Healing Prayer for the World
Today’s post is by Patience Robbins.
The other day I found myself weeping over the state of our world. I felt deep grief and pain; I call it being heartsick. I felt moved to seek out another person so I could share this deep pain. As we sat together and I wept, I felt comforted. I told of the troubles I was carrying and then felt able to turn them over to God–to God’s light and love–as well as pray for the courage and willingness to do what I am called to do.
I am reminded of a wonderful story that Richard Rohr tells (which may or may not be true) that, when Francis and Clare of Assisi got together for holy conversation, they wept over the state of the world. This has been so affirming of my experience and reminds me of the stream of contemplative people who have gone before us who also were deeply aware and sensitive to the suffering in the world.
One of the most encouraging ways I have found to remain aware and hopeful is by recalling these people who have traveled this contemplative path. I have some favorite mentors: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Etty Hillesum, Therese of Lisieux, Jerry May. I continue to look to their lives as examples of great courage and great generosity of spirit. They lived and breathed a deep willingness to be utterly available for God in the world.
I pray to these people. I beg them to join with me in prayer for our world and for me that I, too, might have that deep generosity to be a vehicle or manifestation of God–of Love–in our broken and troubled world.
Again, Francis’s words as he was dying come to mind: “I have done what is mine to do, now do what is yours.” One of the tasks that has been given me to do is envisioning our world full of light, love and compassion. In my imagination, I can encircle it with deep peace, allowing that gift of peace to flow through me and out to all the world united with this stream of courageous, generous and loving people.
This is a profound mystery–that my loving, my embracing peace and sending it out to the world could make a difference. There is also another aspect of this mystery about which Jerry May has written: “This contemplative vision of God as vulnerable, woundable, brings about a fresh sense of intercessory prayer as well. Though we often think of intercessory prayer as praying to God for the sake of someone else, the contemplatives often sense an invitation to pray with God, to share God’s joy and sorrow, which in turn God is sharing with all creation. There is a notion here of ‘keeping God company’ in whatever God is experiencing.” Perhaps I am keeping God company as God weeps over the world. At times, I really feel that I am!
The other person who has voiced my experience is Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman in Holland, who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust, and died at Auschwitz in 1943. In her journal, An Interrupted Life, she writes: “I said that I confronted the ‘suffering of mankind’ (I still shudder when it comes to big words), but that was not really what it was. Rather I feel like a small battlefield, in which the problems, or some of the problems, of our time are being fought out. All one can hope to do is to keep oneself humbly available, to allow oneself to be a battlefield. After all, the problems must be accommodated, have somewhere to struggle and come to rest, and we, poor little humans, must put our inner space at their service and not run away.”
I, too, often experience this struggle—what to do, how to respond, how to make sense of the complexity, the vastness of the problems. How do I make a difference? How do I take it all in? I can only be “humbly available”—offering my inner space for all of these questions.
As a contemplative, this holy envisioning, keeping God company, and providing some opening and availability for God, have emerged as responses of how to act with deep love and compassion for our broken and suffering world.
This reflection first appeared in Shalem News, Winter 2007.