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
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!
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.
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
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
The Spirit of Peace gatherings at the Friendship Cafe in Gloucester are always different one from another. In my experience though, there is always a wonderful underpinning pulse of love: a love that draws people together who, concerned about the state of the world, want to find ways to better it.
That pulse was present at the meeting on September 25th. Our numbers were reduced this time for some reason but small can be beautiful, and that's how it was as the evening unfolded.
We had a busy time, with many elements to consider, and much to discuss. We were treated to the presence of the Mock Mayor of Barton, who joined us in his full regalia and told us about the history of his position: the first ever Mock Mayor of Barton.
This was a playful contribution to the evening, but a serious one as well. Mark Cummings is a presenter at BBC Gloucestershire (6-9 am, meaning a 3.30 get up!). He is very much behind what Spirit of Peace is about. Later he talked to people with a view to using the material on radio in the weeks ahead. Connections, it's all about connections.
Heather-Jane Ozanne gave us an overview of what Spirit of Peace is involved in doing (much more detail is on the website), with a particular emphasis on Pathways for Human Flourishing. That was to be our main focus for the evening.
Taking a break to pile our plates with food - as ever, deliciously shared food - we settled down toaddress three questions:
What do I mean by human flourishing?
How do I know when I'm flourishing?
What stops me from flourishing?
We talked these questions through in small groups and provided words or phrases on post-it notes to pin on boards. These were then considered collectively. There was a marked contrast in energy between those things that contribute to flourishing, and those that stop it. Contributing factors lead to: expansion, positivity, collectivity, creativity, while blocking factors result in contraction, isolation, hopelessness and negativity.
We were then asked to tell our stories of ways in which people had contributed to human flourishing - for themselves and for others. These included: a severely disabled woman (in another area) who became the receiver of internet shopping for working people, thereby providing a service to the community and giving her human contact; a volunteer at a doctors' surgery who is the gatekeeper for the car park - thus helping the surgery and patients, and providing contact and friendships with the local community for himself and others; an initiative at a local church bringing people together to 'Share the things we love'; community jam-making started by a wheelchair bound woman who, seeing children throwing fruit around, thought making something with it would be more constructive and enjoyable; a group of engineers who come together to find easier ways for disabled people to function; and perhaps the story that touched us most was told by a young boy with us about the cake stall in which he had been involved at school to raise money for a cancer charity. All of these stories showed what a big difference little things can make in terms of connection, developing friendships, and human flourishing.
Next we considered what groups we belong to and what we contribute to them which helps them to flourish. A crucial question was posed: 'What is mine to do?' This applied to us within our existing communities and within Spirit of Peace. I felt the question both helped to identify what is possible, whilst at the same time reminding us that we do have a responsibility for that with which we engage, however small.
We went on to brainstorm how Spirit of Peace might develop in the future. Much enthusiasm was expressed for doing things together practically, as well as the suggestion to have a summer meeting at the city farm making use of the pizza oven.
The evening concluded contemplatively as some of us put peace messages on the peace tree and shared them with to us verbally.
For me, this gathering brought things right down to grassroots level and served to set me thinking very actively about what small part I could best play in my local area. The quote from Mahatma Gandhi at the bottom of the Spirit of Peace banner caught my eye and I thought, "Yes, this is what this is all about". His words are:
"With every true friendship we build more firmly the foundations on which the peace of the whole world rests."
Our next meeting will be on December 4, with the focus on light and darkness to reflect the season, and I'm sure it will be another time when collectively we can make a difference to our troubled world, one little bit at a time.
- Judy Clinton, 26.09.17
I always gain so much from the Spirit of Peace evenings at the Friendship Cafe in Gloucester. Over the years that this event has run, a fraternity has built amongst those who attend (a shifting population though it is) which carries an energy of great hope and possibility.
May 22nd was no exception. As well as eating wonderful food provided through a shared meal, and catching up with others on a similar wavelength, we were blessed by a most profound talk by a former Israeli soldier, Ben Yeger. He told the moving story of how he came to see that there are no 'Us and Them', no 'Enemy', but simply, US. The epiphany for him was when he found himself pointing his gun, at point-blank range, at a Palestinian prisoner whom he was guarding in a transit vehicle. He was instructed to shoot this man dead if he were to try to escape or became violent. Seeing the terrified state of this fellow human being, Ben knew that if he were to shoot him, he would also kill his own humanity. Mercifully, he did not have to shoot him and it lead to Ben leaving the army and to him becoming a Combatant for Peace (now the European representative for the organisation), along with other Israeli former soldiers and, even more impressively, with Palestinians of the same persuasion.
The talk was about Ben's personal journey and the work that is going on in Israel and Palestine in the direction of peace. It is painstaking, difficult, risky and slow work. I was filled with admiration for the courage and determination of those involved.
The focus was on Israel and Palestine, but the message was more universal than that. Who are our personal 'them'? Ben was keen to stress the importance of our own inner work in recognising how we all make 'them' out of other people. We need to become aware of this dynamic, question it, and work to overcome it. He was also keen to say that everyone is at the particular stage that they are in this regard and that we are in a process of change that cannot happen overnight.
It is daunting to know what an enormous and profound work this is. But it is also inspiring to see such wonderful efforts being made in the direction of peace and to know that we can make a significant contribution by who we become in our own lives, day by day.
- Judy Clinton
Visit of Ben Yeger from Combatants for Peace
On Monday 22nd May 2017 are delighted to be welcoming Ben Yeger from the organisation Combatants for Peace, to our Bring and Share community supper at Friendship Cafe, Chequers Bridge, Gloucester (see here for event details).
Ben is representing Combatants for Peace, which brings together Israeli and Palestinian ex-combatants to work towards peace. From the prism of his personal experience Ben will address the following question: Are we separate entities or intrinsically interconnected with all things and beings? Our education encourages a sense of separation of "Us from Them" in Human-to-Human, Human to Nature and Human to Spirit relationships. But is this true?
Ben grew up in Israel with the narrative that "I have an enemy who wants me destroyed, who I must fight, to protect myself." An ex-combatant in the Israeli army, over the last 9 years Ben has been working with the 'Enemy', exploring the possibility that everything is interconnected and interdependent and that this story isn't true. There is no "Them" - only "We". In this talk, he will share his personal story of how he came to this realization. He will also show a trailer for the film 'Disturbing the Peace' which focusses on the work of the ex-combatants. Ben Yeger is the European representative of Combatants for Peace (www.cfpeace.org) and Director of Moving Conflicts (www.movingconflicts.org). He was a TEDx speaker in Warwick in 2013 https://youtu.be/Qzvopt5gwtg
News of the Spirit of Peace Stroud Conversation
The listening conversation in Stroud is usually held every 3rd Monday of the month at The Christian Community, 7p.m for 7.30p.m till 9p.m. Snacks and drinks - as a bring and share - are offered before and after the meeting.
This group started a few years ago, after the visit of Spirit of Peace Partners Sheikh Ghassan Manasra and Ibrahim Issa of the Hope Flower school, when they came to Stroud and introduced to us their style of "conversation cafe". In these, people would come together, from all paths of spiritual beliefs or non, "just" out of a wish to meet, converse and understand 'the other'.
This inspired Larry Leighton and Malcolm Alsop to introduce such conversations regularly (for 7 years now ) and create together a warm circle attempting to truly listen together - to create a space - and let come, out of this quality what emerges. This living process strengthens our common humanity and makes us all appreciate our differences .It is not "pub chat" but rather deeper and reflective exchange. No one tryes to convert or persuade anyone else or to judge them.
Sometimes we have a theme, sometimes not but always a rich sharing developpes - listening in between the words - listening to the after image~ creating a vessal together for more Peace and Brotherliness in the world.
These evenings are warming, strengthening and inspiring helping us to stand in the world with more awareness, consciousness, courage and responsability.
Juliette Elgably-Leighton and Larry Leighton
For details of dates please see events section or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spirit of Peace Bring & Share Community Supper
Fair Shares - What's a Community Time Bank?
How you can be part of it?
Monday 10th October 2016
The Friendship Cafe, Chequers Bridge, Painswick Road,
Gloucester GL4 6PR
What are time banks and how do they fit into our world of community building and opportunity? The first "time bank" was started by Fair Shares in the UK around 18 years ago. Gloucestershire is part of that initiative and has always been at the forefront of the timebanking movement.
Starting at 7pm on Monday 10th October, Gloucester based Fair Shares Time Broker Reyaz Limalia is guest speaker at the next Spirit of Peace community Bring & Share Supper at The Friendship Cafe, Chequers Bridge on Painswick Road, Gloucester GL4 6PR
Reyaz says, "Timebanking is a tool that brings people together. They exchange their skills and experiences helping to build on the strengths of the community. Please come along and find out how we have developed timebanking in Gloucestershire and how it's affected the lives of those involved. We will also have time for questions and discussions".
The evening is organised by UK registered charity Spirit of Peace in partnership with the Friendship Cafe Community.
Contributions of vegetarian and alcohol free food and drink for the supper are much appreciated. Everyone is welcome.
Admission is free but donations supporting the ongoing local and international peace work of Spirit of Peace are appreciated.
For more information: Neesa Copple (local coordinator) Tel: 01453 759 689 or Mobile: 07837 403 854 or email email@example.com.
Spirit of Peace Community Meal at Friendship Cafe
23rd May 2016
We had another inspiring meeting at the Friendship Café. Members of the community of the Grange, Newnham on Severn, came to celebrate and share their 'gold award' as Peace Ambassadors. The process has taken three years, supported by the Asha centre and Spirit of Peace. The prevailing mood of the ceremony was one of great joy and celebration. Each member of the community stepped forward and talked passionately and often movingly about their journey towards their award and why they believe they are truly Peace Ambassadors.
"because I bring love to all I meet", said one
"because I see beauty in everything and everyone", said another
One just reached out her arms and embraced the whole room, a gesture that was far more eloquent than a thousand words.
For me, the most poignant was a woman who talked about her work to combat hate crime against those with learning disabilities. She and some friends from the community speak on the radio and go to schools in Stroud and Gloucester to talk about the personal impact such abuse has had on their self esteem and confidence. "It was so good to be heard" she said to me.
Civil-isation - It's all about respect..
We are delighted to share news from Civil-isation, a new initiative that aims to link like-minded people through the ethos of respect, shared values and celebrating diversity.
Founded on the fundamental right of all to the dignity of respect, click here to learn more and become an advocate for this important work.