a close partner. The pain is in my legs and reminds me of it’s presence from the moment I place my feet on the floor at the bedside. It is with my until I retire at night.
Every step I take is painful and you might wonder why I am walking 100 miles on the Camino? Good question. Yes I have been to 5 West London hospitals for different investigations – all negative which is good. But still the pain and it sometimes affects the way I walk, with people occasionally asking why I am mildly limping.
A Pain Free Life is a book that has been recommended to me. The theory proposes that muscular and joint pain is due to body imbalance. Exercises are suggested which promote skeletal balance and thus reduce pain. I have been trying these and some improvement is being made, but still the pain.
Maybe pain is there for a reason? Facing my mortality is important, although not easy to do – I am getting older and cannot hide that truth. With a consultant we did talk about pain management and he offered all kinds of pain killing tablets. I rejected these because it is an important way the body speaks to me about what is going on. There is a need to be exposed to life as it comes, and that includes pain. We do make vain attempts to avoid it, by deadening ourselves – perhaps that is where addiction comes from, the desire to numb the pain,but it only makes it worse when it returns. Ask any former addict. Pain is there to remind me, lest I forget, of the importance of balance in my life. Not just physical, but in every area of life. I try to give attention to the work/life balance, but need regular reminder to make space for my personal life. It is tempting to focus on those things that are easy and comfortable to do or what we are driven towards.
For example, I exercise most days and if I am honest have to discipline myself to engage in a wide range of exercises. I will enjoy resistance training, but avoid cardiovuscular work if possible. There are other areas of my life where imbalance exists too and needs attention. Maintaining balance is vital to healthy living – that reminds me, it includes my spirituality as well!

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Nothing animates perigrino’s (pilgrims) more than a good blister! When walking on pilgrimmage covering anywhere between 12-20 miles a day, feet are a primary concern. Back home I rarely give my feet any attention, only when hurredly cutting toe nails.However, for the pilgrim feet are centre stage. Hardly a step is taken without some instant assessment about the health ofmy feet. Sensitivity to, and awareness of, feet, is important.
When reaching the ‘refugio’ (a pilgrims refuge where we stay) feet are inspected with extreme care and if a blister is discovered, others will rush to look, compare and share medical aids. “Are you going to leave it or drain the blister?” might be some of the dialogue that ensues, together with strategies for ongoing maintenence. I will spare you the rest of how this conversation might develop! It is amazing though, how lovingly the care can be offered from people you don’t know, who come from anywhere in the world, who might be sleeping next to me tonight in the dormitory, but may not see again in the morning. The comeradery of pilgrims has to be experienced to be appreciated.
Feet are considered extremities of the body but are obviously crucial to a healthy life. They are often ignored or even neglected, even though Reflexologists highlight the intimate relatedness of feet to vital organs of the body.
So far, I have not had any blisters so I must be doing something right!
I have often wondered about Jesus and the Maundy Thursday activity of washing the feet of his friends. Why did he do that? Yes it was a social custom and yes I realise he was demonstrating sacrificial love and what needed to be central to his future community. Maybe it is also about extending love to the extremities of our lives, nothing is beyond the reach of love. Is he wanting us to know that all of life is touched. And if so,maybe I can give my feet more attention on a regular basis! It would be a helpful reminder.

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