A candle for Gaza
‘Still so sad for the children in Gaza.’
This is what one participant replied, when invited to say how they were at the start of our last session of ‘Whispers of Hope', a series of online early morning Advent gatherings. After saying this, she then brought a candle on screen, which was lit. She told us it had been lit from a candle in her parish, which in turn had been lit from a candle in a Church in Bethlehem. A powerful start to our final Advent early morning gathering.
A few years ago, a friend suggested I should offer some early morning gatherings to give busy people the chance to take some reflective space. And this year I took the plunge. Whispers of Hope, was an online gathering from 6.50 am- 7..20am for 3 Tues mornings during Advent. Six of us gathered from around Ireland and England: Cork, Kilkenny, Dublin, York and Donegal. Such an online gathering that would have barely been imaginable a few years ago, and now, thanks to the crash course the lockdowns gave us all in being online, it was relatively simple to arrange.
Each of our three morning gatherings followed the same pattern: All who came were invited to bring a candle and a blanket. Once people had arrived onscreen there was an invitation to everyone to say how they were. We then had a relaxation exercise followed by a guided meditation. The meditations all drew on the Active Hope process which aims to nourish and strengthen our ability to make a difference in the world.
Based on a book by environmental activist and philosopher, Joanna Macy Phd, and resilience specialist Dr. Chris Johnston, the Active Hope approach roots itself in gratitude, before turning to honour the pain we feel at what concerns us in the world. The focus shifts to what inspires us as we face that pain, and then turns to look at what we long for in relation to the concern, and where we feel drawn to make a contribution to that future. For each of our morning spaces together, those who gathered were invited to engage with these various stages, in conversation with the God they relate to, be that Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or another understanding of the Divine.
What transpired were some deep moments of silence and stillness, as people shared their connecting time together. Silence can always be powerful, but somehow when it’s shared – even online – it has a deeper quality. The connecting of this Active Hope approach, to each person's sense of God, appeared to work well. Those who came reported a ‘beautiful peaceful afterglow’, a ‘heartwarming sense of community’ and a ‘much needed experience of deep stillness’.
A few months earlier, the subject of creating a space for reflection during Advent had come up with some sea-swimming friends. We joked that what busy Mums needed in the run up to Christmas, was ‘ a bit of f*cking head space’. Somewhat irreverent, but in face of seemingly endless busy-ness at this time of year, it certainly seemed it might have spoken to a need.
An Advent Peace Walk, Shrove Head, Donegal - another Rewilding Faith Advent event - which was also based on the Active Hope process
Quiet time - a pause in silence at the top of Inishowen Head, on a recent Advent Peace Walk
Then Oct 7th, and all that has followed from that in Gaza, happened. The horror of what was unfolding there,- along with other ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and elsewhere - made looking only for peace at personal level during Advent, seem to be missing the point of Christmas somewhat. In creating spaces for reflection during Advent this year, I wanted to somehow look at peace for the world, along side peace for ourselves. The Active Hope approach offered one way of doing that: equipping ourselves with what we need to face our fears, and rooting any response we may feel called to make both with what inspires us, and what we long for.
For me personally, Advent has been a time of being offered a concrete further chance to act for future I long to see. In the midst of planning and hosting various Advent gatherings, a part-time job opportunity that I was interested in emerged. It involves work with migrant communities in Inishowen, in North Donegal, to support and empower them to meet their own needs, and to assist in making connections between the local community and their own. It's powerful work, and much needed after events of recent weeks in Ireland.. So I applied in my own 'a'ctive hope', and have recently found out I got the job. As we move into Christmas, I am grateful both for the chance to offer ‘Whispers of Hope’ to others, and for this new opportunity in ’24 to be involved in supporting hope, connection and understanding between communities in this beautiful part of the world.