Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Novena for the Fallen Through ~ our sixth prayer for the people of Grenfell

Here is the sixth of our Novenas for the Fallen Through, which for this month are devoted to Brigid and to seeking justice and healing for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. If you would like to read more about this work please pop and have a look here.

Today we weave a prayer of respect for the poor and for immigrants and refugees, as many of the dead and displaced of Grenfell Tower might have identified, amongst so many other things, as belonging to one or more of these groups. Indeed, they have been spoken about in these terms, often less than kindly on both social media and in the press. Wound upon wound. Grief upon grief. It is not to be borne by anyone of good heart. Timothy Miller in his book ‘Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just’ says that, “The justice of a society is measured by how it treats those with no social power; the poor, the outcast, the immigrant, the poor, the homeless...God defends those with the least social and economic power and so should we.”

Them as can do has to do for them as can’t. And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.” (Terry Pratchett)

There are many stories of Brigid protecting the poor and caring for the stranger. The saint was famous for her generosity as a young girl, giving away all her possessions to the poor, including some of her father’s belongings. Because of that her father is said to have taken her to the court of the king to sell her. After arriving he left her looking after their carriage whilst he went to make arrangements. Whilst he was gone Brigid gave away his jewel-encrusted sword to a poor leper. Seeing her pure heart, the king refused to allow her to be sold and she returned home with her, hopefully chastened, father. On another occasion she is said to have helped a poor man who risked execution having accidentally killed the kings pet wolf in the forest. In this way, she was a great upholder of social justice towards the most despised in society. In another story, it is said that Brigid was given a gift of apples and sweet sloes. Soon after she went to a house of lepers and they begged her for the fruit, which she willingly gave them. The owner of the fruit trees who had given the gift was angry, saying that she had not given it to feed lepers, and Brigid made sure that the trees would not bear fruit in future. Another woman also gave her a gift of fruit, which was again shared with the lepers. This time the woman asked for a blessing for herself and her garden. This was given and a large tree in the garden provided double the amount of fruit from that time.

Brigid also provided good company for those who bravely set out on long journeys to new lands. It is believed that one of the reasons that she has continued to be held sacred as both goddess and saint, where tribal goddesses have fallen into obscurity, is that she wasn’t tied to a particular landscape. In this way she is universal and without borders, as many who seek better lives or who are migrate to gain refuge are also forced to be. Certainly the saint is said to have travelled widely and places named for her can be found in Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales. The goddess has much symbology in common with her Indian counterpart, Saraswati, and I have mentioned before that one of her many names, ‘breo-saighit’ comes from the Sanskrit for ‘fiery arrow’. She is sometimes thought to represent the survival of an ancient Indo-European dawn goddess. Brigid understands long journeys, and she understands the need to ‘change shape’ in order to fit in in a new land.


...and she led him down to the mudflats
by the red bridge at Blackfriar’s
over from St Bride’s, Brid
who turned water to beer in all Ireland,

and remembered her own, bog-
Irish come to drain the marsh,
to dyke and dam, shore up
Roman ditch and causeway

reclaiming land as yet unfit
for human habitation
Dirty Lane and Bandyleg
Walk, hovels and
churches torched by King Mob
rampant, and the secret Mass
House in Kent Street where the rats
rustled their prayers like parchment

fistful of Thames mud
let slip
and wash away…

(From ‘The Southwark Mysteries’ by John Constable)

Grenfell Tower housed some of the poorest of London in one of the richest areas. There have been numerous reports suggesting that the reason dangerous cladding was erected on the outside of the building was to make it more palatable to the eyes of the well off.

One of the first people to be named as a victim of the fire was a Syrian refugee, Mohammed Alhajali, who had made a dangerous crossing by sea to find safety in Britain. In a Guardian report, journalist Nesrine Malik writes of the community that gathered on the night of the fire;

It was impossible to look at them and not see the obvious: they were, overwhelmingly, Arab, Muslim or African. They were European migrants, black British, refugees from the developing world – some of them second generation – and asylum seekers, sharing the tower with the poor, white working class of London. It was impossible to listen to the languages spoken on the phone to loved ones and not hear that these people were those often filed as “other”. It was impossible to read the names of the dead and the missing and not see that they, or their parents, were displaced from elsewhere. The first victim named was a Syrian refugee, Mohammed al-Haj Ali. The list is now extending into a roll call of the marginalised, the maligned and the disenfranchised.
Walking through the streets of north Kensington as the media descended,it was impossible not to see the stark segregation of the victims from the infrastructure that surrounds them.”

It is also believed that some of the residents of Grenfell were ‘undocumentedmigrants’ and 'illegal subtenants'. I have seen some terrible comments on social media, referring to both undocumented and documented migrants, suggesting that we need not mourn their passing as they shouldn’t have been there in the first place and worse, ignoring all the reasons that there are for such a situation to exist; a situation which serves those in authority as much as anyone.

Since the fire a one year ‘immigration amnesty’ for undocumented residents has been declared. This followed concerns that many might not come forward to give evidence about that night for fear of deportation. BMELawyers4Grenfell have declared this amnesty a‘travesty’, providing no real protection and leaving residents open to immediate deportation at the end of the 12 month period. They are not aware of any resident who has taken up the Government’s offer. I can only imagine how it might be to have survived the Grenfell fire and to be worrying about deportation at the same time. JolyonMaugham QC, who has offered his services for free to the campaign for justice, believes that the Government was well aware that very few people at risk would accept their offer and that this was a cynical attempt to appear to be seeking evidence whilst actually preventing it from coming to light. He also said that there is evidence that vulnerable people who lost loved ones, possessions, and suffered injuries were not accessing state services for fear that their details would be passed on to Immigration Services.

All of these things are a sign of a society without true humanity.

Novena for the Fallen Through ~

Justice, healing, and wholeness for the people of Grenfell, and for us all.

This prayer begins with Fire.

Blessed Brigid,
Holy Woman,
Saint and Goddess,
Mother of Fire.

Brigid of the mantles,
Brigid of the peat heap,
Brigid of the twining hair,
Mary of the Gaels.

We thank you, Brigid, for the diversity of our society,
the cultures, languages, spiritualities, and ways of being
that we are gifted the opportunity to experience.
We come to you in sorrow for all the times
that we have not embraced this opportunity
as a gift and a blessing,
times when we have been afraid, unkind,
unseeing, uncaring, or allowed ourselves to become numb
to the brightness or suffering of those who we have felt
are not like us, who we have made ‘other’.

We ask to be shown how to truly love our neighbours as ourselves,
to not create false boundaries between ourselves and those around us
for reasons of race, gender, religion, sexuality, class, or status.
We ask to see through all divisions to the heart in each person,
and so to find the heart in ourselves and in our society.

Woman of long journeys and the sea that meets the shore,
we ask protection for those who have not yet reached our lands,
those who have cast themselves and their children upon the uncertain sea,
seeking safety and peace of mind on our ancient earth.
May they reach sanctuary unharmed and may we
be generous in sharing what we have,
knowing that charity and giving are not kindness, they are justice.

Blessed Brigid,
Holy Woman,
Saint and Goddess,
Mother of Fire.

Brigid of the mantles,
Brigid of the peat heap,
Brigid of the twining hair,
Mary of the Gaels.

We ask that these times of being broken open
help us to seek and to embrace the outcast in ourselves,
that we may truly empathise with the outcast other.
We pray that this growing acceptance touches
those in power and authority in our land,
helping, and forcing, them to make better and more just decisions
that effect the lives of migrants and refugees,
knowing that we are the ones who give them that authority
and taking responsibility for our own part
in perpetuating prejudice and injustice,
whether by speaking or not speaking,
doing or not doing,
seeing or turning away.

Blessed Brigid,
Holy Woman,
Saint and Goddess,
Mother of Fire.

Brigid of the mantles,
Brigid of the peat heap,
Brigid of the twining hair,
Mary of the Gaels.

We ask that any who have survived the Grenfell fire
but who are afraid to seek help, support, and comfort
be held in your powerful embrace,
and we hope, and pray, and pray again
that they find help somewhere and are given the space to heal,
that safety will become not something to hope for but to expect.
And we ask that people are no longer spoken of
as documented or undocumented,
reducing us all to marks on a page or on a computer screen,
whilst ignoring the beating heart and warmth of
the person who is hidden from our view by bureaucracy.

And we ask that the dead of Grenfell are remembered
for more than their immigration status, or their finances,
or for the way that they died
but for their smiles, the things and places and people they loved,
and the shape that they made on this sweet earth.
May they be offered radical welcome in the memory of this land.

We ask this in memory of Mohammed Neda, Ali Yawar Jafari,
Karen Bernard, Lucas James, Rania Ibrahim and her daughters,
Fathia and Hania, Stefan Anthony Mills, Ligaya Moore.

We ask this in memory of Zainab Dean and her son, Jeremiah,
Khadija Saye and her mother, Mary Mendy, Gary Maunders,
Mohammad Alhajali, Hesham Rahman, Tony Disson, Sheila Smith.

We ask this in memory of Mariem Elgwahry and her mother, Suhar,
Jessica Urbano Ramirez, Deborah Lamprell, Steve Power,
Dennis Murphy, Amal Ahmedin and Amaya Tuccu, Isaac Paulos.

We ask this in memory of Marco Gottardi, and Gloria Trevisan,
Mohammed Nurdu, Fouzia el-Wahabi, her husband, Abdul Aziz,
Nur Huda and Mehdi, Yasin.

We ask this in memory of Nadia Loureda, Maria Del Pilar Burton,
Berkti Haftom and her son, Biruk, Nura Jamal, her husband, Hashim,
their children, Yahya, Firdaws, Yaqub, Kamru Miah.

We ask this in memory of Fatima Afrasehabi, her sister, Sakina,
Nadia Choucair, her husband, Baseem Choukair, 
their children, Mierna, Fatima, Zainab, 
their grandmother, Sirria, Raymond Bernard.

We ask this in memory of Majorie Vital and her son, Ernie,
Joseph Daniels, Logan Gomes, Khadija Khalloufi, Abdeslam Sebbar,
Fathia Ahmed and her son, Abufars Ibrahim. Of Omar Belkadi,
Farah Hamdan, Malak, Leena, and Tamzin who lived.
Of Mohamednur Tuccu, Husna and Rebaya Begum,
Mohammed Hanif, Mohammed Hamid, Vincent Chiejina, Hamid Kani,
a ‘woman’ unnamed, all the unnamed, the disappeared.

Blessed Brigid,
Holy Woman,
Saint and Goddess,
Mother of Fire.

Brigid of the mantles,
Brigid of the peat heap,
Brigid of the twining hair,
Mary of the Gaels.

We thank you that we live in a land that contains so many cultures
making us as bright and colourful as a grandmother’s patchwork blanket.
We ask that all words of prejudice and hate
be carried away on the autumn breeze,
that none are allowed to take root in hearts and minds.
We ask that words of love and acceptance, of welcome and care,
are shared amongst us all, regardless of who we are or who we have been.
We ask to be taught to walk humbly, do justly, and love mercy,
and to have the strength and courage to speak out and to challenge
those who would live otherwise,
to each become a safe island in an uncertain sea
for any who feel unwelcome or afraid.

This prayer ends with Fire. Let it be the Fire of Welcome.

For this we pray.

Aho mitake oyasin, amen, blessed be. Inshallah.

Source: thejournal.ie Photo: Sam Boal

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