July 2014

On friendship

Good Samaritan Sister, Pam Grey, asks: What does ‘asylum’ mean, if not something of friendship? What is friendship, if not sanctuary for the soul?

BY Pam Grey SGS

It was meant to be a quiet ride to Jolimont Station, then a walk through the Fitzroy Gardens up to St Pat’s Cathedral. From there I was to go on and meet up with some Good Sam friends outside the State Library for an asylum seeker protest march down Swanston Street to Federation Square.

It was not a quiet ride. A tall, large man hopped on at Reservoir Station, walked down the aisle, and attempted to catch the eye of anyone. “Friend or foe,” my thought bubble asked, as I examined my knees. Let’s find out. Our eyes met. His were smiling. So I gave a nod. At this invitation he confidently asked, “Have you a few spare coins?” His question prompted a “yes” or “no” answer, with “no” being untrue. “Yes,” I said. “Come and sit down,” which he did, directly opposite. Then the real journey began.

He regaled me with story upon story, riddle upon riddle. Passengers, front and back, were chuckling. His was an engaging banter and he had an appreciative audience on the Epping line. Before his humour turned a little blue I asked him his name. Gerard it was. Gerard who once was an English teacher, had travelled a bit, returned and things had gone from bad to worse.

“Mental health,” he said, “but today I am fine.” “And what about you?” he asked. “How are you going and where are you going?”

His questions took me by surprise. They are the words of friendship, surely?

“I’m fine today, I’m going for a walk through the Gardens.”
“Why?” he replied.

“I need the warm sun on my back and a path to follow.”
“I understand,” he replied. “God bless.”

With a spring in my step I left the train, crossed the footbridge and followed the path to the Cathedral. Later at the Library steps I found my Good Sams and felt quite at home with 10,000 milling protestors urging for compassion, mercy and justice for people seeking refuge and asylum in our land of plenty. I felt blessed indeed as I remembered the saying that “friends have the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another”. I was among friends.

What does ‘asylum’ mean, if not something of friendship? What is friendship, if not sanctuary for the soul? In the olden days a person sought sanctuary in a church. No one could touch them. No one could harm them. Neither could one cast them out. Indeed, it was considered a blessing to receive such a person.

Those who pray the Benedictus prayer (Luke 1: 68-79) each morning should be prepared for a dawning from on high to visit them and shine a light on those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. Perhaps God’s compassion guides our feet onto the path of peace – to cry out for a democracy built upon respect and concern and an ability to see other people as human beings, not objects cast out as ‘illegals’.

In Luke’s Gospel, the Benedictus is Zachariah’s prophetic word to his hill country community of Judea upon the unexpected birth of his son John to his wife Elizabeth, cousin of Mary, mother of Jesus. John’s birth was seen as God’s great mercy to Elizabeth, and Zachariah’s muteness was overturned by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. The Benedictus prayer prepares us for divine surprises, for freedom and boldness in speech on behalf of the unseen, unheard people who are fleeing the shadows of death.

In our time, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls on all “to cultivate warm ties that strengthen our common humanity and promote the well-being of the human family”.

We may ask, what is stopping us?

Ban-Ki-moon calls on us “to confront the misunderstanding and distrust that underlie so many tensions and conflicts in today’s world”.

But how?

Ban Ki-moon directs us to the “relevance and importance of friendship as a noble and valuable sentiment in the lives of human beings around the world”.

Let’s promote our common humanity within our cultural diversity on planet Earth. Then watch the sparks of creativity fly! As the banner says for the International Day of Friendship, July 30Welcome to the United Nations. It’s Your World.

Your next journey departs from here.

Pam Grey

Melbourne-based Good Samaritan Sister Pam Grey is a writer and poet. She also volunteers as a home tutor for newcomers to Australia who need language and resettlement support.

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