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Praying for Peace

August 15, 2007

I ran across this quotation from Henri Nouwen in Pax Christi’s Peacemaking: Day by Day:

Prayer is the basis of all peacemaking precisely because in prayer we come to the realization that we do not belong to the world in which conflicts and wars take place, but to Jesus who offers us his peace. The paradox of peacemaking is indeed that we can only speak of peace in this world when our sense of who we are is not anchored in the world. We can only say, `We are for peace,’ when those who are fighting have no power over us.”

Nouwen’s quote painfully reminds me of how my faith has been weakened living peacefully complacently in a country embroiled in a brutal and unjust war. In the months before the war began in 2003, I was heavily involved in anti-war activities. I constantly carried a beautiful wooden rosary with me that my mother-in-law had given me from a trip to the Vatican, and literally prayed it to pieces waiting for buses and trains, marching through the streets of Baltimore and Washington.

Absurdly perhaps, I had faith, and I had hope, shared with many thousands of Christians and others of good will who were engaged in a tremendous display of opposition to the looming war. Whatever happened, I knew that in our prayer and in our protest, our hearts at least were safe from war.

But in the traumatic days after the invasion, and the agonizing months and years of watching the war unfold inevitably into deeper brutality and chaos, I seem to have lost much of my hunger for prayer, lost some of my faith and much of my hope. All that’s left of that rosary is the cross and a few beads, the rest spilled out of my coat pocket somewhere. Memento Mori — a relic of the better self I have lost.

Ensconced comfortably in middle class America, I am reminded of Denise Levertov’s poem “Life at War:”

The disasters numb within us
caught in the chest, rolling
in the brain like pebbles…

The same war continues.
We have breathed the grits of it in, all our lives,
our lungs are pocked with it,
the mucous membrane of our dreams
coated with it, the imagination
filmed over with the gray filth of it….

our nerve filaments twitch in its presence
day and night,
nothing we say has not the husky phlegm of it in the saying,
nothing we do has the quickness, the sureness,
the deep intelligence living at peace would have

O God, forgive my faithlessness. Help me in my unbelief. Lift this weight from my heart.

On my desk, scarcely touched, is a beautiful, hand-made wooden rosary my wife brought me from a trip to Mexico last year. It’s long past time to put those beads to work.

God give us the strength to rise again.

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