A time and place for prayer

I don’t pretend to be a saint. But one of my favourite quotes – by Thomas Merton, of course – is this:

“The saints are what they are, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else. It gives them a clarity of compassion that can find good in the most terrible criminals. It delivers them from the burden of judging others, condemning others. It teaches them to bring the good out of others by compassion, mercy and pardon. We become saints not by conviction that we are better than sinners but by the realization that we are one of them, and that all together we need the mercy of God.”

I am a sinner just the same as everyone else. But I’m not miserable. I’m a happy sinner! No, I’m not happy about my sins. I’m glad that I’m able to enjoy the mercy of God.

Thomas Merton imagines God saying: “I have always overshadowed Jonas with my mercy…. Have you had sight of me, Jonas, my child? Mercy within mercy within mercy.”

This land, Palestine, also known as Israel, and the people here, both Palestinians and Israelis, are desperately in need of the mercy of God.

Let us all show mercy towards each other. This land and the people here need compassion, mercy and pardon, not judgement or condemnation.

Who amongst us is in a position to judge others? Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.”

And yet we need to exercise judgement. We need to name the treatment of Palestinians by Israelis for what it is: oppression. We need to name the separation of Palestinians and Israelis into overcrowded towns on the one hand and spacious communities on the other as apartheid. Maybe it is accurate to refer to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) as “Israeli Occupation Forces” (IOF). Maybe it is accurate to describe the “separation barrier” as an “Apartheid Wall”.

In order to exercise judgement and then to take creative loving action in accordance with that judgement, we need to pray. We need to open our hearts to God’s guidance. We need the Spirit of love to inspire us.

There are demonic forces at work. What can be more demonic than the desire to kill someone? Such demonic forces, Jesus tells us, can only be overcome by prayer and fasting.

So I need to take time to pray. And maybe five times per day isn’t enough. And maybe a time of fasting wouldn’t go amiss.

I’ve just begun reading “Dimensions of Prayer” by Douglas Steere, who was Professor of Philosophy at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. He writes: “The living God is the field of force into which we enter in prayer.” But he complains: “How little there is in us of the silent and radiant strength in which the secret works of God really take place!”

I really do need to spend more time in prayer. Here in this place. Now at this time.

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