Refugees - We are all connected in Spirit

“Refugees - We are all connected in Spirit” 

Brigid Benson, 11.10.2020, 10:30am on Zoom 

Opening Music Paraguayan Harp Vol 1 - Track ‘Camino Sinuoso’ 2min17

Opening words of welcome, Chalice Lighting, Mark to set scene

Brigid brief intro

Candles of Joy and Concern – Mark and Karl

HYMN – When I needed a neighbour

BB Reflection on Refugees – we are all connected in spirit

Subtitle – You are Therefore I Am – Satish Kumar

From time immemorial, humans have wandered the globe, the earliest groups were certainly nomadic hunter-gatherers who claimed no territory. With the development of farming, tools humans became more settled, established territory, more sophisticated family relationships & hierarchies. With more children, longer life expectancy & aristocratic dynasties, they sought to expand their dominions, fight off competing groups. With Iron came weapons & Wars which changed boundaries, new countries established, formed & reformed. The UK did experience invasion but since the Norman Conquest, has not experienced the turmoil & changes that other countries have known. 

Even the idea of a passport was invented in the 15thC, only introduced in the US in the 18thC. With the industrial revolution, railways and tourism, people travelled widely for work as well as the wealthy to explore, travel documents were considered unnecessary, a bureaucratic nuisance. First France then other European countries gradually abandoned passports. 

It was sadly the advent of the First World War in 1914 that re imposed passports & visas, and it is sadly war & conflict that has led to so many refugees today. Climate Change, the struggle over dwindling resources such as water, Territorial & religious strife, along with weapons of mass destruction, have led to so many displaced people. There are now more refugees in the world today than ever before. The vast majority, Millions are in camps far away from us. In terrible conditions, in some of the poorest countries who did not cause the wars nor supply the arms & bombs that destroyed their communities & killed their families. 

The UK has for centuries been a country of refuge for those fleeing persecution such as Huguenots, Jewish people or economic salvation. I myself am a quarter Irish, my paternal grandfather emigrated to the UK early in the 20th C to seek a better life. The legacy of the Irish Famine still alive, poverty & inadequate medical care contributing to the early death of his mother in childbirth and other family members young. our Family Bible going back to 1831, testifies to this. 

Since then in the 20th C, world & UK population growth, along with unemployment & inequality, have no doubt put a strain on systems that kind of worked before & people adapted everywhere. Amidst this we need to recall that the numbers of asylum seekers and refugees currently trying to reach the UK eg from Calais, are minute, tiny, compared to the much larger numbers arriving in the Mediterranean – Greece & Italy. 

Today I am reflecting on what do we do with this information, I don’t mean politically or in practical detail. I mean emotionally and spiritually. What are we to make of this suffering? Some ignore it, play the blame game, pull up the drawbridge. Clearly Refugees cannot & do not all aspire to reach the UK, many stay close to & yearn to return to their old homes, villages & communities, for many that will be impossible. 

As Unitarians, who believe that we have all have the light within, all humans then, that should lead us towards compassion for those in need including asylum seekers & refugees. Even if we cannot help all, cannot solve the complex economic & conflict situations, this light should guide us towards a sympathetic attitude which leads to action towards those who have had to flee or leave their homes because they could not survive there or live securely, from wherever or for whatever reason. This approach, this deep spiritual feeling, led the Quakers to form Quaker Peace & Service, to punch above their weight, in a very quiet way! Accomplishing much more than their modest numbers would seem possible. This draws us close to the Buddhist way, the compassion that draws us towards helping others. The Delai Lama has written much and powerfully about this, compassion in action and much more clearly & insistently than in his younger years. That meditation & compassion are not an end in themselves but a way to become more human, more connected with ourselves as well as others, that we may act in the world. Liberation theology & the humanist way take us to the same place. 

From a young age, I always felt that humans even far away were connected to me. Maybe it started with watching on a black & white TV at my grandmothers, David Attenborough’s programs in Paraguay, the thrill of the opening music, the Paraguayan harp (that we played at the beginning of our service) before seeing the tribes and their amazing natural tropical habitat. And maybe it was partly recalling my mother crying in the kitchen as she read a Penguin paperback, with no photos or images, which related how, in 1948 in order to create Israel, Palestinians were expelled from their lands, killed, villages destroyed and many sent to giant refugee camps in Jordan & Syria. In 2009 when I visited Syria. those camps were still there. Yet my mother was, like my extended family, horrified by the Holocaust & immensely sympathetic to the plight of Jewish people & survivors after WW11. 

So there are no easy answers but all I know is that when I first encountered asylum seekers in London in 1973, fleeing arrest, torture & certain incarceration & death in Chile, I offered to translate & interpret using my rudimentary Spanish learnt in school. What testimonies I heard, what courageous people who loved their country, many teachers, actors, musicians. The widow of Victor Jarra, and what wonderful music they brought with them. Little known in the UK before, including Isabel Parra singing her mother’s song ‘Gracias a la Vida’ – thank you to life which has given me so much’ which we will play at the end of this service today. Since then I have met and translated, given accommodation to asylum seekers, refugees from Argentina, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Syria – I don’t speak Arabic. 

I am not & I never feel alone – there are thousands of people who give up & risk much more than me. Others donate, volunteer and no doubt many of you too, we are not always enough to change the course of history but at least to make a difference. In Bristol, City of Sanctuary, we are fortunate that there was so many caring people & organisations, many voluntary who try to provide help and understanding. Many of those people also help local people in need, not only refugees. Every year, pre Covid, there are festivals & events which showcase the music & cultures of many refugee communities. These events are joyful, uplifting, remind us of the pleasures of sharing what we have with others, who enrich our lives, remind us that we are indeed all connected in spirit. 

Music & Meditation (5 mins duration of song)

‘Adam’s Lullaby’ by Natacha Atlas, singer songwriter of British & Egyptian/Palestinian descent, sung in Arabic. Words a chant which mean ‘Live, my son, live’ but Adam also metaphorical way to say ‘humanity’ in Arabic. 5mins 58

HYMN - Rainbow Song

Karl Stewart with Mark Stewart (October 2020)

We are the true colours of faith.

We welcome you whoever you area.

O come and join the joyous feast today;

A place at the table for you.

O welcome you wanderer, come,

And find yourself amongst true kindred souls.

O join the celebration with us today;

A place at the table for you.

O God of love, sacred, divine.

We welcome here all the colours of love:

The red, the yellow, green, the mauve, pink and blue;

A place at the table for you.

We join here in diversity.

We reconcile all our doubts and our fears.

We are one human kind in hunger and thirst;

A place at the table for you.

We join in this place today.

We welcome here every colour and creed.

The feast is here for all the world to share;

A place at the table for you.

Reading: Poem by Sudanese poet who recently drowned in the Mediterranean, foresaw his own passing

Music –‘Cold Little Heart’ by Michael Kiwanuka. British born son of Ugandan parents, who escaped the Amin regime in 1970’s. 3min 30

Prayers – Mark - Based on the Loving Kindness ‘Metta Bhavana’ meditation

Prayers – Based on the Loving Kindness ‘Metta Bhavana’ meditation 

by Mark Stewart 

Watch the thoughts as they arise out of the darkness of your mind.

Watch as they arise, and then let them disappear again, back into the darkness,

Do not try to capture them or hold onto them.

If they are important, trust that they will arise again in due course.

And take a step back from your thoughts.

And take a step back from your thoughts.

They’re getting smaller, tiny waves breaking and falling away on the horizon of your conscience.

And take a step back,

Your thoughts now a tiny harmless dot in the far distance of your awareness.

And bring your focus to whatever you are feeling right now,

And hold it with soft hands,

And welcome it into the presence of your being.

In the first phase of this prayer, we are invited to take some moments for silent prayer for ourselves,

What do you need right now? Where are you hurting? What are you anticipating? What are you scared of?

Take a moment to offer your prayers of supplication and thanksgiving to the divine.

Now in the second phase of this prayer, we are invited to take some moments of silent prayer for those who we encounter regularly in our lives; those who we love and those who we can find it difficult to love.

What are their needs right now? Where are they hurting? What are they anticipating? What are they scared of?

Take a moment to offer your prayers of supplication and thanksgiving for them to the divine.

And now in the third phase of this prayer, we are invited to take some moments of silent prayer for this country, for our neighbourhoods, cities, and our nation.

What does our nation need right now? Where is it hurting? What are we anticipating? What are we scared of?

Take a moment to offer your prayers of supplication and thanksgiving for our nation to the divine.

And now in the last phase of this prayer, we are invited to take some moments of silent prayer for the world; the peoples, places and situations that may well be unknown, alien and foreign to us.

What does the world need right now? Where is it hurting? What is the world anticipating? What is it scared of?

Take a moment to offer your prayers of supplication and thanksgiving for the world to the divine.

Let us pray for healing and rescue for all beings who suffer in mind, body or spirit this moment, this hour, this day.


Refugee Tales - The Lorry Driver’s Tale - Mark

Abridged version of a Real Testimony

‘We aren’t at all like you. They keep us apart from you at the ferries & motorway services. In your life you will have more conversations with optimists & murderers, yet there are more of us than teachers, farmers & police combined. Our average age is 53, male, white, with bad backs, self medicating with bacon rolls.

When it comes to illegals, we know what the media won’t tell you. We catch them sneaking round the back of our trailers. We are the ones who have to drag them out of the space above the axles or in the shadows behind our backs, like a horror film. As long as their country is a nightmare and ours a dream, they’ll come in the night. But you are the ones who are sleepwalking.

On one trip, I had a co-driver, he would stand on the other side of the trailer and shoo the illegals away, while I filled up with diesel. Let’s call him Mr Hyde. We had a journalist along too, he’s famous but I’ll call him Clark Kent. He asks me ‘Do you feel sympathy?

Me ‘ You can’t, can you? We are the ones who get punished, when one of them stows away. An eight grand fine, with two strokes and you lose your licence.

We get to Calais, go through Customs, then almost into Dover & the three of us go to the lorry deck, ramp down, through the port, stop at the first Chippie van – First Plaice. Give money to Mr Hyde to fetch us fish n chips. I give him the manilla envelope with several hundred quid from the journalist’s paper for coming on board the truck with me and then he’s gone.

Clark Kent says ‘Christ, he’s not coming back, where is he from?’

I said ‘ Syria, most of them can pass for Italian.’

Clark Kent says, still astonished. ‘How many times have you done this? Do they pay you for doing that?

I reply ‘Enough times & no, You, journalist, you’re the first passenger I’ve taken a fee for. No, I don’t take any money. It’s different once you’ve seen their eyes, you realise if they can carry all that, maybe you can take some of the load. You might as well help, life’s over so fast.’

Reading from the Book of Ruth

Now it came to pass that there was a famine in the land of Judah. And a certain man of Bethlehem, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife Naomi and his two sons. Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. Then both sons and the father died; so Naomi survived her two sons and her husband.

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard that the Lord had visited Judah by giving them bread. Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house”.

And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.”

Then they lifted up their voices and wept; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and left, but Ruth clung to her.

And Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”

But Ruth said:

“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”

When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped her entreaties.

Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

And Ruth went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.

Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?”

So the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered and said, “It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. And Ruth said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house.”

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.”

So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favour in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”

HYMN – Brother, Sister let me serve you

Final Music (instead of closing blessing) – display English Words side-by side

‘Gracias a la Vida’ Version sung by Isabel Parra, daughter of Violeta Parra, Chilean composer/ musician & community inspiration until death 1966. Isabel Parra became a refugee after the military coup in Chile in 1973, living in France then Argentina, toured the UK and returned to Chile with restoration of democracy.
3 min 59

Gracias a la Vida translates “Thanks to life which has given me so much”.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.
Me dió dos luceros, que cuando los abro.
Perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco
Y en el alto cielo su fondo estrellado,
Y en las multitudes
El hombre que yo amo.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.
Me ha dado el sonido y el abecedario.
Con él las palabras que pienso y declaro,
“Madre,” “amigo,” “hermano,” y luz alumbrando
La ruta del alma del que estoy amando.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.
Me ha dado el oìdo que en todo su ancho
Graba noche y dìa grillos y canarios
Martillos, turbinas, ladrillos, chubascos
Y la voz tan tierna de mi bien amado.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.
Me diò el corazòn que agita su marco.
Cuando miro el fruto del cerebro humano,
Cuando miro al bueno tan lejos del malo.
Cuando miro el fondo de tus ojos claros.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.
Me ha dado la marcha de mis pies cansados.
Con ellos anduve ciudades y charcos,
Valles y desiertos, montañas y llanos,
Y la casa tuya, tu calle y tu patio.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.
Me ha dado la risa, me ha dado el llanto.
Asì yo distingo dicha de quebranto,
Los dos materiales que forman mi canto,
Y el canto de todos que es mi propio canto.

Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.

Thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me two beams of light, that when opened,
Can perfectly distinguish black from white
And in the sky above, her starry backdrop,
And from within the crowd
The man that I love.

Thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me sounds and the alphabet.
With them the words that I think and declare:
“Mother,” “Friend,” “Brother” and the light shining.
The route of the soul from which comes love.

Thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me an ear that, in all of its width
Records—night and day—crickets and canaries,
Hammers and turbines and bricks and storms,
And the tender voice of my beloved.

Thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me a heart, that causes my frame to shudder.
When I see the fruit of the human brain,
When I see good so far from bad,
When I see within the clarity of your eyes…

Thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me the ability to walk with my tired feet.
With them I have traversed cities and puddles
Valleys and deserts, mountains and plains
And your house, your street and your patio.

Thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me laughter and it gave me longing.
With them I distinguish happiness and pain—
The two materials from which my songs are formed,
And everyone’s song, which is my very song.

Thank you to life, which has given me so much.