Oxford Three Faiths Encounter: Relating across Divides

The second Oxford Three Faiths encounter was held at St John’s College 1-7th April this year. Spirit of Peace collaborated with several other partners to facilitate this event. The theme this year was ‘Relating Across Divides’, looking at the different varieties and strands of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Differences within each faith can often be as sharp as differences between the three faiths. We also covered topics such as the conflict in Israel Palestine, mixed faith relationships and the rise of populism. The week afforded the opportunity to share in the worship of the three faiths which was a very rich experience.

As well as the important learning about each faith, it was clear from participants feedback that meeting together with people of other faiths and sharing deeply in a safe place was invaluable and nourishing. Various initiatives have been stimulated by the week which will foster greater community cohesion in different parts of the UK and we hope to report on these in the future. The planning team is now considering how to further the impact of these weeks in the coming years. If you would like to register interest in future Three Faiths events please email info@spiritofpeace.co.uk.

Ecclesiastical Movement for Good Awards

Our thanks to everyone who nominated Spirit of Peace for the Ecclesiastical Movement for Good Awards. The winners will be announced shortly and we look forward to letting you know the results.

Hope Flowers School, Bethlehem

UK Friends of Hope Flowers is pleased to be developing its contact and collaboration with other international supporters of Hope Flowers in Holland and the USA. We have recently been contacted by a UK School who are interested in linking with the Hope Flowers School for mutual support.

We are delighted to report that the British rock band Marillion is supporting the School. We would like to offer them huge thanks for raising donations and awareness of the school at some of their concerts. For more information please see: https://www.facebook.com/127213044033207/posts/2169106356510522

[Photo by Palden Jenkins]

Please do also look at the following website for information about the School https://hopeflowers.org/wp/ and if you would be interested in helping us supporting the School, please contact info@spiritofpeace.co.uk.

Spirit of Peace Community Bring & Share Supper in association with The Friendship Café

Gloucester and the “Compassionate Cities Initiative”

On Monday 24th September 2018 we explored the world wide Compassionate Cities Initiative and The Charter for Compassion, at our regular Bring and Share Supper.

We were delighted that local Councillor Said Handsdot joined us and opened the evening with encouraging words and lighting our peace candle. He asked us to keep in touch with any initiatives that might arise from this exploration.

 

SAID HANDSDOT: City Councillor for Barton & Tredworth Shadow Cabinet Member for Environment, Said has been a Councillor in the Barton and Tredworth ward of the City since 2010. He has been the Sheriff & Deputy Mayor of Gloucester twice.

Said says: “My ward is the most diverse community in Gloucester and I have lived here all my life. I am proud to be part of such a wonderful and vibrant community and it is an honour to represent you as a local Councillor.”

The Charter for Compassion (CfC) is a global movement that transcends religious, ideological and national differences, founded by Karen Armstrong, which works closely with 400 cities in over 50 countries to facilitate compassionate communities..

“I think the Compassionate Cities and Communities programme could help us to break down the divisions in our polarized world… A compassionate city is an uncomfortable city! A city that is uncomfortable when anyone is homeless or hungry. Uncomfortable if every child isn’t loved and given rich opportunities to grow and thrive. Uncomfortable when as a community we don’t treat our neighbours as we would wish to be treated.”

– Karen Armstrong, Founder of the global movement, The Charter for Compassion

Science and Spritiual Practices and How They Contribute to Human Flourishing

On Thursday 20th September 2018 Dr Rupert Sheldrake spoke at a meeting in Tunbridge Wells addressing the above topic. During the talk Dr Sheldrake referenced the mounting evidence of the connection between spiritual practices, health and well-being.

Rupert has been a Fellow of Clare College Cambridge, a Research Fellow of the Royal Society, and is currently Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California and of Schumacher College, Devon. He has written 12 books including “The Science Delusion” and his latest book “Science and Spiritual Practices”

Rupert gave a very well received talk covering several of the spiritual practices presented in his book “Science and Spiritual Practices”. Please see the article below for more details of the talk.

SCIENCE VALIDATES SPIRITUAL PRACTICES

About 60 filled the hall to hear biologist, author and practising Anglican Rupert Sheldrake, currently Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences In California, and of Schumacher College, Devon.

Dr. Sheldrake’s subject was Science and Spiritual Practices, drawing from his book of the same title, and another of his books The Science Delusion. He explained how science can authenticate spirituality by validating seven practices on which all religions are built and which are themselves more important than specific beliefs. These are meditation, gratitude, connecting with nature, respecting plants, rituals, singing and chanting, and pilgrimage. Many atheists now acknowledge religious and spiritual practices generally make people happier and healthier, as seen in the growth of atheist churches.

Time precluded expanding of them all, but he suggested ways we can explore these fields for ourselves. For example, gratitude can be expressed by simply saying grace before a meal. Meditation can alleviate many medical conditions and is increasingly available on the NHS. It can involve not only exploring the mind within, but potentially connect you with the Ultimate Mind, or the divine. Tourism can be a debased form of pilgrimage, but real value can be experienced by a simple days walk ending at a holy place, such as a cathedral, which symbolically links heaven and earth.

After the talk, Dr. Sheldrake fielded some searching questions from the floor. There was great interest in his views but some concern of his advocacy of using psychedelic drugs in carefully controlled circumstances. The lasting impression was however that this had been a most interesting and stimulating evening.

See also: www.sheldrake.org

– Report supplied by Stephen J. Greenhill

Spirit of Peace bring and share supper: Pizza evening and Certificate presentation

We were very pleased to welcome people to a very different ‘Bring and Share’ event at St James’ City Farm. The community farm was set up by the Friendship Café, and has been a wonderful resource for Gloucester and indeed was a hospitable venue for our Summer Celebration and Certificate Presentation (to Peace Ambassadors who furthered their Kingian nonviolence training with Spirit of Peace). It also drew in members of the local community who do not usually attend our events and it was suggested that we hold a similar event next year.

Bring and Share Supper: “If you sit very still”

The large hall of the Friendship Cafe in Gloucester, at the start of the evening of 12 March 2018, was packed with people and full of conversation and hugs of greeting. The draw for people was our speaker Marian Partington talking on the theme ‘Finding a voice for the unspeakable’.

In this case, ‘the unspeakable’ was what happened to Marian’s sister, Lucy. She, in her early twenties, had been coming home from visiting a friend and was never seen again. For over twenty years the family did not know what had happened to her. That was unspeakably terrible in itself, but what was to come was even worse. Lucy had been one of Fred and Rosemary West’s victims: abducted, tortured, raped, killed and dismembered, as had many other women been by this infamous couple.

Marian has written a book, If you sit very still, which tells the story of Marian’s journey in much more detail than she was able to give us in her talk. This journey took her through the not knowing of what had happened to her sister, to the horror of the first news of Lucy’s fate and then to Marian’s unfolding realisation that forgiveness was the only way through such an experience – the alternative being either to turn violent herself or to let what had happened corrode her inside.

It must have taken great courage for Marian to tell us her story, only a mile away from where Lucy had been murdered. Marian took us through key points in that healing journey. What came across strongly to me was the spiritual depth that had already begun in both Lucy and Marian before all this happened. Lucy had become a committed Catholic five weeks before she was abducted, and Marian became a Quaker five weeks before the news broke about what had happened to Lucy. It was, however, at a Buddhist retreat where Marian asked to be shown the way to forgiveness. She was then faced with her own murderous rage and so began her journey to compassion for herself and eventually for Rosemary West as well. Marian said that she has come to see that Lucy’s crucifixion has been her own very slow resurrection. She spoke of grace, the people who came along during this journey that made it just bearable, the support that came, both spiritual and human.

This was not an easy talk to listen to. Marian did not pull her punches about what had happened to Lucy, and how it affected, and still affects her. Yet her early vow that good should come out of what had happened made the story bearable: because much good has come. Marian is a speaker and facilitator with The Forgiveness Project, https:// www.theforgivenessproject.com/marian-partington, telling her story and sharing with others: giving a voice to the unspeakable.

Both Lucy and Marian had always loved words, and Marian has found writing to be enormously therapeutic in her journey – both for herself and in writing her book. She has also written articles to raise awareness of dealing with such complex situations as her own. (Stories of horror, in different forms, are sadly never far away.)

After this moving talk we were asked to form small groups to address three questions, all of which asked how people could be enabled to share their unspeakable stories with others. Marian is very clear that we all share in shame, guilt, rage and any number of strong destructive emotions (as well as the constructive ones), and in coming to acknowledge them collectively we no longer make a false division between ‘baddies’ and ‘goodies’ and can grow into compassion first for ourselves, and then for others. That is the healing journey.

A former prisoner who had worked with Marian when he was in prison spoke movingly about the difference between the need for regret – and for restorative action of destructive acts where possible – and shame about oneself as an entire being. It was being able to share with other prisoners and discover that they were all experiencing similar feelings, though the details of their acts were different, that was so healing for him.

Members of the Grange Community, a home for adults with learning difficulties, contributed many times about the need for love, support and caring.

My observation was that the places where this kind of sharing can currently happen are most often in support groups for various life conditions/circumstances; mental hospitals, prisons, centres for the disabled, rehab centres and other establishments where people have been broken one way or another by what life can mete out upon us. But what happens to those people who are suffering in our society – perhaps most of us at certain times in our lives – who have no help in giving their unspeakable experiences a voice, and how might that be changed?

There are no easy answers, no ‘one size fits all’ solutions, but there is no doubt in my mind that Marian – and Jo Berry, who talked to us previously about her healing journey after her father was blown up in the Brighton bombing, and has worked together with the IRA bomber in peace and reconciliation – are doing vital and tremendous restorative work in our society, perhaps where it is most critically needed. And after Marian’s talking to us on 12 March, each person who was there will potentially go out into their world with a changed perspective, and a greater openness to both their own wounds and to the wounds of others. We may share our stories with those we already know or listen to someone in the supermarket queue in a way that transmits to them that we are safe to share with. As I always find at our gatherings, I came away feeling that, hideous though life can be, we can all do our small bit to transform our bad experiences into good ones, inspired by Marian’s example.

– Judy Clinton

Kingian non-violence training in the Forest of Dean

At the end of January Spirit of Peace worked with Internationally renowned Kingian trainer Dr. Yehoeshahfaht Ben Israel, to bring further elements of this training to members of the public and residents at The Grange in Newnham on Severn. This work was generously supported by the Barnwood Trust. Please see their website for news of the event and some beautiful photos!

http://www.barnwoodtrust.org/what-we-do/stories/peace-ambassadors-forest/

We are delighted to also be working with Dr. Ben Israel in Kent and we will bring you news of these events in a subsequent newsletter.

Awards for All Grant

We are very pleased to have been awarded a grant to continue the work in our programme, “Pathways for Human Flourishing”. This will enable us to take the programme to different areas, work with new partners and continue to develop the training.

This award is from Big Lottery Funding: https://www.biglotteryfund.org.uk

Darkness and Light

About 60 of us gathered together on the dark and dismal evening of 4th December, 2017 at the Friendship Cafe in Gloucester for another meeting of Spirit of Peace. The theme of our evening was, fittingly for this time of year: darkness and light.

We were very pleased to have with us a large cohort of residents and their co-workers from the Grange Community at Newnham on Severn: a Steiner, Camphill Trust residential establishment: https://www.cvt.org.uk/communities/grange-village. We are familiar with this group of men and women as they have come many times before, bringing with them a wonderful enthusiasm and innocent directness. This time, eight of them had come to be awarded their bronze medals as Peace Ambassadors. Others from the community who had previously gone on to achieve their silver and gold medals were also there to support and encourage them.

After much exuberance, and awarding of medals, we all clapped at what had been achieved, and continued to munch away at our delicious shared food (always an integral and much enjoyed part of these gatherings) and conversed with people at our different tables. Every time I’ve been to the Spirit of Peace get-togethers I have met new people from many different faith traditions and walks of life. This was particularly true this time because we had nine people from different faith paths, who each gave a five-minute encapsulation of how their particular tradition informs and supports their experience of darkness and light.

We were blessed with contributions from Judaism, Methodism, Quakerism, the Christian Community, the Bahai faith, Paganism, Islam, Hinduism and Humanism. We also had a sharing sent by a Buddhist who was unable to be with us in person. Humanism, at first sight, seemed to be ‘the odd one out’ in these sharings as Humanists are not a religious or spiritual group as they believe solely in human capacity and the scientific outlook on life, but their contribution was highly valued.

Although the imagery and wording used by each contributor were different and in some cases very different, there was a strong underlying feeling of commonality. All representatives expressed ways of understanding and coming to terms with the nature of life containing both light and darkness, and how the one is dependent upon the other. There was a universal soul-felt yearning for goodness, love and caring to prevail over the forces of darkness, which nonetheless are an integral, and it would seem necessary, part of our human condition.

I always find our two-hourly meetings inspiring, thought-provoking and containing. They leave me wanting more frequent and ongoing inputs and sharing of such a universal spiritual nature. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way.

I conclude with a verse by Rudolf Steiner that was performed for us by a group from the Grange Community:

In the Heart there weaves the feeling
In the Head there lights up thinking
In the Limbs works strength of will
Weaving of Radiant light
Strength of the weaving
Light of the surging strength
Lo, Here am I.

– Judy Clinton, 26.09.17

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