Snowflakes dance in the Southerly gale and the moon and galaxies of shining stars, beyond the clouds, are hidden from our sight. The wind draws the air into the wood fire. It crackles and glows. It is our company, keeping us warm in the winter storm.
The hearth was always a place of relationship in our family home. I remember my grandmother 'smooring' the fire before she went to bed. Ashes were gently laid upon the glowing red coals. Kindled in the cold night, they would, at daybreak, still be alive with warmth. The fire was never allowed to go out. Earth, water, fire, air, space, always present.
Fire of a different kind burns in Syria. Earlier this week, the leaders of the world's richest countries met in the north of Ireland, a place which has known unspeakable violence and now enjoys a fragile peace. Syria was on their agenda, along with tax evasion and transparency, “which will empower people to hold governments and companies to account.”
The Syrian capital, Damascus, one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities in the world, has descended into the chaos of evil. The storm of oblivion has left it in ruins along with Aleppo and countless other towns and villages. While thousands of innocents continue to die in these killing fields, the US Government has decided to arm Syrian rebels, even though analysts say that these weapons are likely to fall into the hands of extremist groups. The G8 leaders, in their final communiqu é supported a conference to reach a political solution to the conflict and will “contribute generously to the United Nations appeal for humanitarian help.”
Protests continue in the crossroads of the world, Istanbul, and also in Brazil where the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. In a world of staggering inequality, empire building and where religious fundamentalism of all faiths, not just one, fosters prejudice, bigotry, exclusivism and hate, what are we to do?
When the Troubles were at their height in the north of Ireland, I worked on a research secondment with the chaplaincy team at HM Prison Maze, near Belfast. Maze was the place where paramilitary prisoners, republican and loyalist, were incarcerated. I also spent time with the Corrymeela Community at Ballycastle, a place of reconciliation between faith communities.
Amongst the many lessons I learnt from people in these places was that hate, guns, bombs, bloodshed and death do not make for lasting peace. Speaking the truth in love, respecting differently-held beliefs and being open to new possibilities achieved conflict resolution. Something which the remarkable Northern Ireland peace process demonstrated.
Recent world events have found me reflecting upon our varying degrees of collusion with the systems of domination under which we live. Some may count the Church as one of these. I am reminded of the words of the American theologian, Walter Wink in his book, Engaging The Powers,
“We cannot affirm governments or institutions or businesses to be good unless at the same time we recognise that they are fallen. We cannot face their malignant intractability and oppressiveness unless we remember that they are simultaneously a part of God's good creation and…can and must be redeemed.” (Wink 1992:10)
The redemption, which Wink describes, will come about when the spirituality of political, economic, religious and cultural institutions, their interests, pathologies and fears are confronted, so that the total entity is transformed.
In our places of work and encounter, can we embody critical responsibility, search for truth, find ways to relate to the powerful and speak the truth in love? We can look to the poet-carpenter Jesus for inspiration. With the fire of passion and freedom in his heart, the man from Nazareth repudiated the autocratic values of power and wealth and the institutions and systems that authorised and supported these values. He rejected ranking, domination, hierarchies…class inequality, the exploitation of the many by the few. (Ibid.:110-113)
We are to journey towards the light, my friends. In the Southern and Northern Hemispheres, the winter and summer solstices are celebrated on 21 June. The winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere is the date when the Earth's axis is farthest away from the sun. The next new dawn will herald our slow return to the light. The heavens guide us.
At this time in the lunar calendar, the rising of the twinkling star cluster, Matariki, also known as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, heralds the Aotearoa Pacific New Year. Matariki means the 'eyes of God' (Mata Ariki) or 'little eyes' (mata riki).
It is a deeply spiritual time for M ā ori and those who respect and participate in their culture and traditions. Family members and friends who have died are remembered with love and reverence. There is thanksgiving for the land and its many gifts and for the new life that is promised. Younger Maori learn the wisdom of their tradition. Singing, dancing, feasting are enjoyed in this celebration of new beginnings and new thresholds to cross. It is a time when stars are burning bright and the heavens are telling the glory of God.
© Hilary Oxford Smith
21 June 2013
2013 Lough Erne G8 Leaders' Communiqu é
Wink, Walter, (1992) Engaging the Powers, Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, Philadelphia: Fortress Press
Smith, Hilary, (1997) Chaplaincy, Power and Prophecy in the Scottish Prison System: The Changing Role of the Prison Chaplain, The University of Edinburgh, PhD Thesis.