Library News – October

From the Library

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept” says Psalm 137. “We hung up our harps in the trees …. for how can we sing the songs of Zion in a strange land?” It is the most vivid description that I know of forced exile and captivity. “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither …”

I have just bought for the Library a small book by Khaled Hosseini, called “Sea Prayer”. It is an unashamedly emotional book, telling of a refugee family from Homs in Syria. They are refugees, fleeing into exile from destruction rather than captives as the Jews were in Babylon, but the desolation of their loss is the same. “Sea Prayer” is written to remind us that the refugees who are washing up on the shores of Europe are people wrenched from their homes by war.

I must have driven through Homs. Twenty years ago we were staying with friends in Damascus, and we drove up to Aleppo. Homs is on that road. I, too, have seen the olive trees, the vines and the fig trees around the villages, small flocks of sheep herded by their shepherds. I have bought trinkets in the souk in Aleppo, seen the shrines of Syrian Christian saints, walked in the courtyards of the mosques. All gone now in the destruction of war.

The Bible knows about refugees. It was as refugees that the Israelites escaped from Egypt. As refugees they flooded into Palestine and fought for their foothold there. They were in exile in Babylon for seventy years, and some never returned. And what the Bible tells us about refugees is that we must welcome them. We must look after them and treat them fairly. The alien, the orphan, and the widow are the three groups we are told over and over again to cherish and to help. “For you were strangers in the land of Egypt” says Deuteronomy. Jesus’ parable of judgement says “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” to the sheep “…and you did not welcome me” to the goats.

“Sea Prayer” is carefully designed to tug your heartstrings. But it is nonetheless real. Read it and think how we should respond.

Rosemary Smith

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