By Margaret Baxter SSMN
Joint Detention Outreach Coordinator, Jesuit Refugee Service UK
"The beauty of the world is the first witness to blessing. In a land without blessing, no beauty could dwell." (John O’Donahue – Benedictus)
(London) July 1, 2012 — Visiting the detention centres1 near Heathrow airport outside of London, Jesuit Refugee Service staff and volunteers accompany failed asylum seekers, in a pastoral capacity, striving to enhance their dignity and strengthen their resolve to remain strong in the face of much uncertainty.
It is coping with this uncertainty that has led me to share with you the grace of accompanying some members of this vulnerable group. These people never cease to amaze me as they gather their strength from the light of the invisible and allow its grace-filled manifestations to disarm the weapons of disempowerment and uncertainty.
Standing alone surrounded by total darkness can be scary. In fact, darkness is menacing. It summons the imagination and plays havoc with our senses. Our once rational thought becomes irrational as fear begins to tease the mind, forcing the realisation that without light we are sightless and lost.
Such has been the experience of many detained asylum seekers who have feared the unknown and struggled to make sense of their current situation. However, there are others whose pain and anguish has retreated to the shadows overcome by the person's strong and enduring faith.
1Immigration detention refers to the government practice of detaining asylum seekers and other migrants for administrative purposes to facilitate removals or establish identities. The UK’s immigration detention facilities are among the largest in Europe: between 2,000 and 3,000 people are detained at any given moment. (The Migration Observatory – University of Oxford)
"In our day to day lives, we continually fail to recognise the invisible light that renders the whole visible world luminous." (John O’Donahue – Benedictus)
Have you ever gazed into the flame of a candle in the dark? If so, you will have felt the warmth of its glow and experienced its light washing over the darkness, gently revealing unknown surrounds. Such glow transforms all within its reach, a reassuring presence bringing peace and tranquillity. Our unspoken fears have been exposed for what they truly are: groundless and irrational.
Through our gaze, as it intensifies, the darkness dissipates and a new awareness of what darkness ‘does not hold’ floods our imagination and gives us hope.
Accompanying Simon and Mohamed has been a little like gazing into that candle flame. Feeling its warmth, experiencing its transforming power over darkness as it gently reveals the hidden and allows unfounded fears to vanish and be transformed into joyful wonder and expectation of a future unborn, but one which holds promise.
These two young men who have known and experienced the horrors of true darkness chose not to succumb to its terrors but allowed their minds and hearts to be healed by the power of the Spirit’s flame burning within, redeeming the darkness and shedding its light.
Their faith in that very flame has been the weapon which has disarmed the threat of disempowerment and uncertainty. Their life's experience has taught them that faith in their Omnipotent God gives them an invisible strength to embrace the visible world with courage and confidence that 'nothing is as dark with the Lord and nothing is as clear as the day.' (Psalm 139, 12)
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light,
for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.
Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them,
for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret;
but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."