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Peace Sunday

What follows is a bit more rambling than usual but do try staying with me...

Today is Remembrance Sunday, a time for reflecting on those affected by violent conflict - primarily the soldiers who fought in the 20th century's total wars - The Great War and World War 2. This includes my grandfather, Joe Grant, whose body we are currently waiting to lay to rest.

It is also a time to consider the casualties of more recent 'limited' wars which continue to cause physical and mental damage to those involved. My thoughts today during the silence were particularly with the late Mark Evison, having recently watched a harrowing programme about his final days in Afghanistan, partly based on the war journal he left behind. They were also with brave Ben Parkinson who suffered grave brain injuries soldiering in Afghanistan - a stark reminder that the struggles of survivors with the scars of war are more than the physical, as terrible as these are.

As well as a way of sharing our grief and publicly honouring the fallen, the day also has a focus on prayers for a world of peace.

But is a peaceful world really possible? What do we really mean by a world of peace?

Ahead of today, during the week a colleague, providing an opening reflection to our staff meeting, spoke about Martin of Tours - regarded as a saint by the Catholic church and celebrated with a feast day on November the 11th - who, according to legend, rejected life as a Roman Empire soldier to become a Christian monk and missionary. The colleague looked to the weekend before, which featured Bonfire Night events, and the events of the coming weekend, reflecting that the week was about putting conflicts behind us and moving towards reconcilliation.

This resulted in me going away and taking some time to read up on Martin of Tours.

From my own background and perspective, it was interesting to note that the words 'chapel' and 'chaplain' derives from one of the various stories of Martin of Tours, in which he said to have given part of his cape to a beggar. The beggar, according to the legend, was Jesus Christ in disguise and this simple act of giving led to a spiritual awakening and renewed sense of purpose, including a rejection of violence as a way of action.

The piece of cape is said to have become a relic treasured by Frankish kings, carried with them into battle and housed in a tent known as the 'capella', with the clergymen who led services in it being called 'capellani'. This eventually became 'chapel' and 'chaplain' in the English language. Although Martin of Tours is said to have led fierce campaigns of proselytisation against Pagans and Arian Christians (forerunners to the Unitarian church and the Jehovah's Witnesses), it is perhaps significant that in Britain the word 'chapel' gradually came to regularly designate a dissenting places of worship as violent sectarianism subsided. The dotting of chapels across our landscape signified Britain's faith communities had finally agreed to peacefully disagree (in England, Wales and most of Scotland at least). In this, it is also worth highlighting that similarly Martin of Tours rejected violence, but nevertheless continued to engage in a form of conflict over ideas and practice.

Another point to note is Martin of Tours is known as 'The Bridge of Europe', due to the fact he is held in high regard by Christians of Eastern Europe primarily in his homeland of Hungary, and by Christians of Western Europe primarily in France where he is viewed as intimately connected to their development and struggle as a nation. It is of course not without deliberate significance that Remembrance Day falls on his feast day. For all the crises facing Europe in the 21st century, we can be thankful that our continent no longer resorts to violence as a way of resolving political conflict and that a greater sense of togetherness - no matter how begrudging and befuddled - has grown amongst us.

There are various threads of meaning we can pull from the story of Martin of Tours - and perhaps my encounter this week, as I find myself increasingly drawn into the Quaker traditions, was a reminder of the value of remaining open to other traditions, to other voices.

As it happened, I didn't make it to Quaker meeting this morning, instead spending some time at the local war memorial in communion with others as the local Anglican church led a service for the community - including the two minutes silence at 11.11am.

There may well be some Quakers, and other radical Christians, who view Remembrance Sunday as a glorification of war and possibly even something to discreetly boycott. For me, it was a short, simple service which allowed enough space for a diversity of views from the defenders of 'just war' theory to those opposed to any form of war to feel included. There was a greater Spirit and Truth brought to work than notional arguments, as important as they may be.

From there I returned home, and found myself stumbling upon the site Experiment with Light (a site I intend to spend a great deal of time on over the coming weeks) stopping at a document by Rex Ambler. In the first page of the document, there is a call to use periods of silent prayer to examine our lives, to allow for the 'ripping up' of those things that lead to troubles, and that this is a way that eventually leads to peace.

This brought to mind the story of Jesus overturning the tables of the temple (Matthew 21:12).

And from there, it got me reflecting further on the idea that some forms of conflict are not necessarily evil or destructive; conflict within ourselves and conflicts with others are often necessary.

Rather, it is the method in which conflict is pursued, in thought & deed. Our hopes and prayers for peace should perhaps not be for a world without any conflict, but a world without destructive and hateful conflict.

This past week I have felt tensions and opposition building in me, and have felt anxious about how to approach the points of conflict in my life  - how to express my views, how to challenge others, how to respond to their views and challenges - in a way that leads to something better.

Today was a timely reminder that the work towards peace is a personal, private project as well as a communal, public one - and that neither are easy roads to travel.

We perhaps all need to regularly take time to reflect on these things, and more than once per year.

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