Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of our community’s foundation and I had intended one of those joyful little posts in which one enumerates the many blessings the community has received over the years, not least the fact that David is still around when many a monastic Goliath has bitten the dust. Then I read of the closure of St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai. The monks are still there, as they have been since Justinian’s time, but they have closed their doors to visitors because of the dangerous situation in that part of Egypt and now the livelihood of the town that has grown up around them and the 400 workers they themselves employ has been put at risk. It suddenly seemed heartless to proclaim the mirabilia Dei we have experienced when others are suffering.
That, of course, is a perennial problem. Today, as we pray and fast for peace in Syria and the Middle East, we in the West are very conscious of how privileged we are to enjoy the blessings of peace and stability. There are even signs that the economy may be improving (though I have some doubts about how equally that will be experienced). In short, we pray from a position of plenty for those in a position of want and that is troubling, for it feels top-down, not quite in keeping with the solidarity we think we should feel. The important thing to remember, as always, is that we pray as we can, from where we are, which is not necessarily where we would like to be.
There is a wide divergence of opinion about Western military intervention in Syria, but there can be no disagreement about the desirability of peace. How we attain it, I do not know; but I sense that for peace to be achieved internationally, there must first be peace in our own hearts. So, if today we want to pray for peace in Syria, we must first cleanse our own hearts of every un-peace. We must apologize for the wrongs we have done others and do our best to put right every act of violence or aggression of which we have been guilty. The unkind word, the stony face, the clenched fist, they are all destroyers, no less than bombs or bullets.
‘Peace comes dropping slow,’ wrote Yeats. We need the drip-drip of peace to wear away everything that puts up barriers between human beings. Ultimately, if we do not pursue peace, we shall be destroyed, too.