A couple of weeks ago, Sr. Dorothy Gilloley, a regular retreatant here, sent me this Prayer for Peace in the Middle East:
God of mercy and compassion, of grace and reconciliation, pour your power upon your children in the Middle East: Jews, Muslims and Christians, Palestinians and Israelis. Let hatred be turned into love, fear to trust, despair to hope, oppression to freedom, occupation to liberation, that violent encounters may be replaced by loving embraces, and peace and justice could be experienced by all.
To pray this in the comfort of bucolic Northern Virginian could be a glib exercise of benign sentiment. But there’s nothing glib about this prayer’s author, Said Ailabouni, who was born in Bethlehem to a Greek Orthodox family of Palestinians. His family had been exiled to Lebanon—on foot and without food–from Eilabun, a village near Tiberias, after the Israeli army quelled an uprising there, killing several Palestinians. After the family returned to Israel, his father died of cancer when Said was six years old and he resolved to become a doctor and find a cure for cancer. Of course he could not be accepted by any university in Israel so he immigrated to the United States when he was nineteen years old.
However, his hard life had left him so angry with God that instead of studying medicine, he studied theology; he is now pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in LaGrange, Illinois, active in the Christian-Muslim dialogue. He knows well the open-mindedness and close-mindedness on both sides. He knows too well the tension between Israelis and Palestinians, the necessity of having a homeland, whether you’re a Jew or a Palestinian. He knows how ugly and how beautiful any human community can be: this is no glib prayer.
To desire to pray this prayer is to recognize that humanity still survives in humankind, that there still is a flicker of hope, that we can still recognize the humanity of our opponents; that we all can change.
Will the present state of our world forge another link in the chain of retributive violence or become a turning point—or something in between? Enough of us must bear the tension of holding opposites together in God to break that chain. Contemplatives, whether living in this monastery, or coming here for encouragement or unknown to us, had better be some of those people who acknowledge and bear the tension of
opposites, who bear their own wounds and the wounds of our world. That tension can be the creative tension that generates forgiveness.
If we deny or ignore our wounds, they will pursue us—and all we meet—under many different disguises till the day we die. If we keep picking at our scabs and rehearse again and again how our wounds were inflicted, they will never heal. Our wounds, however, could be open doors—open doors out of our self-absorption, open doors towards our healing. They then would become our joy.
I don’t think I could explain the relationship, whether they generate one another, but just as there are tears of sorrow, of frustration, of compunction, there are tears of joy. There are no tears of self-satisfaction, of entertainment or distraction, of self-congratulation or complacency, of pride, of inconsistency, of entitlement or exceptionalism. May we not imprison ourselves in our sorrow and allow frustration to banish our joy! May our tears of sorrow mature into tears of joy.
Well, I’ve already said much more than I usually do at this podium. Enough of words!
Now we need a moment of silence and then, the sacramental action which is our reconciliation, our salvation, our thanksgiving—indeed, our joy: the victory of the Lamb who has been slain.