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