How do we Pray about Afghanistan?

Afghanistan: Photo by nasim dadfar on Unsplash

The shock and horror of what is happening in Afghanistan have left many in the West angry or numb. Some have taken to social media to vent their distress or accuse those they consider to be responsible. Others have found solace in tears or confided to their diaries thoughts they can scarcely put into words. As to what it means for the people of Afghanistan themselves, there we draw a blank. We can speculate, but imagination and knowledge of what has happened in the past will take us only so far. Afghans living in Britain may have some idea, but most of us do not. We are outsiders, with a guilty sense of being being at least partly responsible for  the tragedy unfolding before our eyes. 

While politicians and commentators take to the media to try to ‘explain’ what is happening and tell us what to expect in the future, the Church exhorts us to pray. That sounds easy enough, at least to those who do not believe or have never tried to pray. It is what the Church always says in times of crisis or tragedy, isn’t it? But how do we really pray when the heart is overwhelmed with feeling and there are no words that do not seem hollow and trite? How do we pray about something as big and painful as Afghanistan? 

Not Praying

Perhaps the first thing we should do is not even try. By that I mean, we need to abandon the idea of praying as a self-regarding exercise. We must forget that we are praying, take the spotlight off ourselves as doing a good act (praying for those in need) and remember Jesus on the cross, his words reduced to very few and ending with a great cry. We must forget all the words we love so much, too, and the way we try to cajole God into doing our will rather than paying attention to him and his will. Words are not necessary, and they bend and break under the strain of trying to express what lies deepest in our being. The Holy Spirit is more eloquent than any of us, and we can trust the Spirit to articulate what we cannot put into words. Most difficult of all, perhaps, we must try to forget the self and its emotions. When greatly affected by another’s pain, it is easy to turn everything round to what we feel, our sorrow, our pain, and forget why we were inspired to pray in the first place.

Why Pray?

Why do we want to pray? It is a question we need to ask because I am not sure we are always clear or honest with ourselves in the answers we give. Praying is what good Christians do, isn’t it? Yes, but there is more to it than that. We pray because we are made for union with God, and for that union to be perfect, it must include everyone. So, we want the suffering in Afghanistan to end, for peace and justice to be established, but we want more than that. We want God to have joy in what he has created, for his beloved sons and daughters to live in freedom and harmony, to experience a transformation in and through the Holy Spirit. The means God chooses to achieve that— the people, the events — may surprise us, but that is not really our business. Our business, humanly speaking, is to make what God desires and wills possible by responding to the invitation to pray, to align our will with his. In Jesus Christ we have the perfect example of prayer and obedience — a prayer and obedience so wonderful that the whole human race has been redeemed.

The Prayer of Christ

At a time of tragedy or crisis, we need to unite ourselves ever more profoundly with the prayer of Christ himself. To do that we have to be much quieter and more attentive than most of us like being. To pray with Christ and in Christ requires a radical change of stance. We no longer have the satisfaction of thinking we do anything. We throw ourselves and the whole world on the mercy of God. There is no safer place to be, but that act of renunciation, of relying on God alone, is infinitely costly. It is much easier to seek safety in words and gestures (which may be very eloquent/heroically generous) and thereby miss the essential. As a wise old monk once remarked, ‘It was not Christ’s death on the cross that redeemed us but the love and obedience that led him there.’ Love and obedience — they are what God asks of us in prayer, not eloquence, not brilliance, just our deepest, truest selves.

Not everyone is comfortable with the kind of prayer I have been describing, and I should be sorry if anyone were to conclude that I think it the only kind of prayer that is valid. We must always ‘pray as we can, not as we can’t’, but none of us should dismiss what I have described as being ‘not for me’ or impossible of attainment. Old friends don’t need to say much to each other, and it is cultivating friendship with God that the habit of prayer encourages. Confronted with the tragedy of Afghanistan, however, I think it is also the kind of prayer which protects us against two temptations that can paralyse our best efforts. They are (1) condemning others for what has happened and possibly wishing all kinds of ill upon them, and (2) spending time on our own solutions, most of which are probably naive or ill-informed or both.

Simply asking God to do what is best is much harder than railing against others. Giving time to prayer which doesn’t try to tell God what to do is harder still. To get up from our knees, seeing no obvious change yet determined to persevere, is hardest of all. It is to walk by faith not sight, to trust, to hope. It is what all Christians are called to do, and I think it is a good way of praying for Afghanistan.

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15 thoughts on “How do we Pray about Afghanistan?”

  1. Thank you so much for your wise words which I really needed to read , as I have been feeling so sad and overwhelmed by the events in Afghanistan. But I will do what you suggest and ask God to do what is best
    Renewed thanks and God bless you and all the community

    Reply
  2. Thank you for this. I had experience during my service life of being part of the machine which trained people to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. Also of dealing with casualties from that sphere of operations, including a young main who died their on operations. I was glad that when I retired, I no longer exercised those responsibilities. In fact, I was on the verge of becoming a pacifist, which would have made me leave anyway. But I know that the final experience with the family of a fatal casualty, led directly to returning to Christianity, and also to prayer. I still feel the emotions raised within me on the families grief, and the prayers offered for them by many who supported them, including the Padre who accompanied me on that particular journey. So, the situation now in Afghanistan is one that is beyond our comprehension, or lived experience. The fear and devastation felt by so many who are taking extreme risks to leave the country of their birth, is all to evident and we rightly should feel horrified at the plight faced by them, particularly those who had hoped against hope for a new beginning for themselves, their families and their country, now dashed as the west seems to have abandoned them. I might question the reasons for such a decision, and why have so many lives been sacrificed, it seems without any purpose of value, but I reason that such questioning is futile from me, who remains alive and well with all the freedoms that we have, compared to the situation for the millions of people there. My prayers have to be for the safety and future security for all of the people there, and for the nations of the world not to turn our backs on them, but to continue to support the NGO’s who continue to work there against all of the difficulties they face, with the hope that the Taliban will be true to their announced wish for that work to continue. There has to be some kind of hope that we will not turn our backs on the people of Afghanistan and advocate by all means within reason to support and help them and to offer a welcome from those who feel that need to leave and not leave them living in camps or ghetto’s as far away from our nations. We have a moral responsibility towards all seeking refuge and safety, without the sort of resistance to that duty being exhibited in some places.

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  3. And you are right. Your wise words will resonate and inspire those who read and reflect on them.

    But – as well as prayer, I do think that those who have any possibility of effecting change should do so. Many decades ago when I was lecturing in Pakistan we used to travel through the Khyber to Kabul to shop (for Marmite and coffee) mix freely and enjoy a break from the restrictions that we as women were subjected to. We had a fair few Afghan students in the college who brought a breath of fresh air to the student body.
    Then came all the events which followed the Russian invasion, and the Taliban resistance armed by the USA and the British arms trade.

    So I also think that we who can, must campaign to allow Afghan refugees to this country, especially women and girls. It’s probably the only practical action possible.

    As I type this I’m feeling that I’m off on a tangent again and I don’t want to turn attention away from the message of your blog – only to add what the restless among us might do.

    Reply
    • You are quite right. In the above post I did not even try to address the duty to act as well as pray, but I’m inclined to think that action preceded by prayer tends to end better than any other. We are certainly not meant to be passive or quietist.

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    • I think you are right though. We need to pray ànd act if we somehow can. But how the two interrelate might be a new topic for the DigitalNun… But I now notice that the DigitalNun had replied already.
      I tend to believe that our action needs to be purified by prayer and contemplation, maybe in some ‘spiralling’ way…

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  4. A young priest I follow on Facebook, and whose grandmother was my music teacher, wrote recently, “It is not nails that held Jesus to the cross. It was love.” Your words echo that. As ever, Sister, thank you. God bless you.

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  5. Thank you so much for this. Simply (!) to throw ourselves and all on our hearts onto the everlasting mercy is to become the prayer we long to pray and are called to pray…(and the action becomes part of the prayer)

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  6. Thank you Sr Catherine. I had just been thinking of the enormity of choosing a way to pray for the people of Afghanistan as they go through this turmoil. I was a bit stumped.But maybe your examples encourage us to put our distress, anger, desire to pray, desire to take action, in the hands of God. Lay my small prayer ideas at the foot of Jesus. I feel, He will send them all to where it’s needed.

    And maybe send me an idea of what I could do.

    For now, I have started today to pray for all victims of violence in Afghanistan, that they have the strength to bear it, and the enfolding love of God to heal from it.
    In humility, Amen.

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  7. Lord in Your Mercy hear our prayers.
    And may our prayers translate with a powerful steadying from the Holy Spirit
    on this sorrowful tense situation.
    God is in charge and we raise the fearful frightened Afghan people up to You Lord for Your Protection.

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  8. A bit late to add anything, but ..
    ….. when I was working for the UN in Afghanistan, I talked to some women and asked how it had been under the Taliban. The answer was “We thought our lives had ended”.
    This reverberates round my head, and I can only weep.

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    • Ruth, your comment brought tears to me, feeling like I will hunt down opportunities to take action to help Afghani women and their children, and for their male family members being fearful too.

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  9. I have never been so overwhelmed with anxiety, sadness and fear as I am right now with all that is going on. This blog has calmed my heart because it has reminded me that “God’s will be done,” and when I truly relinquish my wants and feelings to trust in the Lord, those feelings are there but calmed with hope through the Holy Spirit. I, too, have wanted to beg God to help because of desperation but the only time I am at peace in my heart is when I truly trust that God is in charge and always will do what is best for us.
    Thank you for this blog and all of the reminders that God wants us to take action but to do so through him and not through our own will. Remembering that he will guide us if we let him.
    Love and prayers to all in the world. All of leaders in the world to pray first and then act, to our military and their families to pray and trust in the Lord to show them the way, to all civilians every where to pray to the Lord for guidance, hope and peace and then trust that he will give us that even if we don’t think we can see it.
    The only prayer that conveys this to me the most and is the one I use when I have no words or when I am wondering if I am being selfish in my prayers is “The Lords Prayer”.
    So to all humans on the earth I pray,

    “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thine name.
    Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses,
    as we forgive those that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.” I pray this is Jesus name, Amen.

    Reply

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