Through every precinct of the wintry city
Squadroned iron resounds upon the streets;
Make shudder the dark steps of the tenements
At the business about to be done.
Neither look back upon Thy starry country,
Nor hear what rumours crowd across the dark
Where blood runs down these holy walls,
Nor frame a childish blessing with Thy hand
Towards that fiery spiral of exulting souls!
Go, Child of God, upon the singing desert,
Where, with eyes of flame,
The roaming lion keeps thy road from harm.
–Thomas Merton, ‘The Flight into Egypt’
from Thirty Poems (New Directions, 1944)
The Flight into Egypt is a biblical event described in the gospel of Matthew. Chapter 2: 13-23. Soon after the visit by the Magi, who had learned that King Herod intended to kill the infants of that area, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to tell him to flee to Egypt with Mary and infant Jesus.
My Advent reading today included the Merton poem and the first three chapters of Matthew. Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. A lively discussion followed within my group, covering topics on brutality, gentleness, despots, foreign occupation, identity, unwanted pregnancies, fundamentalism, unwed mothers, borders, purity, violence, justice, silence, virginity, adoption, refugees, migration and extremism.
As we enter a season of preparation and celebration, it’s good to remember those who are fleeing. One in every 113 people on the planet is now a refugee. Around the world, someone is displaced every three seconds, forced from their homes by violence, war and persecution. The number of refugees continues to grow. By the end of 2016, the number of displaced people had risen to 65.6 million – more than the population of the United Kingdom.
Too many people on the island of Ireland know what it’s like to be forced, or strongly encouraged to leave the homeland. We, of all people, know how it feels to be strangers in a foreign land. Statistics estimate that even now there are more Irish people living outside of Ireland than within its borders. As we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ this Christmas season, may we also prepare our hearts and have the perseverance to come alongside those in our area who are foreign and have fled war, violence and persecution.