Friday, 16 June 2017

Love your Enemy: Praying after London and Manchester

By Kirsten Brown

On the eve of Pentecost a few of my friends opened their home for a 12-hour praise and prayer vigil. As I sat on the sofa outside with two of my closest friends, looking across at the wider group, the peace and stillness of the night draped around us. It was almost 11pm - the time we had planned to pray for eccumenism and peace - when another friend came over and whispered that there had been an attack on London Bridge. To be honest my initial response was delayed surprise - the type that comes from receiving news you had expected but still felt the insurmountable weight of. As it was announced to the wider group I was completely distracted, frantically contacting family members in the area. I could see in the faces of those around me a spiraling sense of apprehension - it was not only London Bridge on our minds, but Manchester and Westminster too. Those few minutes were a horrifying interruption of reality. Yet, it so happened that on a night of such incomprehensible violence God had also brought together a community seeking reconciliation and hope. In that spirit, as our human hearts failed to understand, we prayed.

A few weeks on I think many of us are still holding these events in our hearts. As the dust
settles we begin asking “where does this come from?” and “where are we going?” Rather than drawing philosophical conclusions or to trying determine causes, I want simply to reflect on how our Catholic faith calls us to a deeper response of courage, faithfulness and prayer, in the face of violence and fear. It is not that we spiritualise these attacks, but we remember that within these evil acts God is present; he is stitching peace and goodness into our world.

We need courage to continue living freely. ​When our security services and politicians call for a ‘return to normal life’ I think that this is both physical and psychological. We continue to go to work or study; to use public transport; to walk in the street; enjoy our social lives. More than this, however, is mental freedom - we choose to not be so overwhelmed by fear that we are too distracted or anxious to be present. Of course we worry, but we don’t let this eclipse the fact that we are created to live freely in God’s love; to live in this world with all its abundant goodness as well as its deep brokenness, free from the fear of death and violence.

'God did not give us a ​spirit​ of timidity, but the ​Spirit​ of power and love and self-control.'

2 Timothy 1:7

​A question I’ve found myself asking more and more is how do I truly feel about what is happening in our country? If I’m honest, I’m not always consistent in my answer - and I don’t think I’m alone in this. These acts intend to whip up hatred, anger, fear and division. I think that many of us really try hard not to give into these sentiments but it is really important that we are honest with how these acts impact our convictions, our political views, our stereotypes, our prejudices. What is in your heart is known to yourself and God, but a hardened heart gives root to bitterness and mistrust. We have the right to protest political grievances and a duty to pursue social justice, but we do so seeking peace not punishment, in the knowledge that true justice is from God.

'We Christians are meant to invade the world so as to transform it from the inside.
How? Through the power of the cross, by doing what Jesus did, taking upon ourselves the
dysfunction of the world; doing the hard work of forgiving love.' 

Bishop Robert Barron

Pray for those who would harm us. ​A while ago I had a conversation with a friend about
praying for terrorists - quite understandably he was incredulous and angry because it seemed as if forgiveness equated with being ‘let off’. Yet our faith teaches us that, though difficult, it is our duty to pray for them. Jesus himself gives us the perfect prayer on the cross when he cries: “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing”. ​Prayer is not a last resort but an act of total reliance and faith in God. It helps us to remember that they belong to God as we do, that when we say ‘Jesus died for our sins’ that ‘our’ includes them, they too are the lost sheep; they too are infinitely loved by God. There is much that divides us, but this is what we have in common and it can be hard to accept. Yet Christ says “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” - ​prayer, then, is how we cultivate love. It is how we bring healing, peace and reject the hatred of the evil one to take root. Since we have known the deep love and joy of living in Christ, how far must those who wish us harm be from him, and why would we not will for them to return to him?

Be a sign of hope in our wider community. ​Last summer I read “Long Walk to Freedom” by
Nelson Mandela. He was a man not unfamiliar with suffering, social division and violence. One of his most famous quotes is this:

'No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.'

I cannot think of a more perfect or fitting call than this: to Love one another back to life. These threats are ‘national’ and ‘international’ but they start at the level of the individual and then our communities. How can you be a sign of hope and unity in your local community? I’m not saying that we all need to stop our lives and become political activists, but we do need to play our part in healing divisions in small, humble ways. Whether it is being more informed on what other faiths really believe, joining in interfaith dialogue or perhaps learning more about current politics. It is not by chance that we find ourselves living the the time that we do - God does not call us to be ‘of’ this world but ‘in’ it and to fill it with love.


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