Sunday, November 29, 2015

Prayers for Paris, and Beirut and Other Acts of Terrorism

In the 24 hours after the terrorist attacks in France , more than 70 million people around the world took to Instagram to pray for Paris .

I'm not on Instagram, but my Facebook feed was filled with similar messages from people indicating that they, too, were praying for that city.

I understand why people did that. Faced with such a terrible event, we all felt so powerless. Prayer was one thing we could do.

But what to pray? That was the challenge. Finding the right words is hard for situations like that. 

Not knowing what else to say, many Christians resort to the ubiquitous “be with” prayer. As in “God, be with the people of Paris .” Theologically, that’s suspect, since Christians believe God is omnipresent—and if God was to be anywhere that evening, Paris was the place.

Although I could not find any prayers for Paris on the Web, a few people have taken time to write some good prayers for a time such as this. Like this one, posted by the Diocese of Portsmouth in England after the terrorist attacks in London in 2005.

We pray for those affected by terrorist attacks around the world, and especially those in London.

We pray for the families who have lost loved ones. We pray for the fire, police and ambulance staff on the scene. We pray for the doctors and nurses caring for the hurting.

We pray for the reporters who work through intense emotion to bring us the pictures and news of the day. 

We pray for the our elected leaders who so desperately need wisdom from beyond themselves. 

We pray for the clergy in London who care first-hand for the spiritual needs of those who have experienced this great tragedy.

We pray for the military and intelligence agencies who seek to find out who would do this so they might be brought to justice. 

We pray for our nation—that this event will bring us together and turn our thoughts toward helping each other to overcome the threat of terrorism.

We pray for all those who might be tempted to think that violence accomplishes anything of lasting value. 

Lastly, we pray for every peace lover in this world. May God break the cycle of violence to make a difference for His Peace and Grace in this sinful world.

Or this one, inspired by a prayer posted on the website of the New South Wales Council of Churches in 2011.

Almighty God, Lord of all compassion, events in recent weeks remind us that we continue to live in a broken and deeply divided world.

We cannot comprehend what drives people to acts of terror and destruction, and to a willingness to kill and maim innocent people in the name of religion.

As Jesus commanded, we pray for our enemies and those who wish us ill; we pray for an end to hatred and needless violence; we pray for children left orphaned, and bereaved parents; we pray for those who live with physical and mental scars of terrorism. And we also pray for those who work to relieve the suffering.

Pour your Spirit on us to enable us and all your people to work for justice and true peacemaking, In the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

And, finally, this prayer, titled Prayer in Times of Violence and Fear, from Presbyterian Church USA .

Almighty, all-merciful God, through Christ Jesus you have taught us to love one another,
to love our neighbours as ourselves, and even to love our enemies.

In times of violence and fear, let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, so that we may not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good.

Help us to see each person in light of the love and grace you have shown us in Christ. Put away the nightmares of terror and awaken us to the dawning of your new creation. Establish among us a future where peace reigns, justice is done with mercy, and all are reconciled.

We ask these things in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I’m grateful for those who wrote these prayers, but sorry they had to be written at all. I’m even sadder they will probably be necessary again in the future.

From my Nov. 28 Winnipeg Free Press column.

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