Hospitality and Listening: Pathways to Peace from Northern Ireland

Last summer, I visited Corrymeela, a residential peace center in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland. With an expansive view of ocean toward Scotland, just twelve miles away, my guide, Ellis, said that he found wisdom while sitting on a quiet bench that overlooks the horizon. Sometimes the Isles of the Scottish Hebrides are visible, and sometimes they are not. Likewise, in times of conflict, sometimes the answer is visible, and sometimes it is not. Sometimes the solution is nearby; sometimes it is not. Whether or not one sees the remedy, one must sit and listen.

Since 1965, Corrymeela has been a gathering spot for conversation, listening, teaching, and practical engagement, and it welcomes thousands of people annually. Groups can use Corrymeela for peace-building retreats. In addition, the Corrymeela community offers respite to vulnerable people and creates events and seminars to promote peace in Ireland and beyond. The Dalai Lama and Prince Charles have visited and endorsed the work.

The Corrymeela brochure on reconciliation states:

“Within a conflict it is important to promote an educational rationale for reconciliation. Experiences of meeting around sensitive and disputed issues have to be promoted, safeguarded and sustained. This work, at its best, engages people meeting one another with all of their life experiences, “with the head, the heart and the gut”.

The reconciliation task is both relational and structural, personal and political; one that should involve politics, institutional, communal and personal life.”

The February 1945 bombing blitz in Dresden was a catalyst to set Irishman Ray Davey, on a peacemaking path. Davey, a Presbyterian minister, had been captured and incarcerated in a Dresden war camp. He ultimately started Corrymeela after years of processing what he saw in Dresden. When Davey returned to Northern Ireland, he dedicated his life to promoting peace, starting Corrymeela in the time when “The Troubles” in Ireland were threatening domestic peace. The Dresden experience brought up many questions:

Was the violence enacted by the Allies so late in the war necessary to ensure victory?

Was such a brutal bombing a mere retaliation?

Is retribution necessary to bring peace?

With a practical approach, the Corrymeela ethos requires that peacemakers be able to “make a good cup of tea.” In addition to hospitality, the community has developed a deep theological and anthropological grounding that draws on many concepts including: exposition of the healing accounts in scripture, questioning “Just War Theory,” minimizing scapegoating, and taking note of identity-related tensions.

Derrick Wilson, resident theologian, said:

“At the heart of the gospel is the person of Jesus who consistently stood with the scapegoats, exposing this way of sacrificial living. His life signalled that human life was about finding a place for all. His life was about inviting people to live in communities that were not established through the unacknowledged expulsion or scapegoating of some.

In Northern Ireland one learns the essential truth that is hidden within the structures of stable societies. That is that states, nations and religions have violent edges and that, in their formation, violence has been a very present reality that is readily drawn on, when all becomes uncertain.

‘A future without the other’ is still implicit in most political ideologies in a conflict. Sometimes such political identities seek theological justification for their separating views.

If we interpret the story of Jesus as legitimizing the exclusion of other human beings, we fail to see the inclusive welcoming center of the Gospel.”

Key to the ecumenical approach, Corrymeela has a fascinating worship space, housed in a building that is shaped like an anatomical heart. It is rightly called “An Croí,” the heart, and it hosts regular worship services. Here, people can take time to listen to the great heartbeat — in a society where there are so many violent and destructive beats, here there can be time to listen to the Heartbeat that guides, inspires, and unites people.

Recently, Pádraig Ó Tuama retired from his leadership role at Corrymeela. Here is part of his farewell editorial:

“I am struck by how peace — if it is to mean anything — has to mean something at times when we are most stretched. To take the gauge of response from our circumstances might justify all kinds of cynicism, all kinds of resistance, all kinds of toxicity. It would be justified: we’re given harm, why not return harm? But this means that the quality of human encounter decreases and decreases. Instead, I’m convinced that in the face of hostilities, we need to flex the muscles of hospitality. In the face of demand, we flex the muscle of generosity.” —From Corrymeela, June 2019, Volume 19, no. 1.

Peacemakers at Corrymeela desire the creation of spaces where people can meet to imagine, play, recreate, and work together. In such spaces, regrets are expressed and “sorrow” and “sorry” is spoken about with “the other” present. In such spaces, people experience new ways to be together, new ways to speak about their fears and hopes, and new ways to listen and remain with one another without the old fears dominating. Corrymeela seeks to nurture peace at all levels and wants to support individuals and groups in any context.

Carmen Lau is board chair of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

Photo by Jessica Knowlden on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10001
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Thank-you for this article about peace and reconciliation in a time when the SDA Church struggles and fights within itself. I desire that Adventism can come to terms with its own predicament and hope and pray that it doesn’t end in an apocalyptic mess.

Perhaps, there is a chance that when all the damage is done there can be some reconciliation in the church with what Christian Brother and Sisterhood truly means. Maybe. Adventism never has developed or promoted true Discipleship or Spiritual Formation…still, there is a chance that when they come to the end of themselves that there will be a turning towards God.

In the meantime- there are marvelous places like Corrymeela that become established out of the experiences of war and chaos to find meaning and truth with other human beings in God.

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Good thoughts, Kim. Thank you for your thoughts and ideas as we trudge forward in the journey of life.

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cincerity Kim Green said:
Perhaps, there is a chance that when all the damage is down there can be some reconciliation in the church with what Christian Brother and Sisterhood truly means…
*…still, there is a chance that when they come to the end of themselves that there will be a turning towards God

I applaud your optimism. You must be a Christian!

No Christian can be a pessimist, for Christianity is a system of radical optimism. William Inge

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Love the quote! Thank-you for sharing, Sam. :grin:

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Yes, all the time in between the lines, one can read the context of the present conflict in Adventism. I tried to imagine the solution in the way of Corrymeela, but I cannot. Religious and other ideological conflicts bear the burden of being right and that rightness is sought on the basis of a rule written in a codex, book, Bible and you name it. How can one theologically upright person give in when they are right?
Maybe another generation will do it. These ole guys up there aren’t capable for such an endeavor.

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Maybe peace and reconciliation can be reached only after some leaders are sent to Malta! They may be in good company, like Cardinal Raymond Burke.
@elmer_cupino

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Carmen, thanks for this inspiring piece. I was in Northern Ireland six weeks ago, where I took a Troubles Tour with a knowledgeable and personally affected guide. Eown pointed out places that had been bombed literally 34 times, tearing up with memories of “innocents” who perished there. I was especially struck by the sculptures Big Fish and Beacon of Hope–artistic testaments to acknowledging the past and pointing to a more hopeful future. Today, the people in Belfast are concerned that Brexit may supply license to reigniting old hostilities.

In considering present hostilities in organizational Adventism, we ought to remember the pillars of peacemaking, as listed in the official Adventist statement “Call to Peace” published April 18, 2002, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when drumbeats of terrible and wrongly directed retribution swelled in the U.S.

The central phrase from the laudable and countercultural statement is the following: “From both a Christian and practical perspective, any lasting peace involves at least four ingredients: dialogue, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation.”

On this Veterans Day, that sentence remains a precious and prescient reminder–one for all to practice this summer in Indianapolis.

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As horrific as the enmity between Catholics and Protestants was in Ireland (. and generally ongoing everywhere in Christendom, since the Reformation ) it pales in comparison to the virulent antipathy between Sunni and Shiite Islamists.

I doubt there will ever be a reconciliation between these factions, and regrettably their internecine wars and conflicts entrap the rest of the world in geopolitical catastrophe .

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Hatred is hatred. Mike Ghouse’s raises the issue in his updated article Will Shiite and Sunni Islam Ever Reconcile? MIke states: "Facts don’t matter.… Muslims leadership is no different, each one of the sect is entrenched with certain beliefs, and facts don’t matter to them either. Indeed, accepting facts will make the earth beneath them disappear. If Sunnis accept Shiite version as a fact and/or Shiites see the Sunni version as the truth, their whole theology collapses, each one will cease to exist, and for that reason, no one will subscribe to each others’ “facts.” … Both the versions are authentic to the believers, and this is the problem."

Wow! This sounds familiar. Too close to home!

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