9th July 2021              A Candle in the Window            Peter Millar

Words to encourage us all in tough times.            This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


A short note: Recently I have had quite a difficult time with my ongoing cancer, although now totally cleared from the serious Covid 19 I had earlier in the year. I appreciate your many and frequent messages, but cannot reply to them all, although I feel stronger this week. I cannot thank my team enough at the great local NHS hospital. As I said before, they are beyond wonderful, even under enormous and multiple pressures.

*The real sanctity of any church is that it is a place where we can go to weep in common.             Miguel de Unamuno.

* While God waits for his temple to be built of love and compassion, we bring stones.  Rabindrinath Tagore of India.

* I am sure that God is alive and well all over the world, but mercifully not dependent on the churches alone for his effective disclosure. The late and wise Scottish theologian Elizabeth Templeton, an encourager of countless seekers.

* Lord how glad we are that we don’t hold you, but that you hold us.  A prayer from Haiti whose people have suffered so greatly in recent years.

* A real spiritual life makes us so alert and aware of the world around us that all that is and happens becomes part of our contemplation and meditation and invites us to a free and fearless response. The late well-known writer, Henri Nouwen. ( View his books on the Web)

Flower Children: Can you tell primrose from wood anemone? Or a hawthorn tree from a blackthorn? And what are the effects of soil acidity on vegetable plants? Made to sit an exam on the fundamentals of gardening few of us would be able to answer these questions correctly, least of all the young, for whom there is often neither the time nor the space to take up horticulture as a hobby. A novel suggestion by the gardener Carol Klein who is frequently a presenter on gardening TV programmes in the UK, is for gardening to be taught as part of the school curriculum. As she rightly notes, toiling in the mud with trowel in hand not only has physical and mental benefits, but it also teaches the importance of plants to the planet. Now more than ever, when 40% of the world’s plant species are at risk of imminently becoming extinct, according to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, it is essential that children learn to appreciate the world around them. Moreover, gardening instills in a person invaluable life lessons. Audrey Hepburn put it nicely when she said that “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”. Horticulture inculcates the virtues of patience and of perseverance. A child growing tomatoes for the first time will discover that life too is a plant to be attended tended assiduously. Bad weather will inevitably make things difficult from time to time, but as a general rule, you reap what  you sow. As Carol Klein suggests more should be done to protect community allotments. Hearteningly, more and more school gardens are beginning to sprout up, even in inner city schools where space can be scarce. However, not all can offer this and we can think of new possibilities. A Chinese proverb advises that life begins the day you start a garden”. Schools should waste no time.

Human wisdom at its best for such times as these:

For many years one of my great inspirers has been the famous and visionary Palestinian leader, academic, writer and founder of Mifah- the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, Dr Hanan Ashrawi. World-wide she is regarded with respect and appreciation. In 1999 the book Holy Land Hollow Jubilee: God, Justice and the Palestinians was published in London (ISBN 1-901764-09-5) and it contains an essay by Dr Ashrawi which absolutely speaks to us today. Here is a part of that prophetic essay.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one of the most complex, multidimensional conflicts in history. It has always contained an historical dimension, a cultural, political and human dimension. But it also has a personal, a spiritual and even an existential dimension. Therefore, it is one of the most difficult conflict resolutions to resolve, and cannot be resolved partially. In a solution, I believe, we need several basic constituents or requirements of this vision of peace. First, we must make sure that in solving this conflict, in striving to achieve peace, we use the politics of parity, of morality. I know that in this jaded age of cynicism it is not really fashionable or trendy to talk about moral politics. Yet, I still believe that it is the dimension of moral politics which is essential to the pursuit of peace. Right now, globally, we are living  for the most part, under the rule of power politics, the politics of power and domination as the prevailing model.

Second, we must always keep the centrality of the human being, the human factor, as the means and the end of our peace endeavours. It is not in the service of the few, but in the empowerment of the human being. We have to talk about the politics of inclusion, rather than of exclusion, exclusive or exclusivity. We cannot adopt double standards for peace: all people are deserving and worthy of peace. We cannot have it that some are somehow more worthy of peace, of justice, or of freedom than others. We cannot put the stakes in relative terms. At the same time, we see ourselves within a clash of two narratives, and nothing is more obvious than the silent clash of the last fifty years, a half-century, a jubilee, in which there is an Israeli narrative being presented, and a Palestinian narrative which has stubbornly become excluded. I feel it is essential that the Palestinian narrative be put forth with courage and with candour.

We must avoid absolutism because God does not take sides in geographical conflicts. If we start with extremist absolutist ideologies we cannot achieve any compromise or reconciliation. Any attempt to employ ideology, which is what we are seeing now, is not a means of resolving conflicts or of achieving peace. We see ourselves here in a situation of what I call a time warp.  You have those victims who have had the courage and the confidence to seek a just peace. Then you have the conquerors who are resorting to the equation of absolutism and ideology. We see ourselves in a time warp, where the language we thought we had overcome or superseded is being revived in a way to exclude the rights of others. In discussing ideology versus radicalism, I do not believe that pragmatism can undermine the legality of rights. Being pragmatic does not mean abandoning the most fundamental legal basis and the most fundamental rights of the other side, particularly those of the Palestinians which have been denied. Therefore, all these calls for the Palestinians to be pragmatic are really a euphemism to abandon some of their most basic human rights. We have to be very clear in distinguishing between pragmatism and realism, and between an appearance to the basic human rights that should be the foundations of any future peace. This is what makes the difference between compromise and surrender.

The issue of mutual recognition goes along with the politics of inclusion. We must not accept the distortion of our narrative in order to be accepted. We must not accept the forced adoption of a vision of a discourse determined by the priorities of others. Recognition means the full recognition of this narrative. If it means we have to adopt an alien version, then it means we are betraying ourselves in order to appease others, and that is a sure recipe for future conflict. Also, we will not, and we cannot, accept the rewriting of our history, even though I always call not to be captives to history. We cannot change our history for the sake of a contemporary reality. We have to be true to our legacy, to our own history, not to rewrite it for the sake of appeasement, or to be in line with a contemporary disequilibrium of power.

Also, there has to be an admission of injustice and a recognition of guilt. As long as the world refuses to admit that a deep, historical collective injustice has been inflicted on Palestinian people, we will be perceived not as the victims, but as the perpetrators. It has to happen. I use the example of a Jewish Israeli who once told me that one reason they cannot believe us when we say we want peace is because, if someone did to them what they did to us, they would not forgive and forget. Another Jewish Israeli said that if they would admit a great historical injustice was done to the Palestinian people they would be self-negated. That is why I say there is room for mutual affirmation, rather than mutual negation. This type of recognition, not just as catharsis, but to prepare the grounds for genuine reconciliation is absolutely essential, because nobody has a monopoly on pain. Pain cannot be used to justify the infliction of suffering on others. I will not do unto others what was done unto me. We all have to be very careful about achieving this new equilibrium in which an admission of injustice and a recognition of guilt would prepare the foundations to move ahead without using pain and suffering as a club to punish others.

*** As I was reflecting on these words of Dr Ashrawi, I was thinking also of all the thousands of people from around the world who have gone at one time or another to walk alongside the Palestinian people in their long and hard journey towards peace and justice. Many like the late Dr Runa Mackay of Edinburgh and Palestine who died just over a year ago, gave her life as a medical doctor to the Palestinians, and many others have done the same. We remember them all with deep gratitude as do the people in Palestine. And I would ask you, if you can, to support the work of agencies such as Medical Aid for Palestinians MAP (Details of this organisation are found on their website.) There are also good agencies, both Muslim and Christian supporting the huge needs of the Palestinian people in Gaza.  

*** Recommend: Exile in Israel: A Personal Journey with the Palestinians, by Runa Mackay, published by Wild Goose Publications Glasgow. Wild Goose is the publishing arm of the Iona Community and all details can be found on the Iona Community website.

Let us remember in our thoughts and prayers the people of Palestine and Israel who continue to be, as we all know, locked in conflict and suffering and often despair.