The importance of spirituality in the lives of those who fight for justice was just one of the takeaways for Niall Leahy SJ, who sat for many hours on the cold pavement outside the Houses of Parliament in London.
The Irish Jesuit had some memorable encounters and learnt a number of valuable lessons as he prayed and kept vigil with people of all faiths who spent the 40 days of Lent bearing witness to the need for urgent action from politicians to save our planet.
Read the account of his experience below.
Praying at parliament for the planet
On Ash Wednesday Melanie invited me to participate in the Extinction Rebellion (XR) Faith Bridge 40-day 24/7 Lenten prayer and meditation vigil for the planet outside parliament.
Melanie and I are classmates on the MA Theology, Ecology, and Ethics programme at the London Jesuit Centre. A Christian and a lawyer, Melanie is also an active member of the XR Faith Bridge, an alliance of XR people with religious beliefs who have come together to form a “do-it-together all-faiths collaboration.” The neglected Celtic Christian in me liked the idea of a 24/7 vigil.
Sitting on the pavement outside parliament for a 7-hour shift once a week would be chicken feed for the Celtic monks of days gone by, but for me…well, let’s just say it was a step up from giving up chocolate.
The vigil was both an inward and outward action. Outwardly, we had some signs and symbols telling people what we were doing. Passers often slowed down to have a closer look or simply gave a nod of recognition and encouragement.
A number of people also stopped to talk, including some MPs. Early one morning a Polish street cleaner told me that change can take a long time and he encouraged me to persevere.
Inwardly, the prayer time was very rich. I used the time to rotate through my repertoire of prayer methods: the Rosary, conversation with God, quiet contemplation, singing hymns of praise.
One night after a praying beside somebody for a few hours I eventually asked “So how do you pray?”, and a wonderful conversation and faith-sharing ensued.
Another lady said that sitting in front of the Houses of Parliament she was mindful of all the good and the bad that had happened there down through the years, and she was praying for the good. My abiding memory of the prayer is closing my eyes, quietening down, and having a sense of everything being held in existence by the Creator “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
The experience has convinced me further of the importance of spirituality for people who campaign for justice. Without some sort of spiritual life, campaigners can run out of steam or despair at the magnitude of the task. One of the goals of the spiritual life is to tap into the wellspring of Life that sustains us in our efforts. Prayer and meditation gives us access to grace that flows from the heart of Jesus into our own heart, so that we may persevere until the end like He did.
It was both an inward and an outward action, both powerful and sober, just like Lent.
Facebook: XR Faith Bridge
Youtube: Film about the vigil