Praying not Politicking

It is not difficult to see why many are claiming that President Obama has been outfooted by President Putin, but does that really matter? The situation in Syria is so grave that any initiative that lessens the death toll or potential death toll is surely worth pursuing. Ridding the country of chemical weapons will take months if not years and will do nothing of itself to stop the killing, but oughtn’t we to do what we can, as we can, without ourselves adding to the carnage? Many people sneer at the idea of praying for peace, but maybe, just maybe, what President Putin has proposed is part of the answer to prayer. We still need to work at it, for prayer is never a magic solution doing away with the necessity for human effort. We shall never know what effect Pope Francis’s letter had on anyone at the G20 summit, just as we shall never know what really motivates any individual (there is often a gap between what is said or done and what goes on inside someone’s head and heart). Prayer can achieve what politicking cannot for the simple reason that it allows God into situations from which we have intentionally excluded him.

We have only to look at what is happening in Sinai to realise how like a tinderbox the whole of the Middle East is, and how terribly people are suffering. If those of us who believe do not respond by spending more time on our knees, what kind of Christians are we?


Peace Comes Dropping Slow

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.