Final blog entry as Poet-In-Residence for Council of Christians and JewsPosted Fri, 07/02/2021 - 11:07 by Katharine
This is my final blog entry as Poet-In-Residence for the CCJ, written in reflection on my attendance at the Transforming Intolerance conference held on 24th June. In keeping with the new times in which we find ourselves, it was a blended event, hosted with a core presence of people at St Ethelburga’s who pieced in the contributions via zoom of other participants.
St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace literally articulates the creativity of rebuilding in the aftermath of conflict. Its ancient church was a mere seven metres from the IRA bomb that destroyed not only the church but many nearby buildings in the 1993 Bishopsgate bombing. With real creativity and imagination, the remaining shell was incorporated into a single nave, with attached meeting rooms. Almost invisible in a line of glazed tower blocks, coffee shops and piazzas, the centre is entered through an iron wrought gate, which permits passers-by and visitors to catch a glimpse of a tranquil garden, heavy with the scent of roses, and beautifully tended. During the day I saw several people peer with curiosity and longing through the gate. My favourite location at the centre was the modestly named ‘tent, which in fact is a large yurt, whose padded walls and ceiling block out the noise of sirens, traffic, falling rain. Its seven sides reflect through visual iconography (a tree, a seed, a sun, a moon) different religions within the world – and their words for peace, which I have scattered through this blog.
The words we heard from presenters were brave, honest, compassionate and, at times, those of righteous anger. Others will, I am sure, say more about these. I thought also about the words that were unsaid, that trickled beneath the surface of the audible and visible communications. For a while in the garden, another attendee was a gentle collie-mix dog, who had been rescued from Romania’s recent intolerance of stray dogs, who are now at serious risk of being euthanized. She and I shared some wordless communication. I am not naturally a dog-lover, but I was keen to hear her story, voiced by her protector, and I thought of all the shepherds and their dogs, and the work that is done to guard and keep safe.
One of the poems created in response to my workshop prompts used water as an analogy for the constantly changing flow of ideas, the way diverse smaller waterways feed into larger ones. I was reminded that not far away, beneath the feet pounding the London streets the submerged river Fleet was flowing towards the freedom of open waters. And in the centre of the garden, a fountain provided that sense of refreshment and perpetual change that only moving water can offer. This impetus to flow, to find union with the other, may not always be visible, but is there underneath everything.
The hybridity of the event gave me pause for thought. By now, most of us are familiar with the delights and frustrations of on-line platforms which bring people together over the ether – along with occasional glitches in sound quality, and ironic issues with connectivity. What a metaphor that can be for our communication across diverse communities – so full of potential and good will; so often bringing together people who might not be able to meet face to face; carefully planned and structured, but none-the-less subject to the whims of forces beyond our control; sometimes, fraught with lacunae in audibility, or virtual ‘absence’ where ‘presence’ had been expected.
A plaque on the garden wall refers to the execution of Japanese soldiers by British forces in Burmese during World War two: Yesterday’s enemy is today’s friend. Let us hope that in listening to each other, being patient where connectivity is temporarily lost, we can continue to flow together to a peaceful future of mutual understanding and acceptance. May we guard our ability to listen and to speak.