Helen Hood, a member of our Council of Management, led us in a reflection at our 2017 conference on ‘voices from the margins’. Helen has kindly adapted her reflection so you can use it in your church – it’s suitable for Church Action on Poverty Sunday.
We begin by hearing some words from Psalm 5.
(If possible, four different voices ‘from the margins’ of the room call out in turn.)
Voice 1: Listen to my words, O Lord, and hear my sighs.
Voice 2: Listen to my cry for help, my God and king!
Voice 3: I pray to you, O Lord; you hear my voice in the morning;
Voice 4: at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer.
19 November 2017 was designated by Pope Francis as the First World Day of the Poor. His message for the day begins with a quote from I John 3:18 “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” which he describes as voicing “an imperative that no Christian may disregard”. “Love has no alibi,” he says. Later in the message he uses these words: “If we want to help change history and promote real development, we need to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalisation.”
There is a lot we can learn from hearing voices from the margins, the cries of those who have been marginalised in our society. Here is an example of where what’s on the margins is a crucial part of the picture. The picture shows a page from a printed version of the Babylonian Talmud, a vast collection of Jewish writings containing the teachings and opinions of thousands of rabbis. In the centre of the page we see the original passage of Hebrew text to be studied. Only by reading all the comments around it, including those very definitely in the margins, will we understand it at all fully. Indeed the title gemara given to these commentaries means ‘completion’.
Marginal voices of all kinds have something to teach us. “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” This quote from Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal woman, was heard at a World YWCA conference 25 years ago – and at the time it was a bit of a revelation to many who were busy trying to help those whom society had pushed out to the edge. St Francis of Assisi, inspiration to Pope Francis and many others, learned this lesson long ago through an encounter with a leper, a person such as he had formerly feared and shunned, but now embraced. It was truly a liberating experience for Francis to discover his brotherhood with this marginalised child of God.
But from what do we today need to be liberated? At least some of the following – greedy consumerism and envy, the abuse of power, prejudice, violence and cruelty, deceit, self-interest – the list could go on, of course. And perhaps at least sometimes we need liberation from putting God to the margins, from ignoring what we know we should or should not do. Remember Pope Francis’ expression that “Love has no alibi” – there are times perhaps when some of us have tried to provide one!
Of course God is already at the margins, as well as in the centre, listening to those voices we have not heard or wanted to hear. As the psalmist says:
I pray to you, O Lord; you hear my voice in the morning; at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer.
Take a few moments now to reflect.
Think of someone you know, or know of, who’s on the margins, and pray for or think about that person – for yourself too, is there something you can do to help or support them?
If you’re on the margins too can you work together, what might encourage you both?
If you’re not on the margins yourself – some of us indeed have never even been close – how can you come alongside that person? Can you recognise that your own liberation is bound up with theirs?
Let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth, for Love has no alibi.
You are welcome to copy this text and print it for use in your church or group. Please