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Stories from Richard Carter
Thursday 25th June 2020 @ 1:58 pm

I rarely use this blog to rehash in full what others are writing … but reading ‘The City Is My Monastry’ by Richard Carter helps me change habits.

Here are two short chapters – stories of encounter – that should be allowed air and space.

I meet with a woman who is seeking asylum in this country; she is carrying a small child. She has come to ask me for my prayers as she still fears being sent back to the violence. She tells me those fears. I ask if I can pray with her.

Perhaps she does not understand but God does for she kneels down, cradling the child and starts praying herself. She prays in her own language; it sounds like Aramaic, the language of Jesus – a prayer like a chant, a song of grief, soft repeated words, from the throat. I cannot understand her language, but I can understand the prayer, hear it deeply – she repeats the name of Jesus again and again.

And there are tears on her face as she pours out her need of God. I do not know this woman and I do not know if her prayer will be answered, but I can see her love for God and her love for her son.

It is like light – illuminating her, shining out of her. I see a path with a heart. And I feel humbled – as though her prayer is for all of us and I am in the presence of someone very close to God, she holds on to her young son – like Mary holding Christ.

What can I say to her? I cannot promise that her asylum court case will be successful. What can I say? I can say nothing. I can only let her pray for me and the world: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in Christ my Saviour.’ ‘Amen, Amen.’

He wears a black woollen cap pulled down over his hair. I once saw him take it off and glimpsed the plaits beneath; but perhaps he feels his hair is too matted or knotted by the rain. He doesn’t speak much. It is his actions which speak. And slowly over the weeks he has lifted up his eyes and his face has lit up into a smile and his kindness has filled the place.

He came as a guest to our International Group – a place where we offer hospitality to those without recourse to public funds and end up discovering the hospitality they offer to us, so that we are no longer sure who is the guest and who is the host.

It began with the washing-up – simply, quietly taking control of dirty dishes, washing and draining at speed, laughing when I tried to help. The sink becoming the place of hospitality and meeting – washing away the mess and grease, plunging into clean water. Then he began on the pots, the serving trays, the surfaces, the serving counters – cleaning at speed, so it gleamed, clearing away, putting back – his smile and laugh radiating outwards. He galvanized us. So that Sunday after Sunday the quietest became the one we all depended on most, the one whose presence inspired us all.

Carrying huge bags of rice back from Chinatown, he carries two bags on ahead of me and before I am half-way back, has returned empty-handed to help me carry mine. Walking seventy-four miles to Canterbury on our annual pilgrimage and when we, the slowest group of pilgrims, have staggered into the church halls in the evening, which he reached three hours before, we discover he has sorted our luggage and found our sleeping bags and place to sleep. Nothing servile – but brave, self-sufficient, strong.

This man has crossed Africa, spent time working to raise money for his passage in Libya, crossed the Mediterranean in a boat that almost sank, crossed Europe, spent months in the Calais Jungle. Got to the UK, God knows how. He has a kindness and an awareness of the needs of others that staggers. And yet he is so self-contained, demanding nothing – just this instinctive giving of self. Without complaint, without request, without moan, without profit, without motive: he generously gives and we are made richer by his presence. He is the beloved disciple.


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