Friday, 20 October 2017

On the Christian Resources Exhibition

Christus Pantocrator in the apsis of the cathedral of Cefalù, c. 1130. GNU-free documentation licence, Wiki Commons

I don't write much about Christianity here, although it creeps in sometimes. Being more known for my Goddess work, I find it hard to talk about for fear of excluding anyone or appearing to have abandoned my devotion to She~Who~Is, which would be very far from the truth. However, I felt that I would share an experience that I had yesterday as I think that it speaks to the heart of many spiritual paths. I must say that I had the most disheartening, and in some ways blessedly enlightening, day which I am still feeling wobbly from. It was dark moon after all, but now the moon is newly born and I am reflecting on my experiences.

I went along, with some friends from the church I attend, to the Christian Resources Exhibition at Sandown Park in Surrey. I love a day out and a new experience. I believe that the exhibition has been running for more than 30 years and so I thought that it might be interesting to go along. And I was right!

I had a lovely time with my friends, and know that there were many people of good heart at the exhibition, but I am left with the impression that the mainstream manifestations of Christianity in this country, and no doubt in others, is nothing more than Corporate power feeding itself through religion. So many lovely, genuine people circling a dying star when there is so much life to be had a breath away.

Even aside from that, which is bad enough, there were several disturbing stalls there; one spreading,what I can only describe as, anti-Islamic hate material. That stall had pamphlets deriding all interfaith work, one demanding that the UK 'return to our Christian path' and one on 'Islam and slavery'. Obviously they didn't see the irony in a religion which helped to spread Colonialism, and so slavery, throughout the world making such claims about Islam without also looking at themselves. It does nothing to help when we attack others whilst not admitting our own culpability. It is shallow to do so, at best, but I feel that it does genuine harm and makes the possibility of change less and less likely. Two young women, who were probably in their early 20s, seemed very keen on the information there. It made me feel sad. Opposite that stall was one on 'Creationism', which refuted evolution. Those two stalls were relegated to a far corner of the exhibition but they were still there. I am all for freedom of expression, and Creationism is a way of thinking that it should be possible to debate without bad feeling, but the anti-Islam stall in particular seemed very wrong.

And then, right in the centre of everything, 'Christian Friends of Israel' and the Israeli Tourist Board (with perhaps the largest stand of any exhibitor), inviting us all to go on tours of the Holy Land. I wonder whether the Palestinian people have a tourist board and can invite others to visit their holy places, which are after all more or less the same ones? And I wonder whether the 'tour of the Holy Land' includes a tour of the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank, or of the, more than a thousand, olive groves that the Palestinian people rely on but which Israel has destroyed, or the solar panels donated to Palestine by The Netherlands on humanitarian grounds; confiscated by Israel, or perhaps the place where American activist, Rachel Corrie, was mown down and killed by an Israeli soldier driving an armoured bulldozer whilst trying to stop it destroying a Palestinian home? And then, making a nice little triangle of stalls with these, Church of England (continuing) who were informing people that attendance numbers are declining in the C of E because they allow women to be priests. What a toxic beating heart to an event that should/could have been full of Spirit.

Oh, and then there was the man who used to own the exhibition telling us his anecdotes about meeting the Royal Family in his cut glass accent, reminding me how deeply Christianity is woven in with the Establishment. I used to like the Queen until I went to the State Opening of Parliament a few years ago and saw her in her gold coach happily going to give our land back to the Tory Government who had already spent four years murdering the poor and vulnerable. There are some moments that help you see through things. That was one of mine and yesterday was another.

I did enjoy though telling someone from the Bible Society that it is a shame that Christianity gets in the way of people reading the Bible, which I consider to be full of wild wisdom. And I loved a small venture called 'Take Time', which is the idea of a lovely Baptist minister who has created some short recorded guided meditations that take you into Bible stories as though you were there. He told me that he had the idea first when he worked as a Prison Chaplain. I have done that work too, and worked in prisons for many years, and so understand the need to create a space away from the brutality of that environment. I can only imagine what a blessing he has been to many in prison. He told me some lovely stories. Yesterday, right at the end of the exhibition, I came across him and listened to his recording on the Last Supper. It was so beautiful. I emerged in tears and asked him, "how did it get from that to all of this?", looking out at the stalls and the stuff. I like to think that he understood.

Such a disheartening day but it matters to see through and beneath. There are so many beautiful people in Christianity, just as in all religions, so many activists working for change; to stop the war, to speak out for the fallen through (and without ramming religion down their necks at the same time), to provide belonging and comfort in, what for many is, a cold world. It is after all a radical, revolutionary spirituality from its very beginnings. It deserves so much better than the Christian Resources Exhibition.

Christ have mercy indeed.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Walking With Grenfell ~ a Silence Louder Than Words

Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~

On the 14th of every month since the Grenfell fire the community of North Kensington have been holding a silent walk to show unity in the face of tragedy and to ensure that the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, and those who loved them, aren’t forgotten. We do so easily forget. The news moves on and something else takes out attention. We think that someone else is ‘dealing with it’; the Inquiry has begun, much money was raised and so surely the survivors have been rehoused (they haven’t been and there is some question about where the money has gone). But we would do well not to forget, because Grenfell was the worst fire disaster on our soil since the Blitz, and the community around Grenfell isn’t going to go away until they see justice done. They invite anyone of good heart to join with them, knowing that they can’t do it alone. Community. Come Unity.

Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~

They say…

“As the months go on, we grow stronger and stronger. This will not stop and we will carry on being united by such tragic events. Please come and join us on the 14th of every month and walk in silence to remember those who are sadly no longer with us.

We can not fight this alone, we are more powerful together.”

Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~

And so, on the day that our nine days of Novena prayers for Grenfell ended, my friend Jennifer and I went to join the silent walk in community and solidarity. This month the 14th fell on a Saturday so there was a real push to encourage people to come along. It is hard to. I felt that we were intruding on people who have been so brutalised by intrusion already, not just by uncaring bureaucracy before the fire happened, and then by the fire itself, but also by the large numbers of ‘grief tourists’ who have gone to Grenfell to take photographs and, even worse, ‘selfies’; so much so that local residents have attached signs to the barriers surrounding the tower asking them to stop. At the end of September a Chinese tourguide was sent back to China and a driver suspended when they took a coach full of Chinese tourists to Grenfell to take photographs of the tower. I found it very hard to go there without feeling that I was doing the same, especially as we got lost on the London Underground on the way there, and again when we arrived at Latimer Road. And so we had to keep stopping people and asking, “Do you know the way to Grenfell Tower?” Only one person was obviously suspicious of our motives; a young man who, when we asked, gave an exasperated sort of a smile, “Why are you asking? Are you residents?” When we had explained he was lovely but it can’t be easy living in the shadow of a tragedy that people have made into a holiday destination before all of the dead are even buried.

But it was in the getting lost that, for me, the blessing and the kindness came. We wandered for an hour, unable to find the walk (it was silent after all) or Grenfell Tower. When we did ask someone it happened to be someone who worked there as a security guard. He gave us directions. We immediately went wrong in the dark. We explained to a teenager that we were lost and he told us that we had gone in completely the wrong direction and kindly took us across the road where we could see the tower back the way that we’d come and he could give us further directions. He didn’t have to do that. I thought that he was an angel, but there were many angels around Grenfell that night.

Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~

And, even though we were lost in the dark, I was glad that we weren’t there on a day with sunshine and a blue sky. I can’t imagine how it must be to see that blackened husk of a building in the light, day after day, how it must be for a community of people to see the place where their friends and loved ones died because no one cared quite enough to make them safe. In the dark it was just a shape against the night; you couldn't see that it had burned, and even then every time I have seen a block of flats since I superimpose Grenfell onto it. And the dark did another thing. It let us see those leafy, quiet little streets as they would have been that night. It is Kensington, even if it is North Kensington, and, apart from the few tower blocks and the maze of little estates, it feels as though people who are well off live there or near by. A woman driving a new looking Range Rover stopped for us so that we could cross the road. That was kind but it made me feel just a little bit ill. And the narrow, curving, streets that seem to all come back in on each other until you don’t know where you are, are lined with parked cars. Grenfell seems to be in the middle of all that. How would the fire engines have gotten through?

And the other effect of walking round and round in the dark, later finding that we were circling both the silent walk and the tower, is that thinking of it now I have the feeling that we were spiraling into sacred space, as you do when you enter a Hindu temple, or our own stone circles, or the caves that our ancestors would crawl in to leave hand prints in the dark as a prayer. You aren’t meant to see the centre until you have made your journey, paid your respects, earned it. It isn’t supposed to be easy. This is a holy and hallowed place. The dead awaiting justice are there and there are people on the street weeping.

Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~

We had almost given up when another angel appeared out of the dark, and we knew that she was one because she was holding a sign with a pair of shiny red angel wings pasted onto it, lit by fairy lights. And she was wearing denim hot pants at, what some foolish people would say, was an unseemly age for such clothing. Only angels do that. She saw my friend’s pink rose, brought from her South London garden to leave as an offering, and asked whether we were on the walk. We said no but we had been trying to find it. She told us that her friends were on it and seemed to have hope that she could find them. She scampered away at some speed, turning at one point to call, “I only stopped you because you had the flower!”, and we tumbled after her as best we could, despite our by then aching legs. At the end of the next road she saw some policemen and it turned out that they were blocking the junction because the silent walk was slowly moving along it. We had been walking with them but one street along. Our angel disappeared before I even had a chance to see her go, and my friend and I joined the end of the walk for the last fifteen minutes or so. The silence was full of meaning, speaking louder than words ever could.

Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~

We made our way very slowly in silence to the Westway, an urban flyover carrying the A40 into London. On the way we passed memorial after memorial, names, faces that I recognised from media reports; real enough before but now so much more so. There were Bible verses written on the concrete, “Blessed are those who mourn”, and, I think, verses from the Quran, which I was sad not to be able to understand. There were candles burning everywhere and, on a concrete pillar, the most beautiful and intricate image of Mary in prayer. If Our Lady of Sorrows is needed anywhere it is there. There seemed to be memorials along every fence, every lamppost topped with a huge green heart with ‘Grenfell’ written in the centre. Signs of bent willow and paper; ‘Come Unity’. We walked with people on crutches and in wheelchairs, people carrying children, and all completely silent. In solidarity.

Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~

And then the Westway. Under the flyover the community have created a wonder; somewhere for the displaced of Grenfell to go, when the authorities would have them scattered. On the huge concrete 'Wall of Truth', the ‘People’s Public Inquest’; a place to gather evidence, write testimonies, share what happened on that terrible night, piece it together. 

Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~

Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~
Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~

We gathered and we were thanked for being there. There was a minute’s silence, and then a minute’s wild applause and cheering for the lost. The sound was shocking and more moving than I can explain. The sound got louder and louder in waves as we sent love and respect to the dead. And then it was over and that was right. It was the walking that was the prayer and the call for justice, the silence and the waves of sound. There was nothing more to say, not then.

The crowd began to move away and then we saw the extent of what has been made; not just a wall and a memorial but a home, or it felt like one to me; I saw the word ‘Phoenix’ written here and there, a community risen from the ashes of the fire, supporting one another. There are wooden benches and comfy sofas, all made into intimate little areas so that there can be sharing in, what might feel almost like, the living rooms that the survivors of Grenfell once sat in in their high tower. There is a book exchange, board games, people feeding the homeless and refusing to accept money. It is a testament to all that is good in humanity, what we can be, and what we can be for each other, when everything falls down. 

Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~
Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~
Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~

There must be justice for the people of Grenfell and for their community. There are fears that the Public Inquiry, which many feel isn’t truly independent from the Government whose policies are implicated in creating the conditions that allowed the Grenfell Fire to happen, will never reveal the truth of what happened that night, or what led up to it. That the rich and the powerful will win again, and that the poor, the invisible, will lose...again. But what the people of the Grenfell community perhaps can’t see yet is that, in their pheonix rising from the ashes, in their keeping together what was torn apart, in their refusing to stop caring and loving and seeing what’s real, in their inviting in when they would have every reason to close down, build walls, they have already won.

Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~
Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~
Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~

Silent walks to honour the dead and the survivors of the Grenfell fire, to express solidarity for their families and their community, and to continue the fight for justice, will continue every 14th of the month at 6.30pm. The walk gathers outside Notting Hill Methodist Church at 240 Lancaster Road, London, W11 4AH. The community have asked for as many people as possible to come and walk with them in silence, because the silence will be heard. Alone, they will become invisible. It is growing in numbers each month and I know that it would mean a lot to them if that growth continued. Please do think about joining them if you can. It matters. If you are unable to be there on the night please think about holding your own silent vigil, with others or alone, publicly or at home, and send photos and/or messages to the Grenfell community on the Silent Walk Facebook page at . It will show them, and the people responsible who need to know that we won't forget, that we care. 

No justice, no peace. 

Thank you so much to Natasha Quarmby for allowing me to use here photos here. You can find more of her wonderful photographs here

Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~
Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~
Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~

Photo: Natasha Quarmby Photography, used with kind permission ~

Friday, 13 October 2017

Novena for the Fallen Through ~ our ninth prayer for the people of Grenfell

Here is the ninth, and so the last, of our Novenas for the Fallen Through, which for this month are devoted to Brigid and to seeking justice and healing for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. If you would like to read more about this work please pop and have a look here.

Today we weave a prayer of return and of coming home.

I have written before about Brigid’s triple fires; of poetry (inspiration), smithcraft (the forge of transformation), and of the fire which we will light in our prayer today; that of hearth and home.

The hearth is at the centre of all human activity, or once was, and I have written before about our loss of connection to Fire. Scottish writer and poet, William Sharp (1855 - 1905) wrote of Brigid that she is the one, “whom the druids hold in honour as a torchbearer of the eternal light, a Daughter of the Morning, who held sunrise in one hand as a little yellow flame, and in the other held the red flower of fire without which man would be as the beasts who live in caves and holes..” It is fire which in so many ways makes us human and Brigid is at the centre of that fire.

On her feast day of Imbolc/Candlemas, which falls on February 1st, several traditional crafts dedicated to Brigid are undertaken. On Imbolc eve families would have a special supper, setting some food aside to be offered to Brigid. She would then be symbolically invited into the house and a bed would be made for her. This was a small basket, often woven from gathered rushes, which would be made comfortable and the previous year’s ‘Bridie doll’ or corn dolly placed in it, often dressed in white and decorated with ribbons. It would then be placed by the fire. Brigid’s crosses might also be made, again from rushes, and then hung in the home, over doors, windows, and stables, to protect it from fire and lightning. Before going to bed, people would leave items of clothing or pieces of cloth for Brigid to bless as she went by. The ashes of the fire would then be raked smooth and, in the morning, were carefully examined for signs that Bride had come in. The cloth would then be brought inside and used for protection and healing throughout the coming year.

I will sain and smoor the hearth
As Brigid would sain and smoor.
The encompassment of Brigid
on the fire and on the floor,
and on the household all.

Who is on the land around us?
Brigid and her daughters.
The fire in the poet’s head.
The tongue of truth aflame.
Grandmother spirits watching the hearth,
till white day comes to the fire. (1)

To attend the hearthfire throughout the year was a sacred task, most often performed by the ‘bean a tighe’ (the ‘woman of the house’), who would kindle the fire each day, and then smoor the fire, banking it down each night to be rekindled in the morning, and all with prayers and blessings. Both family and community were considered extensions of the hearth; the centre of everything was the home, and in the centre of the home, the fire, and in the centre of the fire, Brigid. This is true relationship with fire. I have often wondered in the months since the Grenfell fire how our loss of that relationship might have contributed to it becoming such a force of destruction, rather than a friend to warm the heart of our lives and families. Even so, even in the case of Grenfell, the fire, like Brigid’s, has most certainly brought transformation and revealed much that was hidden.

(Brigid by Jo Jayson ~

And ‘home’ is such a rich and deep word.

It is a noun:
  • a house, or other shelter, which is the usual residence of a person, family, or household.
  • the place in which one’s domestic affections are centred.
  • the dwelling place or retreat of an animal.
  • a person’s native place or home country.

An adjective:
  • of, or relating to, one’s home or country; domestic, ie: domestic GDP.
  • reaching the mark aimed at; a home thrust.

An adverb:
  • to, toward, or at, home.
  • deep, to the heart, ie: “she drove the point home.”

And a verb:
  • homed, homing: to go or return home.
  • to have a home. (2)

Such worlds held within these meanings, such longing, so many fierce battles for land and ownership, so much pain, and so much comfort and belonging. And in the sound of the words on the lips, and their meaning in the heart, Brigid.

Many victims of the Grenfell fire had chosen, or been forced by circumstances to leave their ‘native place’ and make a home on our soil, which can never be easy. Still others were born here, knew this place as their only home, learned what it means to welcome, or struggled with welcome as humans sometimes do. I am sure that some had lived in the tower since it was built in 1974. It was the place where many people’s ‘domestic affections’ were centred. Nevertheless, concerns had been raised by residents for many years about the risk of fire within the building. I know from personal experience how it feels to lie every night in a place that feels vulnerable to fire, and not to dare speak for fear of being made homeless. That is not an environment in which it’s easy to feel at home and yet, for the people of Grenfell, it feels that the sense of community made it so.

On the night of the fire Steve Power, who lived on the 14th floor, refused to leave his two bull terriers, 21 year old, Yasin El Wahabi, is said to have run inside hoping to help his family. Neither survived. Many are reported to have stayed and died with the people they loved, rather than get to safety alone, and many were making phone calls to their families, telling them that they loved them, saying goodbye, as smoke came under their doors. Because ‘home’ is about more than walls and windows and doors; it is held deep, in the heart.

On the night of the fire many of the survivors lost everything that they owned and have been forced to start again. Most still remain in emergency accommodation. In September, Communities Secretary, Savid Javid, said that 196 families from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk are still waiting for a new home. Some have accepted offers of temporary accommodation and others, not wishing to face the upheaval of moving twice, are waiting for a permanent home to become available. There are fears that many will be rehoused miles from their community and support system.

Novena for the Fallen Through ~

Justice, healing, and wholeness for the people of Grenfell, and for us all.

This prayer begins with Fire.

Blessed Brigid,
Holy Woman,
Saint and Goddess,
Mother of Fire.

Brigid of the mantles,
Brigid of the peat heap,
Brigid of the twining hair,
Mary of the Gaels.

Brigid, Sacred Centre of Hearth and Heart,
we ask for a blessing on all our homes,
whatever ‘home’ might mean to each one of us.
We ask for those without a home,
or who have no sense of what a home is,
to find one and to settle with gentle ease,
for those who have found their dwelling place
to be held safely and securely,
to know home as a sanctuary and a place of peace.

We think of all those who are seeking home in lands not their own,
all who have been cast upon the sea, or make journeys across land,
hoping to find a safe resting place.
May they be protected, filled with hope,
and may that hope act as a beacon to draw them ever closer to refuge.

And may all who have settled on our shores find that this too
can be a home for them and for their families.

Blessed Brigid,
Holy Woman,
Saint and Goddess,
Mother of Fire.

Brigid of the mantles,
Brigid of the peat heap,
Brigid of the twining hair,
Mary of the Gaels.

We ask that all homes should be places of shelter,
warmed by your flame, by the memory of ancient peat fires,
of pots stirred and meals eaten, of love made, and laughter shared,
places were loneliness is softened, and prayers are woven,
and where we have the serenity and time to learn
that home means more than walls and a door.

We honour the memory of all the homes that were lost
to the Grenfell fire,
and we honour the people, the pets, the community,
and the place, that made them so.

In our prayer we remember the non-human people;
the cats and dogs, the birds and fish, the mice and hamsters,
rats, gerbils, and rabbits, who made Grenfell Tower a home
and who were lost to the fire.
And we remember the other beings; spiders, and rodents, green beings,
nesting birds, and others, who had made the Tower their home.
We ask for blessings for their journeys.

Blessed Brigid,
Holy Woman,
Saint and Goddess,
Mother of Fire.

Brigid of the mantles,
Brigid of the peat heap,
Brigid of the twining hair,
Mary of the Gaels.

We ask that all those made homeless by the Grenfell fire
are soon rehoused in places that can become a home again,
that they are offered choice and given power in the process,
and that they are given all the support they need to settle
where they can rest, and grieve, and heal, and rebuild all that was lost.

And may the remains of the Grenfell Tower, which was once a home to many,
be given the honour that their community would wish,
allowing the people a say in what unfolds in that place,
so that what was burned to ashes, blackened against blue sky,
becomes a prayer to what was mended, not to what was lost.

We ask this in memory of Mohammed Neda, Ali Yawar Jafari,
Karen Bernard, Lucas James, Rania Ibrahim and her daughters,
Fathia and Hania, Stefan Anthony Mills, Ligaya Moore.

We ask this in memory of Zainab Dean and her son, Jeremiah,
Khadija Saye and her mother, Mary Mendy, Gary Maunders,
Mohammad Alhajali, Hesham Rahman, Tony Disson, Sheila Smith.

We ask this in memory of Mariem Elgwahry and her mother, Suhar,
Jessica Urbano Ramirez, Deborah Lamprell, Steve Power,
Dennis Murphy, Amal Ahmedin and Amaya Tuccu, Isaac Paulos.

We ask this in memory of Marco Gottardi, and Gloria Trevisan,
Mohammed Nurdu, Fouzia el-Wahabi, her husband, Abdul Aziz,
Nur Huda and Mehdi, Yasin.

We ask this in memory of Nadia Loureda, Maria Del Pilar Burton,
Berkti Haftom and her son, Biruk, Nura Jamal, her husband, Hashim,
their children, Yahya, Firdaws, Yaqub, Kamru Miah.

We ask this in memory of Fatima Afrasehabi, her sister, Sakina,
Nadia Choucair, her husband, Baseem Choukair,
their children, Mierna, Fatima, Zainab,
their grandmother, Sirria, Raymond Bernard.

We ask this in memory of Majorie Vital and her son, Ernie,
Joseph Daniels, Logan Gomes, Khadija Khalloufi, Abdeslam Sebbar,
Fathia Ahmed and her son, Abufars Ibrahim. Of Omar Belkadi,
Farah Hamdan, Malak, Leena, and Tamzin who lived.
Of Mohamednur Tuccu, Husna and Rebaya Begum,
Mohammed Hanif, Mohammed Hamid, Vincent Chiejina, Hamid Kani,
a ‘woman’ unnamed, all the unnamed, the disappeared.

Goddess and Saint,
keening woman,
hearth tender,
sacred flame.

May all beings effected by the Grenfell fire,
whether living or dead, find peace,
and may none be held where they would not wish to be
by their names and faces being shared in the media,
online, by the demand for justice, or even by our prayers.
We ask that they be led home
and wish them open pathways.

Brigid, weaving woman, warp and weft,
we have offered prayers to the fires of
hope, respect, gratitude, inspiration,
welcome, truth, justice, and home,
and to the waters of healing.

We ask, with deep gratitude, that these prayers of fire burn brightly,
that these prayers of water flow sweetly,
as we let the threads go,
returning home to ourselves,
knowing that you have picked them up to be woven
into a beauty blanket for the people of Grenfell
and for us all.

Brigid, gold-red woman,
Brigid, flame and honeycomb,
Brigid, sun of womanhood,
Brigid, lead me home.

You are a branch in blossom,
You are a sheltering dome,
You are my bright, precious freedom,
Brigid, lead me home. (3)

This prayer ends with Fire. Let it be the Fire of Home.

For this we pray.

Aho mitake oyasin, amen, blessed be. Inshallah.

(Bride's Bed by The Mad Plaquer on Etsy ~


On Imbolc ~