Friday, 22 December 2017

Novena for the Fallen Through ~ our third prayer for Peace on Earth


Mari Lwyd image by Flying Viper on DeviantArt


It’s immoral for adults to use children in war.” ~ Child Soldiers International


Here is the third of our December Novenas for the Fallen Through, which for this month are devoted to Mary and Mari Lwyd and to Peace on Earth. If you would like to read more about this month’s novena you can read our first prayer here.

In our first Novena we lifted a prayer for peace in many aspects; the end of arms trading, for an end to loneliness and poverty, to the Boxing Day hunt and to driven grouse shooting, and for peace on the West Bank. As this cycle of prayers continues we will explore these themes in greater depth. In our second prayer we turned to homelessness and the growing number of people both sleeping rough and in temporary accommodation, recognising that those among us who are rootless, unsafe, without ground or a roof, or just poor in a world that is so rich (in ‘stuff’, rather than spirit), can so easily become prey. With this in mind, today’s prayer will be a heartfelt cry against the recruitment of children into the armed services, children who disproportionately come from working class and poor families.

Midwinter festivals, including Winter Solstice, Yule, and Christmas are so much about the rebirth of the light, as we journey through the shortest day and longest night to see the sun’s light begin to grow a little more each day. For those of us who celebrate Christmas we turn our minds and hearts to the birth of a baby, for some the ‘Light of the World’. It is the tenderest of stories in so many ways, filled with hope and joy; Mary, ‘meek and mild’, giving birth to her baby in a stable and laying him in a manger. And yet Mary was neither meek nor mild.

(Ben Wildflower. Find him on Etsy https://www.etsy.com/shop/BenWildflower)

In our first prayer I mentioned that Mary’s ‘Magnificat’, the longest set of words spoken by any woman in the New Testament’, is considered by many to be deeply subversive. The Magnificat was Mary’s spontaneous response to being declared ‘blessed’ by Elizabeth, who at that time was pregnant with John the Baptist. One might suggest that it was subversive enough for two such strong women to take centre stage in such deeply patriarchal times! But Mary’s song is not one of simple joy. It is threaded through with fear; the fear of a young girl, unmarried and pregnant at a time when to be so risked social ostracism and humiliation. Indeed, under Jewish law, she was at risk of stoning for adultery. And, in that context, she sings for hope, defiant in the face of danger. It is this defiance which caused the Magnificat to become a “radical resource for those seeking to honour the holy amongst the conflicts and suffering of real life.” (Rev. Carolyn Sharp). It has often become a source of strength for those on the margins who have struggled for liberation.

During British rule of India the Magnificat was banned from being sung in church. Dietrich Bonheoffer, who was executed by the Nazis in 1945 having worked for the German resistance movement, was deeply devoted to Mary. In a sermon given at Advent in 1933 he said,

“The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung.”

In Guatemala in the 1980s the Government banned its recitation considering it to be ‘too dangerous’. Mary sings of the ‘world turned upside down’, of a time when the “rulers will be brought down from their thrones”, “the humble will be lifted up”, and “filled with good things” as the “rich are sent away empty”. These are themes which often rise in our midwinter traditions. I have written before about the Mari Lwyd and our wassailing traditions allowing the sharing of resources from rich to poor, but we also have customs such as the ‘Lord of Misrule’, who was often a peasant chosen by lot to preside over Christmastide festivities ~ a reminder that the social hierarchy was maintained by consent, rather than by right. During Argentina’s ‘war’ against political dissidents, the ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’ placed Mary’s challenging words on posters all over the capital plaza and the display of her song was subsequently outlawed by the military junta. And, of course, Mary too understood the pain of the loss of a child.

And, even before the final scapegoating, she had to fight to keep him. The Sunday after Christmas is the ‘Feast of the Holy Innocents;, which commemorates the baby boys murdered in Herod’s desperation to rid himself of the threat to his Imperial power, causing the Holy family to gather up their newly born baby boy and take flight as refugees across the Sinai desert.

These are not tender stories filled with hope and joy. They are far too real for that and how they echo our own struggles to keep our lost baby boys alive. Some would challenge the historical accuracy of stories such as the ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ but I think that that is missing the point. We need only open a newspaper to see that this story is being relived in one form or another in our world everyday; in stairwells in South London, in refugee boats in the Mediterranean Sea, in our armed forces, innocents and innocence are dying over and over again. No wonder that the Star of Bethlehem broke into a thousand pieces.

('Child Soldier', Simon Rawles, https://simonrawles.photoshelter.com/image/I0000M120GOn9QtE)

In 1870, American poet and author, Julia Ward Howe, wrote ‘A Mother’s Day Proclamation’ calling for peace, and which includes the words..

Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

In Britain, 16 year olds can’t vote, drive a car, or drink alcohol, but they are able to join the army. No other country in Europe recruits at such a young age. Only 17 other countries in the world allow it, including Zambia, El Salvador, and Iran. The army insists that under 16s are not recruited and yet they host a website called ‘The Camouflage’ which is directed at 14 to 16 year olds. It includes pages entitled, ‘You Can Run But You Can’t Hide’, which asks us to imagine the “might of a metal-mashing javelin missile mangling a tank from 2km away”. It doesn’t mention of course that anyone might be in it. Other pages, such as ‘Bring Out the Big Guns and ‘How to be a Sniper’ tell us that the AS90 gun has “awesome stats” and can “target an area 19 miles away, destroying a 100m2 area with highly explosive shells. No wonder that its nickname is ‘The Nasty’.” A sergeant tells us that, “When they give the order, I press the fire button.” What more telling description of the ways of war than that? The ‘how to be a sniper’ page explains that a successful sniper must be a ‘master of concealment’. They make it sound like a game. When I read these pages I had to stop writing to weep for what we have done. Oh, and then there is the talk of how much money a 16 year old might hope to make…

Between January and October 2017 more than 19,000 under 18 year olds applied to join the army following the controversial ‘This is Belonging’ campaign, which was run in partnership with recruitment agency Capita and designed to attract young people from working class backgrounds. A spokesperson from the charity Child Soldiers International suggested that the army wanted young people to sign up because they are “more psychologically malleable” and so can be, “manipulated into unquestioning loyalty” and to, “submit unquestioningly to what they are told to do.” She also explained that, because these young people haven’t developed a ‘civilian identity’ of their own to return to when they leave the army, they struggle to reintegrate into society. It was noted that this campaign particularly targeted poorer working class areas in northern England, as well as Birmingham, Belfast, and Cardiff.

In addition, thousands of schools across the UK invite in the military. This despite the UN committee on the rights of the child informing the UK Government in June to “reconsider its active policy of recruitment of children into the armed forces and ensure the recruitment practices do not actively target persons under the age of 18 and ensure that military recruiters’ access to schools be strictly limited.”

The army claim that they visit schools in order to ‘forge a relationship with the society which they represent’. However, ForcesWatch, which seeks to challenge military presence in education, is sceptical saying that these visits, “market and drip-feed a lifestyle of opportunity and thrills”, pointing out that they santise and glamourise conflict, whilst focusing on adventure.

Although children can’t be deployed on the front line before the age of 18 there is evidence that those who are recruited from 16 are twice as likely to be killed when they do fight because they have been channelled into the more dangerous roles; more ‘exciting’ I suppose. There is also evidence that the military targets in particular schools in deprived areas and from where children from low-income families so often struggle to progress in life through academic means. Recruits must spend two years in college if they join up at 16 but receive a ‘military exemption’, which means that there is no guarantee that they will receive a good academic or vocational experience. In 2007, the head of the army’s recruitment strategy said, “It starts with a seven year old boy seeing a parachutist at an sir show and thinking, ‘that looks great’. From then the army is trying to build interest by drip, drip, drip.” But then what are the children of the poor for if not to work until they drop or fight in wars not of their own making?

(Child Soldier International)

Novena for the Fallen Through

Peace on Earth

Blessed Mari, Hallowed Mary,
Holy Mothers of Peace,
Sisters of Reconciliation,
Singers of the Mending Song.
We stand in solidarity with you at the gates of Birth
seeking Light in the luminous beauty of Darkness,
in the depths of winter cold.

With you, we follow the silver thread of starlit Hope,
in the midst of anguish and despair.
We seek a Revolution of Love.
We expect Justice. We speak for Peace.
We will not be shut out. We will be heard.
Room will be made.

We ask for nothing less than Peace on Earth.
We cling to the stubborn hope of light in the darkness.
We allow our waiting to become a prayer.

Mary, singer of wild songs, mother of the Light,
Mari, drummer of the wild hills, companion of Stars,
we ask for your help in the protection of our children,
called to war from a life of lack; of opportunity, of wealth, of meaning.
Kept poor to become prey.
We ask for power to come to the peaceful,
for love to come to the lost,
for hope to come to the hopeless,
for the military machine to be seen for what it is,
so often the vehicle of Colonial and Capitalist might
masquerading as good.

Blessed Mari, Hallowed Mary,
Holy Mothers of Peace,
Sisters of Reconciliation,
Singers of the Mending Song.
We stand in solidarity with you at the gates of Birth
seeking Light in the luminous beauty of Darkness,
in the depths of winter cold.

With you, we follow the silver thread of starlit Hope,
in the midst of anguish and despair.
We seek a Revolution of Love.
We expect Justice. We speak for Peace.
We will not be shut out. We will be heard.
Room will be made.

We ask for nothing less than Peace on Earth.
We cling to the stubborn hope of light in the darkness.
We allow our waiting to become a prayer.

Mary, singer of wild songs, mother of the Light,
Mari, drummer of the wild hills, companion of Stars,
We ask for other paths to be illuminated for our children,
for lanterns to lead their way to brighter futures
filled with possibility,
and for the marsh light, the will-o’-the-wisp, the ‘foolish fire’
of a military career not to tempt young travellers from safe trackways
in a life so often hard to negotiate for those without resources.

Let the false flame of the military dim,
the glamour of war tarnish,
be seen for what it is.
Let adventure come from lives lived wildly and well
in a world of peace.

And if this is truly the path that they wish to walk
let them choose older when they know who they are
and will not become someone else’s loaded gun.

Blessed Mari, Hallowed Mary,
Holy Mothers of Peace,
Sisters of Reconciliation,
Singers of the Mending Song.
We stand in solidarity with you at the gates of Birth
seeking Light in the luminous beauty of Darkness,
in the depths of winter cold.

With you, we follow the silver thread of starlit Hope,
in the midst of anguish and despair.
We seek a Revolution of Love.
We expect Justice. We speak for Peace.
We will not be shut out. We will be heard.
Room will be made.

We ask for nothing less than Peace on Earth.
We cling to the stubborn hope of light in the darkness.
We allow our waiting to become a prayer.

Mary, singer of wild songs, mother of the Light,
Mari, drummer of the wild hills, companion of Stars,
We pray for the day when the Feast of the Innocents
becomes truly that; a celebration of the child,
of the innocence of the young and the innocence in us all.

We pray for a time when our innocence is not taken
by the things we have seen and what we know.
When we need not stand guard to protect our babies
from the machine of war and greed
but can lean back and be supported by the sweet waters of life
knowing that they are safe to explore the world in freedom.

We pray for all those who have died in wars not of their making,
who have hoped to do good and been broken by what they have found,
who have seen through the lies and spoken out,
or who remain, silent or unseeing.

Let power come to the peaceful
and love to the lost.
No more children called to war.

We listen for the hoofbeat of the Mari Lwyd,
we listen for the revolutionary Magnificat of Mary,
we look to the Star fallen to earth, sing the Spirit in,
gather up the pieces of broken hope,
weave starshine in our hair,
stand with the saints with starlight at their brow,
knowing that we also shine.

Like all that is born, Sun and Son,
vulnerable and new in the midst of this deepest dark,
May we be undefended and undefeated,
bright with possibility and hope reborn.

Blessed Mari, Hallowed Mary,
Holy Mothers of Peace,
Sisters of Reconciliation,
Singers of the Mending Song.
We stand in solidarity with you at the gates of Birth
seeking Light in the luminous beauty of Darkness,
in the depths of winter cold.

With you, we follow the silver thread of starlit Hope,
in the midst of anguish and despair.
We seek a Revolution of Love.
We expect Justice. We speak for Peace.
We will not be shut out. We will be heard.
Room will be made.

We lift the third shard of a shattered star.
We hold the vision of a shining light
of protection around our children,
allow innocence to be reborn.
We allow the possibility of belonging,
of home, to sink into our bones.
We allow the wild hope of Peace on Earth to shine.
The lights are going on.

For this we pray.

Aho mitake oyasin, amen, blessed be. Inshallah.



References:











The recruitment of children into the armed forces ~

Army recruitment at 16 should stop ~ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22259982

Why do the British Armed Forces still allow 16-year-olds to enlist? ~ https://www.theguardian.com/uk/shortcuts/2013/apr/23/british-armed-forces-16-year-olds

Charity criticises British Army campaign to recruit under 18 year olds ~ https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/nov/29/charity-criticises-british-army-campaign-to-recruit-under-18s






‘A Mother’s Day Proclamation’ by Julia Ward Howe (1870) ~ http://themoderatevoice.com/a-mothers-day-proclamation/




Child Soldiers International ~ https://www.child-soldiers.org/

ForcesWatch: challenging military presence in education ~ https://www.forceswatch.net/






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