by Mary Coffey AMMM Ireland 25.05. 2022
Glencairn Cistercian Abbey in Co Waterford, Ireland is my favourite place to respond to God’s invitation to “come away to some lonely place and rest for a while.” It is a place of gentle silence but also a place where we, the guests, may share our faith journeys with each other, and our understanding of God’s call in our lives. This is often over a cup of tea, after the Great Silence has descended, and when we know that we should be in bed! The bell tolls at 3.50 for the nuns to rise from their slumber and to begin their prayer before dawn.
One such fellow traveller is a lady called Lesley who I met in December 2019. She told me of her involvement with EAPPI: The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. It is an international programme coordinated by the World Council of Churches, and in Ireland and in the UK it is led by the Quakers. It brings people from around the world to the West Bank to serve for three months as human rights monitors. They journey with both Palestinian and Jewish communities, hoping to foster the understanding and respect that is needed for the seeds of peace and justice to be sown and they act in solidarity with those who suffer systemic human rights abuses.
As Lesley described it, it’s a call to accompany and to bear witness to the truth. I wanted to know more, and asked: “But what exactly do you do?” She told me that they live among the people, and thereby learn what are the most pressing needs. On her most recent visit she had noticed that some Palestinian shepherds were fearful of taking their sheep too far afield to graze. They were reluctant to go too close to the boundary with the illegal Israeli settlements and therefore their grazing grounds are at risk of shrinking. So, early in the morning, before dawn, Lesley would rise from her bed and accompany the sheep and their shepherds to fresh pastures. Her presence among them gave them courage and some level of protection. There is a beautiful piece of music by JS Bach called “The sheep may safely graze” and when I listen to it I think of rural Palestine where Jesus spoke of being a Good Shepherd and I think of Lesley who brings that image so vividly to life as she shepherds the shepherds.
I am planning to retire from my medical practice later this year. The usual comment from people is: “But you’re too young to retire!” My response to that is to say: “Young enough to do other things.” I look forward to the blank canvas, at least that bit of it that is not filled by my Syrian and Afghan friends. Who knows, perhaps Lesley may teach me shepherding. Wherever I am, I hope that I will be led, in true MMM tradition, to accompany and to bear witness.