Loving the enemy – a way of healing our attitudes

“Loving our enemies is the core of the Christian message and the challenge that Jesus presents us. If we want to know what Jesus is about, and what following Jesus is about, then the call to love our enemies is as close to the center as we can get.”
Henri J. M. Nouwen

Jesus left us certain instructions that are very much counterintuitive. A commandment to love our enemies is one of them. Our world seems rather polarised at the moment, we fluctuate to those we agree with. If someone asked who our friends are, we could tell them, but we could probably also tell them who are not-our-friends. Perhaps we do not call them ‘enemies’. But those we don’t agree with: we too know them by their name.

Our churches, our Facebook feeds, are filled with people we love and agree with, as well as those we disagree with. If you have struggled with loving people that you fundamentally disagree with on some core issue, you are not alone. I have too. Yet it is very clear that God calls us to love each other. Jesus said, “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). To love also those we disagree with is to have God’s attitude. It is an essential ingredient needed to transform the world into a better place. And it is possibly also one of the least exercised muscles in our Christian faith. 

Bréne Brown, public speaker and research professor at the University of Huston, in her most recent book “Braving the Wilderness” says, “the choices we’re making to protect our beliefs and ourselves are leaving us disconnected, afraid, and lonely. Very few people are working on connection outside the lines drawn by ‘their side’”. Her book challenged me. While we may justify excluding or not engaging with those who hold views we disagree with, Bréne Brown says this is a dangerous approach. It leaves us more isolated, whereas we all need human connection.

Unless we constantly bring to our awareness that God loves each and every person, we will retreat in labelling and sorting each other out. We can love those that we experience as different, because God already loves them. This does not mean we will stop disagreeing on certain issues, but perhaps we can find ways of connecting beyond the disagreements. Personally I started to consciously bless individuals and groups of people that for whatever reason are not ‘my people’, and that I find difficult to love. 

If we could hold sacred the connection between us, the God-given-dignity we each have, together with the views that are central to our identities, perhaps we would be able to engage with more trust, more grace and invite God to enter into the space between us that creates separation and disconnect. I’m not saying this would be easy, otherwise we’d already be doing it. But if God was allowed to fill that in-between space, we might be able to look at each other through God’s mercy and grace.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Christ Church Cathedral welcomes refugees and asylum-seekers

‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’—these words of Jesus may be familiar to us, yet like so much of what Jesus had to say, it can be a challenge putting the teaching into practice. To welcome, to make space for another, in particular a stranger, is not always easy. It may mean reprioritising time and resources. It calls on us to make an emotional investment, to learn about someone else’s story, to appreciate what he or she has been through in the past and to walk alongside and embrace hope for the future. 

We in the cathedral have worked over the past year towards the designation ‘Cathedral of Sanctuary’, awarded by the organisation Places of Sanctuary Ireland. Places of Sanctuary is a network of groups in towns, cities and local communities which share the objectives of promoting the integration, inclusion and welfare of refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants. To this end, we have sought ways to engage with those in the asylum process and living in direct provision, to welcome them to our city, and to contribute the cathedral’s voice to the necessary task of awareness-raising around the direct provision system and its problems. We believe it is important that we devote resources and make space to engage with those who are marginalised by this system. 

This year was our first year to mark Refugee Week and we wanted to engage in a variety of ways. The first event was ‘Prayers of Lament, Prayers of Hope’, an evening of quiet and reflective prayer. This offered space for scripture, song and silence, and those attending were invited to write down a prayer, light a candle or simply be present in prayerful solidarity. 

We also partnered with the Irish Refugee Council to host a free screening of Chinese artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei’s visually impactful documentary Human Flow. We were delighted to further our ongoing relationship with Our Table, an asylum-seeker led group whose aim is to highlight the need to end the direct provision system in Ireland, by facilitating change through conversation over food. Our Table were on our grounds for four days selling their delicious food creations, prepared by founder, asylum-seeker and Ballymaloe-trained chef Ellie Kisyombe. Their events also included an appearance by author Melatu Uche Okorie whose book, This Hostel Life, is a reflection on her experiences in direct provision. We very much consider Our Table as part of our community now and we hope to continue to partner with them in the future.

Pictured are Our Table members using the cathedral’s crypt kitchen.

Abigail Sines.
Rev Abigail Sines is Dean’s Vicar in Christ Church Cathedral

Decluttering and mental health

We are in time of the year when some people do ‘spring cleaning’. Not just in Ireland, but in other parts of the world too, this winter was prolonged and we are looking forward to the days turning more spring-like. Weather can affect our mood so finding activities that give us energy may help while we wait on the temperatures to get warmer.

Some of us enjoy rummaging through our house, finding things we may not want to keep, revisiting memories attached to different things. Clearing the house can be therapeutic, when we find the time to do it. Personally I don’t always do it in spring, but periodically a few times a year. Whenever I end up clearing whatever accumulated over the months, it takes my whole attention for a few hours, or even the whole day, and the end result usually has a cathartic effect. However, not everyone finds this process easy or even enjoyable.

In January I was at a talk where someone who helps people declutter their houses spoke about different reasons why we hoard things. From love of history some people will keep books or magazines they no longer read, to emotional attachments or associations to a loved one who is no longer around, we have different reasons why we sometimes allow clutter to pile up. One thing I would have liked hearing during that talk is compassion for those who find it hard to let go, for whatever reason. It is true, there are benefits for our health, mental and otherwise, when we clear our living space. Almost like we can breathe again. But at times it will be hard to let go of things we are so used to having around us, and that is okay.

Perhaps it may help creating a ritual that honours the memories that various things in our house evoke. We attach meaning to memories and things, and perhaps some of those are good to keep. Yet if we want to clear the space of things we don’t need, but we have resistance against it due to how meaningful some of it is, creating another meaning for each of the things may help us proceed. Lets say we have three tea-pots that we don’t use, but they remind us of happy times and a lot of memories are attached to it. We could tell a story about it to a friend or even write the story on the paper for ourselves and then decide to give the tea-pots to a charity shop. A new meaning might be that someone else will be blessed with creating their own memories. Similar can be with the piece of clothing, or furniture.

But it is not always going to be that difficult to let go. Put the music on, create space in the week when you can do some spring-cleaning, and try and enjoy. We can start small, with one section, one drawer, or one room. Next week we can do a bit more. In the process we may realise that clearing things externally, helps us to organise our thoughts and emotions internally. We may create room for more joy, more peace, more space for prayer, more space for love.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

A Healing Tree

St. James’s Church, Castledermot, is situated on the site of monastery founded around the year 800 by the father of St. Diarmuid and is an active church in West Glendalough Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough, Church of Ireland.

Dean Philip Knowles, Priest in Charge encouraged the parishioners of the group of parishes of Narraghmore, Timolin, Castledermot and Kinneagh to hold a Christmas Tree Festival in St. James’s Church. Parishioners were encouraged to seek support from local organisations to erect and decorate Christmas Trees for the festival. The festival was officially opened by Martin Heydon TD. The church was transformed into an oasis of relaxed calm and colour and thirty trees were placed in windows, pews, corners and the sanctuary. 

As part of the commitment of the parish to the Church’s Ministry of Healing, the Healer Prayer Group of the parish agreed to participate in the festival by erecting a “Tree for Healing”. A simple four foot high fresh Christmas tree was provided and situated in front of the church altar which housed the most beautiful Christmas Crib. The figures of the crib were colourful pottery and made by a parishioner who attends a class which added to the whole scene of peace and expectation. Everyone who attended the festival was invited to write their prayer request for healing on a colourful slip of paper, which was pegged to the tree. This space was peaceful, prayerful and most colourful and was especially pleasing to the children. Parents encouraged their children to write a prayer to God for a family member who was ill—children responded very positively, in fact most people participated and helped to decorate the tree with their prayer request.

Whereas the main objective of the event was to provide funds for the rebuilding of the wall around the church, it must be acknowledged that the Healing Tree provided an opportunity for prayer and spiritual reflection, for a deepening relationship with God, forgiveness and grace and thanks for healing. Two thirds of the prayer requests were for healing. Other requests were for the homeless, for God’s creation, world peace, mental health difficulties, those suffering from dementia, those providing suicide initiatives.

On Sunday 28th January all the requests for prayer were placed on the altar for the service of Holy Communion and the prayers were prayed together. The experience excelled all expectations for me both spiritually and prayerfully and for all who participated and attended the event. Parishioners provided refreshments in the parish hall and Christmas handcrafts were for sale. The organisers were greatly appreciative of the peoples’ generosity.

Avril Gillat.
Avril Gillat is CMH:I Board member

Starting the year with gratitude

Gratitude … takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive,
is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.
For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience.
And that is what makes all the difference.
Thomas Merton

Nowadays we can hear a lot about the benefits of practicing gratitude. Research has shown that gratitude can improve both mental and physical health, and “not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health”. A number of studies revealed other benefits, such as improvement in self-esteem, better sleep, reduced stress and even a help in overcoming trauma.

Personally I have experienced that on a bad day my mood can shift to having a better attitude when I take time to bring to mind all that I am grateful for. The practice of gratitude is one the best gifts we can give ourselves. It costs us nothing and is very simple to do. It does, however, require a little bit of effort, discipline if you like, but as anything worthwhile, it is valuable to invest time in it.

Gratitude does not deny negative things that happen in life but it puts them into perspective and helps us to face them with renewed inner strength and more determination. In Philippians 4:8 we read, “beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”. It further says that if we keep doing these things, “the God of peace” will be with us. God is with us always, but when we practice gratitude it will help to bring God’s goodness into our awareness.

If we want to make gratitude part of our daily routine, we can do so by writing a gratitude journal. We can treat ourselves to a journal that appeals to us aesthetically, and then start noting what we are thankful for on its pages. Each day we can write a few things that we are grateful for that particular day. Another way is to have a gratitude jar. We can take an empty jar and decorate it to make it personal. Then every day on a little paper we write something we are grateful for and put it in a jar. At the end of each month, or at the end of each year, we can open the jar and read what we wrote.

Gratitude will bring a new dimension to our lives, a deeper flavour to our life’s experiences. It helps us notice new growth, it turns despair into hope. May something stunning blossom for you over the next twelve months – even if it is ‘only’ you.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Merry Christmas

The Church’s Ministry of Healing: Ireland wishes you all
a very happy and blessed Christmas. 

May the God of gentleness be with you
may his tenderness shine through you
and the blessing of gentleness be upon you

May the God of peace be with you
taking your fears and doubts
May the blessing of peace be upon you

May the guarding of the loving Christ
be upon you, to aid and uphold you
each day and night of your lives.



Self-care around Christmas

It is a few days to Christmas and some of us will find it harder than others to enjoy the festivities. It could be we have been very busy and need rest, but we don’t know how to incorporate it in our schedule over the next days. Or it could be that we lost a loved one this year, and Christmas is going to be harder for that reason, because our heart still aches because of the loss. There are other reasons why people are sometimes lonely at Christmas, and if you find yourself struggling reach out to a friend and ask for support.

There is an image, which I am afraid is not realistic, that portrays that we should all be happy at Christmas. This adds to the pressure for those who find this time of the year hard for whatever reason. Feelings of overwhelm are human, and in some circumstances quite natural, but we can diffuse them a little with taking time for self-care.

Prayer and mindfulness can sustain us during stressful times. Even a few moments of quiet, when we pause to take in the present moment in its fullness, look around and allow the Presence of God to wash over our hearts, slowly, silently, can provide a day-to-day support.

There is one other thing I would like to mention that can help in our challenges any time of the year, and particularly now as we are approaching Christmas. It is a practice of self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff explains that “self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time” as you would towards someone else. We can pause in a day, say to ourself, “this is really difficult right now”, if it helps we can put a hand on our heart and allow ourselves to receive comfort from that acknowledgement. Kristin Neff says that the elements of self-compassion are self-kindness, common humanity – knowing that others go through hard times as well, and mindfulness. Neff has self-compassion exercises; some of them may resonate with you. As Christians we know that God is compassionate towards us, and when we offer ourselves self-compassion and self-kindness, we also offer ourselves His love, we nurture ourselves as we would nurture a plant in its growth.

At Christmas we will celebrate that Jesus was born in a stable, in imperfect conditions. If you find yourself in less-than-perfect condition at this time, know that He understands and His love is there to support you.

If you are struggling and having suicidal thoughts, you can call Samaritans on 116 123.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Advent gives us riches, stored in secret places

I will give you….riches stored in secret places’.
(Isaiah 45:3)

This verse from Isaiah, pledging hidden riches, was written at the end of the exile, a time of homecoming. God assures his people, not just of a new home, but of one which is thrilling beyond expectations, where treasures are waiting to be discovered. He who created our vast universe, who turned water into wine in lavish profusion, has an infinity of treasure stored up which, if we are patient, he will reveal to us. Who, for example, would have thought of looking for the riches of the Incarnation, Emmanuel, God-with-us, in the back yard of a pub in Bethlehem where animals were stabled? God’s wealth concealed in poverty and ordinariness.

But patience is the key. These treasures are not wide open to the world. They are in secret places, and we need to make time if we are to discover them. We need to wait, our minds alert and uncluttered, until God shows us His hiding place. Rather like Simeon, ‘who watched and waited’ for a revelation of the Lord’s Messiah.

Besides waiting, there is remembering. ‘Counting your blessings’, as the saying goes. When we dwell on the riches we have already been granted, and recognized all God has provided for us, we are filled with wonder. We are not worthy, and yet we have received unsearchable riches, pouring forth as light from the sun.

These words come from “Sayings For Stillness”, a publication by the Fellowship of Contemplative Prayer (FCP). The Fellowship encourages us to take time out of our busy days to contemplate the Word of God, to be still and alert, to be aware of Christ in the world.

Waiting is God’s word

“They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.” 

(Isaiah 40:31)

Waiting is something that we regard as a bit of a nuisance. At best it is a waste of time that could be better employed and – at worst – it is an experience of growing impatience, anger or anxiety. Buses come along on every route except the one we want. The doctor takes excessive time over every patient before us in the waiting room. Post after post does not bring a decision on that all-important job application.

Today waiting is an unfashionable word.

It has been branded a curse in an age when we live by the clock and there is always too much to do.

But waiting is a holy word.
It is a Biblical word.

The Old Testament is the Israelites’ story of waiting for the coming of the Messiah while the New Testament reveals the Christ whose followers must also learn to wait. Even the Twelve Disciples had to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit before they began their work on the Church. And those who came to faith through them – then and in the ages that followed – wait for the return of their Lord to judge the world and make all things new.

Waiting, therefore, is God’s wordAnd it is a major theme of the season of Advent. We look back to the old prophecies of the Messiah – we recall centuries of waiting long since past. And, at the same time, we look forward, as we wait for Christ’s Second Coming.

When will Jesus come again? No-one but God knows the answer to that question. But we’ve been well warned to be prepared and to be ready. Jesus himself warns us – in several of his parables – that God creeps up on us when we least expect him, and that we should therefore make sure we’re properly prepared to receive him. But then that is true of everyday life.

God is always knocking on the door, but mostly we are so poorly tuned into him that we fail to hear or to recognise. On Advent Sunday Churches will have lit the first of the candles on their Advent wreaths. The light symbolises Christ – the Light of the World. And, week-by-week, it will grow stronger representing the Light that is coming into the world, the true Light which enlightens everyone.

If we want to be ready to receive that Light then we need to make good use of the darkness of Advent.

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle that is the lead-up to Christmas, listen for that still small voice. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
Be vigilant and be prepared.

We keep silence – as we wait for the Lord…

“They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.
They shall mount up with wings like eagles.
They shall run and not be weary.
They shall walk and not faint.” 

(Isaiah 40:31)

David Gillespie.
Canon David Gillespie is CMH:I Board member

Advent, something that God does

We are approaching the season of Advent. Nights are longer, days are colder, and the lights in our homes shine brighter. If we have an Advent wreath, lighting candle after candle each week in our houses and churches, we are guided by their light. Hope, love, joy and peace are traditional meanings for each of the Advent candles. These can also be the gifts of healing that we pray for week after week. Hope to sooth our disappointments, love to heal our wounds, joy to lighten our days, and peace to sooth the ache of discord among and within us.

There is a lot that we do in terms of preparing for Christmas, both externally as well as spiritually. Yet Advent is something that God does. It is God’s initiative, His coming into the world. With Mary being pregnant, in Advent Jesus is already here, though not yet fully. Like Jonah was in the belly of the wale we are with Mary waiting for the fruits of our Advent.

Lord, what will You do this Advent?

We can carve out some time for prayer in our daily schedule and ponder on this question.
Ask yourself, what do you want the Lord to do for you? Where do you need Him the most?

As a response to God’s gracious action in our lives, we can also ask,
Is there someone who needs the light of hope, the light of love, the light of joy, the light of peace? Is God inviting us to visit someone with this light in Advent?

Be attentive. Pay attention to the movements in and around you where you may notice His workings.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1)

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland