Praying for the Middle East

With the unfolding horror of the Hamas attacks on the Jewish community and the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza it seemed right that on a beautiful crisp Autumn morning in the park, not only should we give thanks for all we enjoyed here, but that we also looked square in the face of what was happening in the world and prayed. But what to pray?

Peacekeepers or Peacemakers?

The perhaps over-familiar words of the Sermon on the Mount might be misheard or misinterpreted.  Jesus’ didn’t say “blessed are the peacekeepers.” But “blessed are the peacemakers.”  The distinction between the two is vital. Peace-keeping can actually be the opposite of Peace-making. 

Peacekeepers’ ambition is to keep the peace at all costs.  As a result, we can often avoid the discomfort needed to solve issues at the core and instead focus on maintaining the status quo.  But the status quo of our world needs to be broken, and keeping the peace isn’t enough. Taken to its extreme, keeping the peace would have meant allowing slave owners to continue to own slaves, it would have meant not allowing women to vote, and would enable countries to invade others as long as it doesn’t impact petrol prices too much.

Peacemakers, on the other hand, can be disruptors. They recognise that sometimes, they need to disrupt the status quo to allow real peace to prevail. Peacemakers actively build peace; they speak up when it’s uncomfortable and step in where injustice has taken a foothold.

When we talk about peacemaking, we talk reconciliation. We’re talking about building bridges and creating opportunities for relationships to be mended and strengthened.

When done Jesus’ way, peace can literally be the opposite of safety. 

And a living example of this can be seen in Vivian Silver. The 74-year-old Canadian-Israeli has  spent her adult life campaigning for peace and human rights for Palestinians, particularly those living in impoverished Gaza. On Saturday morning, Vivian was one of the many hostages kidnapped by Hamas and currently her whereabouts and welfare is unknown.

So this morning we prayed, we sighed, we groaned and we asked for Peacemakers’ voices to be heard. And we were reminded ; 

“For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8.

And as has happened before, the bandstand, for a few minutes, became a ‘thin-place’, as a white dove (and no matter if it was a pigeon!)  perched on the railings….

We used the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury too:

And amidst it all, we sued words from Psalm 23, words from our litany of thanksgiving, words from our Companions liturgy and words from Celtic encircling prayers. Overall, a very moving, sobering time together