Contrasting images and feelings have stayed with me since my visit to the Harmondsworth detention centre: of anguish, brokenness, despair but also of persistence, inner strength and hidden, living streams.
Of all the memories, one of a man who visited our desk in the welfare office stays with me. He spoke in a warm manner and with a gentle love for his partner and son, now miles away. He looked into our eyes: tender, present, calm. His body expressed a relaxed kind of gratitude: a smile breaking onto his face when we offered the promise of our prayers and a social visitor.
The calmness and tenderness of his manner astounded me. How amazing for someone to exist like that, so calm and tender, in the middle of this wilderness! How unlike me they were, when in times of comfort and security I am so easily captured by worrisome thoughts and closed to the goodness around me!
For me, the following image from the Prophet Jeremiah both beautifully expressed the spirit of this man and challenged me on how I can live.
‘Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They are like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream. When the heat comes it feels no alarm, its foliage stays green; it has no worries in a year of drought, and never ceases to bear fruit’. – Jeremiah 17: 7-8
This image expressed the disposition of the man. ‘A tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream.’ Someone deeply rooted in that which nourishes. ‘…no worries in a year of drought…’ Someone who, by this nourishment, can retain a sense of calm in times of difficulty. ‘…never ceases to bear fruit’. Someone who, by this calm, becomes a radiant example for others.
What is the stream that seems to nourish this individual in the heat and drought of the detention centre? What is it that enables him to live in this kind of way?
Perhaps – amidst experiences of resentment, anger and isolation – it is the memory of, and connection with, those who love him: of his family and friends about whom he spoke with gentle fondness. Perhaps – amidst experiences of bureaucracy, anonymity, brutality – it is moments of closeness of those who visit him, of times of solidarity and kindness from others staying at the centre. Perhaps – when all seems dark, lonely and bleak – it comes from times of creative solitude that are somehow strengthening, fortifying, hopeful. Perhaps all these things – manifestations of the radiant work of the Lord – form part of the living streams that give life.
May hidden streams of living water nourish all those who spend time in the detention centre, whether detainees, volunteers or staff. May their example inspire us to trust in the Lord even in times of drought and difficulty. By this trust may we all grow in deeper creative union with the Lord who is the source and giver of life.
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