Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Wisdom of Hope

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

Holy God, you are our refuge and our hope.

You live in heaven, on earth, and in our hearts.

Your majesty surrounds us in all your creation.

In Christ you are revealed as One who pitches a tent and lives among us.

You take sanctuary in us and make your home in the core of our being.

Holy is your name.

Holy are your ways.

We bless you for the honour you give us

By making us all in your image,

By calling us all to share in your mission,

And by inviting us all to eat at your Table.

We thank you for Jesus Christ,

In Him You have given the whole world

New patterns of living, loving, learning, serving and suffering,

And the promise of the fullness of life,

Wholesome life on earth,

And life that is not extinguished by death.

We bless you for giving us the gift of your Holy Spirit,

The breath of life;

The strength to live by each day.

We hold before you

All those who are struggling today, and those who bring care, help and support.

Those who are taking their last breaths, and those who watch and wait and pray with them;

Those who have died, and all who are bereaved.

Grant to us, to the world, and all who are in our prayers, your sanctuary and strength,

And bring us all where you want us to be.

In the Name of Christ.

Amen.

I am pleased to offer this prayer and meditation to support the important and good work of All We Can with some of the poorest communities in the world.

I am not an optimist, but I am always hopeful, I keep hope alive and encourage others to do so too.

Optimism is an attitude that says, relax, everything will be ok, leave everything to God, all shall be well.

Hope is an attitude that says, whatever situation we find ourselves, we will say “right, now come on, roll up your sleeves, we will work together with others around us, apply all the wisdom available to us, and work for the best result, God being with us and our helper. We can make things better and we will not give up”.

Optimism is individualistic and passive.

Hope is solidarity and pro-active.

This hope is in me, for me it is rooted in faith, and solidarity with others.

I see it around me and I find it in others.

This hope has inspired and sustained me not least in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic.

I see this hope in the incredible expressions of solidarity in people, that within all our vast differences we are all one human race, every person is precious, every person is vulnerable, no one is immune, our sickness and our health, our existence and our survival, rests in each other.

I see this hope in the incredible solidarity in people, in attitudes and acts of grace and generosity, in people of all faiths and ethnicities and nationalities, from infants to hundred year olds, that have spread more rapidly than Covid-19.

We have glimpsed and discovered our incredible connectedness to others all around the world.

We have glimpsed and discovered our intricate connectedness to the air and the earth and the environment and all creatures great and small all around us.

We have realised that though people say “we are all in the same boat together”, that we are not all in the same boat. There are different boats, with different levels of protection.

We are all in the same storm, but in different boats. Some people are not even in boats, they are in the water, and looking for life belts.

We have all experienced fear and anxiety about the wellbeing of ourselves, our families, and friends.

We have realised others are in a similar situation to us.

We have a solidarity in our humanity, and frailty, and desire to be safe.

We all seeking refuge and sanctuary.

We have realised that while some of us have good protective people and provision around us, and have homes and gardens, others don’t, and live in danger, in streets, in refugee camps.

Thousands have lost the their homes through wars and violence and extreme weather, and are as refugees seeking refuge and sanctuary.

This coronavirus storm will pass.

But as we take sanctuary ourselves, we keep in our hearts and minds those in their own sanctuaries now, with all the surrounding concerns, those without homes, those away from homes, and refugees who continue to be “the least important” internationally, and we uphold them in our work and prayers.

I give thanks for and find hope in the work of charitable work of organisations like All We Can, through whom we can maintain our solidarity with those who feel most excluded and vulnerable.

The issues in which our hope is grounded are vast.

We will find strength in our human solidarity.

In the midst of everything I have found myself wrenched to the core of my being as a young friend of mine, Lucia, went through a fourth Liver Transplant. The operation took place in January. Lucia worked hard with an incredible team of NHS staff and her family to pull through. Lucia died recently, four days before her 21st birthday.

I have been in desperate need of hope in this situation.

Lucia herself, along with her family and NHS team have filled me with immense hope. She participated in every decision about her life and support, made difficult by the coronavirus restrictions.

Lucia has generated an incredible response to organ donations, and founded her own initiative in this, details of which can be found on the website Live Loudly, Donate proudly.

People like Lucia fill me with hope by bringing the most challenging situations to life, and affecting how we are and live and handle apparently insurmountable obstacles. 

So often I find hope and the way ahead in the life of those who struggle the most, who would be within their rights to shout out at God, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”, but who by their own hope hold out a vision of God where you may least expect to find God.

The ultimate symbol of that hope for me is Jesus Christ.

The story of Lucia reminds me that those who are in difficult situations are also people of hope and resilience. They help to keep my hope alive.

Thank you and bless you for the hope you hold and represent.

Please spend a moment to view how the All We Can Coronavirus Appeal is bringing hope to some of the world’s poorest communities as they deal with the effects of this coronavirus, in particular in our work with refugees and refugee camps at this time.

Bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

28 May 2020, Twenty First Birthday of Lucia Quinney Mee, founder of Live Loudly, Donate Proudly

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Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Attention

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

We are all asked to “stay alert”.

Staying alert requires paying attention.

This is what all good teachers call for.

Pay attention, and this is a pre-requisite to staying alert, and living to your full potential.

In our meditations I began with attention to breathing, and to stillness. These precede attention.

Good attention flows from breathing well and stillness, and will help to provide the clear focus of attention.

We all have many distractions such as unsolicited apps, messages, and so on.

Attention flows from breathing and stillness, being in the present moment, being aware of what or who is there, considering information, reflecting, and resolving to do something as a result.

This is really what research means.

Pay attention, observe, collect data, reflect on it with care, till you have a revelation, your data offers new illumination, new information.

If you are like me you will have had moments when something or someone makes you pause, stop in your tracks, and pay attention in this way.

For example, you pass something regularly, and one day this something, it may be a tree or view for example, catches your breath and stops you. You become present in that moment and place, you really consider the information, you reflect, and you take action, even if it to gasp “wow” in a moment of revelation.

During this time of coronavirus, with less air pollution, there have been some remarkable photos of mountain ranges from massive distance on facebook and twitter.

There was a photo of Mount Kenya that someone took from Nairobi City which is 85 miles away.

Many people living in Nairobi responded that the photo is a fake, you surely cannot see Mount Kenya from Nairobi!

But the photo is a fact.

What is more, that view is actually visible from Nairobi most days, but most people don’t see it.

The man who took the photo says, “the hustle of Nairobi prevents people from looking up. The slowing down is not there”. He said that maybe, the Covid-19 virus has slowed people down, and with less air pollution helped people to see more.

As I said, we can all walk past things many times and miss them.

But there is a moment in which we become aware of something for the first time, and think, I pass this regularly yet I have never been aware of it before.

There is a story in the Bible of Moses who was minding his sheep in a field when suddenly he saw a bush that seemed to be aflame. It made him stop, and turn his attention, and look with more care (Exodus 3:1-12).

When Moses saw the bush that seemed to be aflame, he said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight…” (Exodus 3:3). As he paid attention here, he felt he heard the voice of God drawing his attention to brutality and suffering, and the experience changed his life.

He became the leader he was.    

Young Mary had a moment when she believed an Angel was speaking to her. In the Church calendar this moment is called the “annunciation”. As she paid attention in this special moment, she heard the voice of God, and “pondered” on what she heard (Luke 1:26-31).

She became the mother of Jesus.

Today is 24th May. It is a special day in Methodist Churches.

24 May 1738 is regarded as the day John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, had a special experience.

At a meeting in Aldersgate Street in London, he was listening to a reflection on the Letter to Romans. Then, he writes in his diary, “About a quarter before nine…I felt my heart strangely warmed”. He felt loved by God.

He became the leader of a movement called Methodism.

Six hundred years ago there lived in Norwich a young woman called Julian. Aged about 30 she became seriously ill. At the end of her illness she began having visions., and then spent around 20 years living in a small room and writing her visions which she called Divine Revelations, a book worth reading. Her most famous revelation arises from just observing a hazelnut.

Reflecting on a hazelnut in her hand she writes that it revealed three things to her. “The first is that God made it. The second, that God loves it. The third, that God keeps it.” This simple observation gave her peace, that she can rest in God the Creator, the Keeper, and the Lover. 

The important thing about these special moments is that they happen in the everyday, ordinary circumstances which command attention and become sacred moments and places and people.

Attention can give you rest, and make you more capable and give you more direction for life.

It said to Moses you are more than a shepherd, and to Mary, you are a person of potential beyond your imagination, to Wesley you an assurance of love, to Julian confidence in God.

Attention increases your awareness, and makes you more mindful of yourself and others. It literally opens your eyes and ears and heart and soul. It is an essential quality in leadership.

This is what faith and spirituality is.

Seeing and hearing God in ordinary everyday life, and hearing the voice of God calling you to be the immense and immeasurable person you are capable of being.

Be alert, but more than this, pay attention.  

Inderjit Bhogal

24 May 2020, John Wesley Day

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Six Words to Live By: Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

ACT JUSTLY

Today is the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower. 72 people died in the devastating fire there.

The last fortnight has seen angry protests following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Most of the protests have been peaceful and I detest violence where it has featured.

It is important to listen to the calls for justice, and to ask what needs to happen.

Or, to put it another way, what does God require of us, not only in this situation, but at any time?

This question features in the Bible in a number of places with significant answers.

One place where the question is asked is in the book of Micah, chapter 6 verse 8 where we read:

“What does the Lord require of you but to act justice, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God”.

 Six words are important there: act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly.

In any situation you have to make choices about how you will respond. The attitude you choose to live by is critical.

The words in Micah are worth pondering.

We can choose to live by those six words: act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly.

I will take these words in two’s to offer reflection.

So, first let us focus on the words “act justly”.

What justice means biblically is that everyone can enjoy the benefits of life. The “fulness of life” (john 10:10), for all without discrimination and deprivation. This is the persistent call of the prophets of ancient Israel.

In the words of the prophet Amos, God longs for the day when “justice (will) roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:2).

Whenever men and women work in favour of justice, understood as simple fairness, and equality among people in things that enhance human dignity and well-being, they are standing on the “foundation stone” established by the God of justice.

This justice challenges the violence of poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and every form of domination, discrimination, oppression and war. Consequently, justice will not employ violence, and will address violence non-violently.

Commitment to justice includes working non-violently whether we are speaking of verbal violence or physical violence.

Ending particular forms of injustice is integral to the Kingdom of God, where all enjoy the fulness of life. 

Justice is not about being right or righteous, but doing right and hungering after righteousness.

In Genesis 18: 17-19, justice and righteousness is linked, and mean the same thing, the “way” of God is revealed as “doing what is right and just”. This is what brings about the completion of the will of God. Fairness, equity, and impartiality in the rule of law, and sharing of the benefits of belonging together is what is held together here (Sacks, 2003).

For Moses justice is a good life. He says, “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Justice is the route to a good life.

When the biblical prophets spoke of justice they consistently held up the “widow”, the “orphan” and the “stranger” (Exodus 22: 21-27; Psalm 146: 7-9). These three groups of people represent those who had no means of their own to live a good life, and were dependent on the grace and generosity and goodness of others.

In our times these groups relate for me to older people in care, children in danger, and refugees.  

Biblically, God is the God of justice (Deuteronomy 32: 4; Isaiah 30:18; Psalm 119: 137). It is God’s measuring line (Isaiah 28: 17). Justice exalts God (Isaiah 5:16). It is the worship God respects (Amos 5:22-24).

Act justly.

In all the debates of our times the cry is for justice, rooted in a 400 year history, and spanning Grenfell Tower, Minnesota, and Covid-19.

A cry for justice is the cry of God.

We are to hear the challenge of God to “act justly”.

Inderjit Bhogal

14 June 2020, third anniversary of Grenfell Tower fire

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Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Stillness

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

“Be still and know I am God”

Psalm 46:10

STEP 1

Correct breathing

STEP 2

Stillness…also the goal of Yoga.

Last week I showed simple ways to breathe correctly, with a focus on breathing through the nose.

Just try that again.

Breathe through your nose with the 4-7-8 formula.

Breathe in for 4 seconds. Hold the breath for 7 seconds. Breathe out for 8 seconds.

Have a go now. Breathe in, hold, breathe out.

What happens when you do this?

The first thing, apart from breathing well is that you shut up. You say nothing.

I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Now, what is the first lesson you must learn when you learn to drive?

Answer. You must learn how to stop.

To make any move in a car, you must be able to stop it.

It is important to stop.

Coronavirus has stopped us all in our tracks.

The current situation has taught us that real healing and wellbeing comes from learning to stop.

When you stop you, even when you slow down, you see more, you listen more.

The most important thing in life is not what happens to you, but how you react to it.

In any situation, breathe well, stop, listen, don’t focus on what to say.

If you do these simple things, what you are doing is being still.

In the stillness is God.

Be still and know I am God.

Live in that confidence that God is with you.

The Psalmist who wrote those words was speaking to a people at war.

When he said “be still” what he meant was “put down your weapons”, stop the clatter, and know that your confidence is in God.

What is the weapon you carry? Your words.

Breathe well. Stop speaking.

True Yoga is not about movement and posturing and exercise.

True Yoga has only one goal: the complete stillness of thought, and mental movement.

Total stillness because only in this stillness will you know that you live in God and God lives in you.

I grew up in a large family. Nine of us. The first thirteen years of my life my family lived in two rooms. As you can imagine I could never get away from noise in our home. I learned quickly that what is important is not silence but stillness within me.

Stillness within me can be achieved anytime and anywhere.

I also decided that listening was essential to stillness.

Stillness is assisted by silence, but does not require silence.

Stillness is not doing nothing. It is about being attentive to the moment. It is a resting in the midst of noise and activity.

I can be still when I am walking or running.

In stillness I shut up and listen.

The Prophet Isaiah wrote:

In stillness is your strength

Isaiah 30:7,15

The words Jesus used to still a storm were, “peace, be still”.

If you want peace learn to be still.

God is with us.

Be still and know this.

There are simple practical ways to deepen the quality of stillness in you.

First, in a conversation listen with stillness. In other words, listen without working on what you will say next. Just listen. Allow the person speaking to finish. Then, don’t say what you want to, ask the person a question like, can unpack what you have said a little more so that I have a clearer understanding of what you have said. You could then say, I need to think a little more of what you have said. What is happening is that you are listening with stillness of mind.

St Columba said people say I am wise, but all I do is listen to them.

Second, try the Zen of seeing. Try this anywhere. Look at anything, it could be a leaf, or a feather, or a piece of rock or a flower. Focus on a small part of it and draw it in your mind. You need no paper or pencil. The important thing is you are learning to focus, give attention to detail without using words.

Learn in this time of slowing down to breathe well, to stop, and to be still. No need to hurry.

Here you can be still, and know God.

So, I close with the words of Christ.

Peace, be still.

Thank you and bless you.

Take care, and we will meet at the same time next Sunday.

Inderjit Bhogal, 17 May 2020

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Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Wisdom of Breath

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

It is windy outside today.

I always associate a windy day with Pentecost when the church is born by the breath of God (Acts 2:1-4).

BREATH OF GOD: Wind and air are associated in the Bible with the breath of God.

Everything is brought to life by the breath of God (Psalm 33:6).

Adam comes to life when God breathed into his nostrils (Genesis 2:7). This is the first time the idea of breath is introduced in the Bible.

The first action of the risen Christ is to breathe on his disciples who seem to have lost all life and hope (John 209:22).

The concluding words in Psalms is “let everything that breathes praise God” (Psalm 150:6).

Breath gives and is essential to life.
We are thankful to have breath.
We need to value air more, clean air even more.
We need to give more attention to breath and breathing.
Become aware of your breathing…see how shallow it is.
There are ways to breathe well.

YOGA has come to be respected as an art form, especially the various moves.

But the key to Yoga is breathing.

Yoga literally means inner communion, blending opposites, breathing in, breathing out, turning left, turning right, achieving unity of body, mind and spirit. It is a way to clear the airways, open all the channels, to allow breath and blood to flow well, and enhance wellbeing.

THE KEY TO THIS IS BREATH, the source of life and energy.

Breath is the blending of oxygen and carbon-dioxide, blood and body. Good breaths help the flow of the essence of life in body, mind and spirit. It helps to reinvigorate body, mind and spirit.

If you are not breathing properly the other parts of Yoga are not so beneficial, and you can hurt yourself. Good breathing improves blood circulation, helps to connect body, mind and spirit, and helps to achieve stillness and balance in body, mind and spirit, and manage stress.  

If you can achieve seven good breaths in a day as part of your regular breathing you are doing well.

Good breath is more than the in and out rhythm which can be quite shallow.

BREATHE WELL: Good breath is cyclic. Breathe in and fill the bottom of your lungs, then the top of the lungs; breathe out and empty the bottom of your lungs first and then the top.

When you can do this, you can also use the following two ways to breathe well.

  1. Using the two nasal canals alternatively for seven breaths. First breathe in through the left canal. To do this place your thumb on the right of your nose and press to close the canal and breathe in through your left canal. Breathe out through the right canal. To do this place the “ring” finger on your left canal and press to close it and breathe out of your right canal. Repeat this for seven complete breaths. Use the next suggestion to achieve a complete breath.
  2. Use what is called the 4-7-8 count for a complete breath. Breathe in for 4 seconds. Hold the breath in for 7 seconds. Breathe out for 8 seconds. Try and take seven breaths like this as part of your regular breathing. You can do this any time it is convenient. You can use the “two nasal canals” suggestion for these breaths.

A note of caution. Don’t restrict or force breath. If you feel dizzy or light headed, stop and breathe normally.

Inderjit Bhogal, 10 May 2020

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Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Wisdom for Anxious Days

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

These words are part of what is termed Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Seek first the kingdom of God. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today

MATTHEW 6:25-34

Imagine Jesus sharing reflections with people as he sat on a hillside. Many were there with their anxieties. They were living in times of Roman occupation and oppression. They were living in fear, worried about their future, and looking for wisdom. They will have sought help.

We could imagine we are sitting with Jesus on Wincobank Hill with our anxieties.

What did Jesus say to the people around him? Read and study the whole of “the sermon on the mount”. To understand the words of Matthew 6:34 read the words that precede them in the rest of Chapter 6. There are words about modesty in lifestyle, and not stockpiling for the future. The words in verses 25-33 centre on handling anxiety, and conclude with the words in verse 34. The wisdom is, do not be overly anxious about the future, live in the present by clear values.

There are three pieces of wisdom that precede the words in verse 34 and illuminate them. There is a simplicity in these words. Some may consider them simplistic, but they contain depth.

First: “Look at the Birds”. You don’t have to travel far for this. Just look out of the window. Listen to the bird song. If you want to develop the looking, get a good pair of binoculars to help. There are many resources to identify them, not least by their song. They work and play, and are melodious.

Two: “Consider the Lilies”. I like the word “consider”. It suggests pay close attention, study, be inquisitive, explore, appreciate. There is immense beauty in lilies, visitors to them like bees and butterflies, and wider nature.

Spend some time with birds and plants in your garden or travel further if you are able to. Time with nature offers nurture, nourishment, rest, refreshment and time to reflect. It can help to clear and still the mind and determine what is important. Getting close to soil can be healing. It is full of life. All people of all ages can wonder at the majesty, magic and mystery of creation.  

Three: “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. Direct your life by this rule. By rule I do not mean instruction, but way of life. To be a follower of Jesus is to “consider” and live by this rule. Jesus prayed “your Kingdom come” expressing his high priority and hope. Jesus is encouraging his followers to put their lives and anxieties into the wider context of the wellbeing God desires for all people.

Jesus directs his teaching anxiety about the future with words about how to live day by day. Seek first…

The words of verse 34 are not about fatalism, simply accepting destiny, or just leaving everything to God. There is a basis to them. It has been suggested that the Gospel writer added the words “so, do not be anxious about tomorrow”. Whoever is to be credited, these words make sense and hold gospel wisdom in the context of the Sermon on the Mount.

Make the most of each day. Live one day at a time. Appreciate good things around you. Seek the Kingdom and righteousness of God, “and all these things will be given to you as well”.

Inderjit Bhogal, 3 May 2020. Words shared in Sunday morning worship with Wincobank Chapel Congregation

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Lessons from Ray Davey: Corrymeela Reflection and Prayer

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

8 MAY 2020

From the Croí 8 May 2020 Led by Inderjit Bhogal


It is 75 years since World War 2 ended in Europe.

On 15 May is the annual Conscientious Objectors Day when we remember those who refused to join the war.

With others I give thanks for all those who give their lives for justice and peace, and pray for a world without war and violence.

With the whole world at present, in our times of coronavirus, I give thanks for all those who work to provide care, prayer and healing.

I give thanks for all those who have upheld the witness to non-violence and peace. I find inspiration in them.

Today with the Corrymeela Community I especially give thanks for Ray Davey who was a prisoner in World War 2, and was released on 8th May 1945, and I will conclude my offering with a prayer written by Ray on 10th June 1944.

I want to begin with a prayer I wrote on 31 January 2020 as the UK determined to leave the EU which has at least tried to maintain peace in Europe.

PRAYER FOR OUR TIMES

Holy God
Creator of the universes, the heavens and the earth.
You make all people in your image;
You know the hurts and hopes of us all;
Your presence is deep within us and around us.
Holy are your ways and holy is your name.
For all the ways in which
We assault and abuse your image in us, and in your creation around us
Forgive us
For seeking the best for ourselves but not others, and so often at the expense of others
Forgive us
That our highest ideals are marred by our selfishness
Forgive us
For our ways and words that bruise and break relationships, households, congregations, communities, neighbourhoods and nations
Forgive us
For the inhumanity, inhospitality, hatred, wars and violence
Which destroy homes and displace people
Forgive us
For the inhumane, inhospitable and hate filled treatment of people seeking sanctuary, and of refugees
Forgive us
Holy God
Bring us and the world to end hatred, war, and violence, and always to build cultures and communities of healing, hospitality and justice
Where all are welcome, valued, belong equally, and have sanctuary and well-being.
Strengthen us to work with you to heal hurts, keep hope alive, to make all things new, and never to tire of seeking justice and peace.
In the Name of Christ.

Amen.

For a reading I offer only one verse from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and it is from Matthew 5:9

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

I came to Ireland in my younger days to meet people I admired, including the leaders of Corrymeela. I looked up to them all, especially Ray Davey the founder of Corrymeela.

I recall once sitting on a wall by the Croi with Ray Davey. I was talking to him about an idea growing in my mind about Sanctuary for refugees.

In typical form Ray said, “If you have an idea you must incarnate it. Go and do it”. I did, and have seen sanctuary grow as a movement in Britain and Ireland and beyond, and I am thankful to Ray for his encouragement.

Ray is an inspiration for me because he stands out in a world littered with the debris of war as a peace maker. He never gave in to war and violence. He remained constant in his objection to war and in his work of building relationships of respect and trust.

Ray was a prisoner of war and kept diaries which he published. I have a copy signed by Ray and Kathleen that Ray gave me when I visited them on 26 September 2005.

Ray used his confinement in a prison camp positively and learned the importance of human community as he brought prisoners together for prayer, and how relationships sustain the human spirit in difficult times.

He wrote that “love is at the root of all things, not force and hate” (War Diaries, page 175). Ray stressed the need to live with this attitude consistently.

He wrote of “the sacrament of social workers”, of service, modelled in Jesus washing feet. “A revolutionary idea of leadership” noted Ray, “one of the master touches of his life” (War Diaries, page 211).

This experience he used as a leader and theologian while he was University Chaplain twenty years after he left prison, and worked with the wisdom and enthusiasm of young people to lay the foundations of Corrymeela Community and its work over the last 55 years or so.

Ray used his solitude to deepen his relationship with God, a communion from which nothing and no one could separate him. He was a man of deep prayer. Ray’s prayers reveal his deepest hopes and desires.

Only one of Ray’s prayers in his diaries make it into his book The War Diaries. It is on page 202. He prays that his life will be an “instrument fit” for God’s greater service.

I had the privilege of reading through Ray’s actual diaries when I visited him on 11th November 2010. I was particularly fascinated by his prayers and wrote down three of them into my own diary. I will use these prayers to close this meditation in a couple of minutes.

Prayers reveal our deepest hopes and desires.

What are you praying for in your time of confinement?

It seems to me that the whole world has one common prayer at present. Everyone is praying that a cure for coronavirus may be found soon, and for healing. No one is immune from Covid-19. We all want anyone who is hurting to be healed.

I dislike the use of war terminology in relation to Covid-19 like “enemy” and “battle”. We should talk instead about healing and hope. Be positive in your language.

Ray’s War Diaries close with important lessons (page 222). He concludes, “the things that make wars and unhappiness are not just Hitlers and Mussolinis, but are things in our own lives – greed, pride, dishonesty, lack of consideration. If we are to overcome these things, we must become different ourselves”.

Ray incarnated his ideas. The Corrymeela Centre was opened in October 1965 for “all people who are of good will who are willing to meet each other, to learn from each other and to work together for the good of all..”

Let me close by sharing with you lessons I have learned from Ray’s time in confinement, they are valid for our communion in times of coronavirus:

  1. Do all you can, within your restrictions, to bring people together and build community
  2. Love is the root of all things, not force and hate. Incarnate love in your lives
  3. Never take pride in the humiliation of others. The sacrament of leadership is modelled in the humility of service as seen in the ministry of Christ
  4. Invest in instruments and efforts of healing. Put away words and weapons of violence, hate and harm
  5. Deepen your relationship with God. Devote more time to prayer

So, I will close with a prayer written and said by Ray in prison. 

O God of all ages, we know that we live in momentous days, days of destiny and change.

Today we look to the world, we think of all that happens there.

Humbly and in faith we commit our cause to thee.

We confess our wrongs and evils, as a nation and as individuals.

We admit our part, and we accept our blame for this disordered and shattered world.

Be with all who take part in the struggle, endue them with patience, courage and crown their efforts with success.

May all the nations learn the folly, uselessness and senselessness of war.

And in thine own good time may a just and lasting peace be born from the ashes and destruction of so many lands and lives.

Give us the determination to live in patience and faith until the day of our freedom.

Breathe in us anew the burning resolve to fashion a society that shall think more of the things that bind men together than those that keep them apart.

Give us the will to raise a new community, God centred and God controlled.

Give us the practical willingness to plan the remaking of our own homes and the rededication of our lives, so that our land may be built on the solid basis of love and trust.

O God of our captivity, whose hand has held and sustained us through this weary journey,

Be with us now in these days of suspense and waiting.

As thou hast been our guide and strength in the past strengthen us now.

Give us the quiet mind of patience and confidence.

We remember thou hast said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee because he trusteth thee”.

Father who hast created the nations as all members of the great human family, cause the terrible strife to cease.

And when it comes to an end may reason, justice and foresight prevail.

Cleanse our hearts from the spirit of revenge and hatred and reprisal.

Give us the spirit of charity and forgiveness.

We would reaffirm our belief in love as the centre of life.

Give us the determination and faith so to live as individuals and nations that wars may be outlawed forever.

Amen.

RAY DAVEY PRAYER DATED 10 JUNE 1944

A Blessing
Creative God
Breathe your breath of life on us.
Forgiving God
Breathe your words of peace on us.
Empowering God
Breathe your spirit of strength on us.
Amen.

Inderjit Bhogal, Former Leader and CEO of Corrymeela

8 May 2020

Note: Davey, R.( 2005). The War Diaries: From Prisoner-of-War to Peacemaker. Belfast, Brehon Press

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Three Pieces of Ancient Wisdom Still Relevant Today

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

Here are three pieces of ancient wisdom absolutely critical for consideration and communion in times of coronavirus. These lessons emerged in times of captivity or being in the wilderness. There are simple ways to apply them.

FIRST

God’s very first benediction and calling to humanity: God blessed human beings and called them to be fruitful and do all things with wisdom (Genesis 1:28).

These words follow immediately after the statement that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. God is revealed in the previous words as creator, who delights in creation declaring it “good”. Human beings are to reflect God.

This reflection is seen, and the earth is replenished when, in creativity, and fruitfulness, human beings do all things with wisdom. God “blessed” human beings with these faculties.   

Human carelessness, and exploitation of nature, has depleted resources and led to degradation of the environment. Greater care for the earth and the environment is essential to clean air and life for everyone. Breath is life.

Appreciate, affirm, enjoy, express gratitude for, and protect God’s creation of what is “good”. There is wisdom and blessing in this.

SECOND

God’s key lesson for life, you shall not live by bread alone (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4)

This was an important lesson for the people of God to learn during time in the wilderness. God walked with people to teach them, “You shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord!”  

These are the words Jesus too affirmed in his days in the wilderness.

Life is not to accumulate more. Our spiritual wellbeing is important also.

Part of this lesson is to learn the concept of having enough for the day, and not stockpiling for another day (Exodus 16:4). Learning in humility to recognise when you have, or have had, enough, especially in relation to eating. The first petition in the Lord’s prayer is “give us our daily bread”, sustenance, but only enough for today. Try only buying what is on your shopping list. Buy less.

Human tendency to go headlong into business, enterprise, work, profit, accumulation of food and goods has to be checked by learning to say “enough”. Selfishness and greed add to the impoverishment of everyone.

Devote time regularly to reading, reflecting, and discerning the word of God.

THIRD

God’s most repeated ethical requirement, you shall also love the stranger

The Bible contains the command to “love your neighbour, as yourself” and this is taken to be the basis of Biblical ethics. Yet it is stated only once in Hebrew Scriptures (Leviticus 19:18).

Jewish scholars have noted that no less than 37 times the Hebrew Scriptures challenge people to “love the stranger as yourself”. There is no other command repeated so often, perhaps because it was the most difficult lesson to learn.

A neighbour is someone who is a bit like yourself, and easier to love. A stranger is someone very different from you, and more difficult to love. The Bible challenges us to love, and to encounter God in the stranger. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus invited his followers to see and emulate the goodness and mercy of the stranger who ensured the avoided, hurting person had the provision of care and healing (Luke 10:37). The stranger shows what it is to love.

The “stranger” is the one most on the outside of your world, the most despised or isolated. Who is that in your experience? The challenge to “love the stranger” needs to be stated again and again. The “stranger” is a teacher too.

Social distance and space have brought new dimensions and challenges to how we handle social difference. Celebrate difference. Resist division. Our future is together, with all our differences, and international.

Learn to see the image of God in those who are different from you (in skin colour, ethnicity, faith, and so on). Find ways to ensure those who are most marginalised are not isolated, but have supportive connections. What is the most loving way to be with anyone hurting the most, stranger or not? Decision making starts here.

Inderjit Bhogal, 28 April 2020

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Virtual Sanctuary

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

BUILDING WELCOME, MAINTAINING CONNECTION WITH REFUGEES

Notes prepared for an interview on Radio Sheffield on Sunday 19th April 2020

What can churches do?

We are all in a very difficult coronavirus situation, but we are not all in the same boat.

We are all in the same sea and storm, but there are different degrees and levels of protection. Some are in well protected boats, others are in fragile boats, some are in dingys, and some people are in the water looking for life belts of rescue. There are people, especially refugees and those seeking sanctuary among us who are more vulnerable than others.

Coronavirus is universal, but the degree and levels of protection are very different. A universal aspect of COVID-19 is isolation, and a very real sense of fear and uncertainty and trauma.

Trauma is a universal, global phenomenon now. It is no longer just the experience of the most marginalised people. No one is privileged or protected in Coronavirus. No one is immune. We all know what it is to be separated from those we love.

Trauma is not new for people seeking sanctuary and refugees, but we can all empathise with them, as we all share this reality.

Coronavirus is now a double jeopardy, trauma on top of trauma, hurt for people who have already been in situations of harm and danger through war, and who already carry with them deep scars of violence.

The danger for many “asylum seekers” and refugees is that loneliness and destitution is deepened and exacerbated. All the familiar structures and support are removed.

People without homes, and people far from homes, people whose homes have been destroyed by war and extreme weather are at great risk.

The media was full of news of refugees prior to 31 January. What is happening to refugees now, how are they faring at the borders of Europe? We need more news from the wider world. We need more information about the most vulnerable.

And it is important to keep before us news and information about people seeking and taking sanctuary among us.   

This week there have been reports of refugees in peril in the Mediterranean Sea.

23 Italian MPs and three MEPs wrote to the Italian Prime Minister imploring him “act quickly to help those who need to be rescued at sea. We hear news of a shipwreck, of boats laden with humanity, desperately trying to reach the European coast”.

Information provided by Non-Government Organisations on Easter Sunday stated that four boats, carrying 258 migrants between them were in distress, in the waters between Malta and Italy.

47 of them were rescued by SMH, a Spanish NGO.

This is the time of the year when the numbers of refugees in the Mediterranean increase. 

In addition, there have been bombings in Libya close the coast where migrants are kept in detention centres, and this pushes them to leave.

Italy says its ports are “unsafe” owing to coronavirus.

Shamefully, Britain maintains a hard line for example in offering welcome to unaccompanied refugee children whose lives are in danger. According to charities working with refugees, such as Safe Passage, the majority of the around 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children who have arrived in Britain since 2010 have got here using dangerous travel methods including hiding in the back of trucks, further endangering their lives. Less than 1000 unaccompanied refugee children have reached the UK through government schemes. Even this week, children who have been legally accepted to join families in the UK remain trapped in overcrowded refugee camps on Greek Islands.

Refugees have practically disappeared from news broadcasts.

Coronavirus is being used by governments as an excuse to say refugees cannot be rescued because it would not be safe to do so.  This is alarming in the face of words of solidarity towards people who suffer the most. Church leaders can be more audible in expressing concern, and calling for justice for refugees. Local churches can intentionally ensure refugees in their localities, and in their prayers, are not neglected.

Build virtual sanctuaries within your virtual congregations, to ensure those in the double trauma I have described above are not isolated. Support then through local sanctuary charities and networks. Search out your local City of Sanctuary group. Donate financial support through their website. Offer other support as you are able in the circumstances.

When we come past Coronavirus, we must maintain the priority of protective hospitality for the most vulnerable while we ensure that care workers, local and those who are here from other countries, have greater justice in terms of worker rights and wages. We must not lift the pedal off the need to love more those who have been valued the least.

I live in Sheffield. I am well aware that the Sanctuary Centre in Sheffield which has provided a hub for meeting and friendship has had to close owing to COVID-19 and government guidelines.

City of Sanctuary Sheffield has over the years built up a vast network of partners, volunteers and supporters. City of Sanctuary is now the single point of reference for refugees and supporters in Sheffield.

We are working with them now to build a “virtual sanctuary” to nurture and sustain the sense of belonging, friendship and support by:

  • Developing ways to keep people connected and supported, and ensure all asylum seekers in accommodation have WiFi connection
  • WhatsApp Groups with personal messages of encouragement and practical tips, food deliveries, financial support and learning languages
  • Maintaining contacts for legal and health matters through remote service delivery, critical in ensuring pathways to justice and guidelines on rights are not disrupted
  • Maintain telephone check-ins
  • Supporting home schooling with teaching support and laptops
  • Directing supporters to online petitions

The COVID-19 Handbook for asylum seekers is being developed and kept up-to-date online by many partner organisations working together.

You and your church and organisation can support work like this with offers of help and donations through the website, and join campaigns like Lift the Ban aimed at giving asylum seekers the right to work. Link up and maintain contact with refugees as you are able to.

Asylum seekers live on £5.39 per day. Many of them are sharing bedrooms with complete strangers, with all the associated fears. Government guidelines for social distance are impossible to follow. Many of them are in this precarious situation longer than expected owing to delays in processing their cases. The need for safe accommodation is acute.

Exorbitant fees are required now from people who people who have been accepted as qualifying for leave to remain in Britain following an application for asylum. These applications used to be free. However, the fees are now up to £2,389 for an application that may cost £375 top process. Fee increases were announced in the budget on 11 March 2020. These excessive fees are paid by people already in vulnerable situations and are used to help fund the immigration system. Vulnerable people should not be subsidising the system. Fees should reflect the cost.  

Within all their other priorities refugees and asylum seekers have a great spirit of helping and surviving. One of my friends, a refugee from Liberia, has mobilised people to form a choir, and arranges worship and pastoral support. He is providing training on mental wellbeing. He is a dedicated worker providing incredible support to other refugees from a knowledge of personal trauma.  He insists need to create empathy more than sympathy.

Inderjit Bhogal

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Easter: Life and Forgiveness

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

It is generally recognised in scholarship that the Gospel according to Mark is the first written record of anyone’s memory of Jesus, possibly based on the sermons of the Apostle Peter. It has been argued also that the Gospel according to John may be the written memories and meditations that give us windows into the life and thoughts of the earliest followers of Jesus. They are mostly Jewish followers of Jesus who also remain attached to Synagogue communities. Some in the Synagogues were divided in their responses to Jesus (John 9:16; 10:19). Some of the newest follower of Jesus wrestled with how to be his disciples within the wider Jewish community, and feared being excluded from Synagogues on account of their allegiance to him (9:34,35). Some will have found this difficult. There were many, like Nicodemus (3:2) and Joseph of Arimathea (19:38) who kept their discipleship private. To be excluded from the Synagogue would have been a humiliation (9:34).

We cannot pretend that there were not complex arguments and deep divisions between Jewish authorities and the first followers of Jesus. Christians have to acknowledge that the way John has been read has contributed to antisemitic beliefs and behaviour.  The Johannine text has to be read with care. Jesus was a Jew. It is a contradiction for his followers to hate Jews.

The execution of Jesus by the occupying Roman authorities was followed by the persecution of the followers of the Way of Christ. Life for Jews under Roman occupation was hard too. The Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in AD70.

Life for the small bands of Jesus’ followers was tough. They could only meet discreetly and in small groups. They were fearful of everyone, especially local police, occupying military and figures of authority. We discern in John the life of these small and fragile, almost sectarian, groups of followers of Jesus living as a tiny minority. They trusted no one and would be careful who they opened the door to. They lived and worshipped as excluded communities, behind locked doors for safety. They found strength in each other (see also Acts 2:44-47).

This is the band of people we read of in John 20:19-23. It is just a glimpse into their world. A small group meeting behind locked doors, scared and isolated. It is the first Easter Day.

I wonder if their fears included the stories of Jesus’ resurrection. They had been so scared when Jesus was arrested and crucified that they had denied knowledge of Jesus and abandoned him in his greatest hour of need. Now, Mary has just been to the tomb, found it empty, come to them and announced, “I have seen the Lord” (20:11-18). Their first response to stories of Jesus’ resurrection may have been that they were “afraid” (Mark 16:8). They’ve never known anything like the resurrection of a person. There were many reasons for them to lock the doors, they were probably looking accusingly at each other for letting Jesus down, and their fears have drained them of life.

“Peace be with you”

But their experience also was that Jesus stood among them, in their tiny house. He is aware of their fears and has his own scars he bears, and twice says to them, “Peace be with you” to reassure them. He is the one who was executed, but they are the ones who seem to have lost their life.

It is this frightened band of people who are the first people Jesus commissions to continue his ministry with the amazing words: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.

Then he did something and said something quite incredible.

First, Jesus “breathed on them” and said to them “receive the Holy Spirit”. They felt his breath, that’s how close Jesus was to them. These words recall what is written in Genesis 2:7 that God breathed “the breath of life” into humanity. Breath is life. Jesus brings this lifeless group of people to life again, and assures them they will be sustained for life and ministry by the life and strength of God. His message is, do not be scared. Live fully in the world. You are not alone. God’s Spirit is with you.

Second, he gives them one instruction only: Be forgiving. This is the key requirement in the followers of Jesus who are commissioned to continue his ministry. Jesus may have been executed by those in authority, but what hurt and crucified him most was being abandoned by his closest friends. He forgave “those who know not what they do” from his cross, practically his last action before breathing his last. His first action with his followers gathered together is to show he forgives them, speaking words of peace. Now he instructs them to be forgiving. Forgive those who hurt you, and encourage this in others. Start here, forgive those closest to you who let you down, as I forgive you, he seems to be saying. Forgiveness helps to dispel fear and set you free. If you are fearful of those who have hurt you, or those you have hurt, forgive them. Forgiveness is most effective when it is face to face.

The symbols of the Spirit of God are life and forgiveness.

Inderjit Bhogal

12 April 2020, EASTER DAY

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