November 2019 Letter

  • 30 October 2019
  • nanda.groenewald

November, a month which offers us a season of Remembrance.it also starts with two holy days. On the first day of the month we celebrate All Saints Day. The day we remember all of the famous saints whose names are recorded in the annals of history. it is quickly followed by All Souls day on 2 November. this date provides an opportunity to give thanks for those who have enriched our lives through their compassionate love and kindly deeds. Both of these holy days offer us an opportunity to prepare for another date in the church calendar - Remembrance Sunday: the date on which we acknowledge with sadness that wars continue to rage in parts of our world, and we commit ourselves to pray and work towards peace.

As Remembrance Sunday approaches, I find myself reflecting on the word 'peace' and am drawn to St Francis of Assisi's famous prayer which has been translated in a hymn 'Make me a channel of your peace.'

Born of noble birth, Francis had ambitions of being a knight and warrior. he had fought in a battle between his home town of Assisi and neighbouring Perugia. He was imprisoned, tortured and released to continue his journey to fight in the Crusades. Like many soldiers today, he experienced the horrors of war and this had a profound and lasting effect upon him. although his body was weakened by the physical injuries he suffered; the mental and emotional scars took their toll upon him, leaving him a shadow of his former self.

By joining the Crusades, Francis might have wanted to prove he was a worthy soldier, but on his ride there, he received a divine message and came to realise that his aspirations as a knight were not to be accomplished by the sword. he turned around and headed back to his hometown of Assisi.

the rigors experienced by today's military may far exceed those of the medieval soldier. The 'glory of war' that once impelled Francis to military service is now a distant myth. Those who have served in the military and those who work in the mental health profession have great concern for the impact of conflict on the modern soldier. In America there is a veterans programme at the Franciscan Renewal Centre in Arizona.

The Franciscan community work with discharged soldiers offering them a therapeutic space to heal body, mind and soul.They are loved back to wholeness and health. As part of their recovery process some of the soldiers take up the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Assisi. Together, they share their experiences and learn about the life and struggles of St Francis, who himself was a professional soldier.

it is believed that St Francis' life of quiet, ascetic values amongst nature is a direct result, not only of God's calling, but also of his need to withdraw to tend to his soul. Learning of St Francis' struggles to come to terms with his brokenness offers hope to ex-soldiers, as they recuperate from their own emotional scars.

the picture shown above is a statue of St Francis as a soldier, riding his horse with his head hung low revealing the emotional pain and the wounded-ness he was experiencing. This sculpture of the saint on horseback is a far cry from the saint we associate with peace today! Yet, for those suffering from combat stress and Post Traumatic Stress symptoms, it offers hope and an acknowledgment of their pain.

As Remembrance Sunday draws nearer we are invited to remember those today who live with the horrors of war imprinted in their minds, hearts and souls. For some, these horrors never leave them; others will frequently experience a delayed effect of survivor guilt. We pray for all who struggle with the effects of war and we commit ourselves to working towards peace.

In the words of the prayer by St Francis - 

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy."

Shalom, Alison