Prayer and Peacework

by Clint Baldwin, Executive Director We had included this reflection in a monthly newsletter to our staff but wanted to make it available to friends of Word Made Flesh as well. Thank you for partnering with WMF and being a part of God’s work to bring healing, hope, and peace to our neighbors in need around the world.

July is a month in the United States where national independence is celebrated. While there is a strong case for good existing in some aspects of the idea of independence, significant concerns also arise. For instance, it is good to gain freedom/independence from tyranny and oppression. However, having responsibility toward our brother and sister human beings can begin to be construed as feeling oppressive to us and as something from which we want independence. While the first idea above is helpful, the second is obviously harmful. How do we seek freedom from harm without ourselves yet perpetuating more harm?

This is a huge concept. We should remain grappling with it our whole lives. We will hopefully continue to make progress in our understanding, but it is something that we will never have fully answered this side of the veil. Always arriving, never arrived; an ongoing task of exploration without the finality of a completed answer.

Overall, I would submit that our goal is not primarily independence, but healthy interdependence. Discerning what is healthy interdependence and what is unhealthy codependence is not always easy – this is especially the case if we have not seen healthy versions of such rhythms already modeled for us. Sometimes we might find ourselves connected to situations that are so unhealthy that we need to — for various amounts of time (for some situations it might be for our remaining years on this earth) — essentially fully detach. Ultimately, we recognize that the Lord wills that none should perish or stand alone, but we might not be the ones at certain times and places to seek to facilitate such hopes being made manifest. The Lord can encourage others to do this.

How do we stay healthily interconnected – which includes creating some boundaries for the sake of ourselves, our families, and communities – so that we create space to healthily continue forward in ministry? How do we make sure that our boundarying is of the Lord and not just of our own making because we want more “me time?”

Allow me to leave you with two main passages and a few thoughts that we have considered during prayer and reflection times this month that can be further way-posts as you navigate.

This month we read from Henri Nouwen’s Peacework: Prayer, Resistance, Community. Below I’ll refer to and quote extensively from Nouwen’s work. Really, I quote an egregious amount from Nouwen, but it’s such good stuff and I really want to give you a solid taste of the chapter. Nouwen notes that prayer is the key to healthy interdependence. He notes that prayer is the core of all and the key to all. Prayer is the only necessary thing (Luke 10:42).

As Nouwen writes, “It is living with God here and now.” Prayer reminds us of who God is and who we are and therefore prayer helps open our eyes. He writes,

It can indeed come as a great shock to realize that what we consider works of service in the name of God may be motivated to such a degree by our wounds and needs that not peace, but resentment, anger, and even violence become their fruits. The great irony is that Satan finds his safest hiding place where we are most explicitly involved in the work of God’s kingdom…We must consider this seriously. If we cannot see the dark works of conflict and war in our own daily lives, we will never fully understand the cruelty, torture, mass murder that fill the pages of our newspapers [and the surrounding communities in which we live and work] day after day…Though it may be easy to recognize the forces of darkness around us, it is very hard to recognize those same forces in our own “good works.”

Nouwen goes on to write that to be truly good our actions must arise from a place of humility before God and arise out of service to God. Yet, he notes that good actions, even those arising from prayer, are not primary. Rather what is primary is that,

Prayer lifts us up into the timeless immortal life of God…prayer is that act by which we appropriate the truth that we do not belong to this world…; we have died to it so that not even a nuclear holocaust will be able to destroy us. In prayer [we] affirm…that God is the God of the living and that no human power will ever be able to ‘unmake’ God. In prayer we…proclaim that in God there is no death but only life. In prayer we undo the fear of death and therefore the basis of all human destruction… To the degree that we are dead to the world, we can live creatively in it. To the degree that we have divested ourselves of false belongings, we can live in the midst of turmoil and chaos.  And to the degree that we are free of fear, we can move into the heart of danger. Thus, the act of prayer is the basis and source of all action. When are actions…are not based on the act of prayer, they easily become fearful, fanatical, and bitter, and more an expression of survival instincts than of our faith in God. When, however, our act of prayer remains the act from which all actions flow, we can be joyful even when our times are depressing, peaceful even when we are constantly tempted by despair…Prayer leads to spiritual tranquility and spiritual tranquility leads us to the confession of our sins, the sins that lead to war. Making peace between people and visiting the sick are important, but doing these things without a repentant heart cannot bear fruit. When we can see our own sinful self in a tranquil mirror and confess that we too are warmakers, then we may be ready to start walking humbly on the road to peace [Emphasis mine].

Nouwen’s above words and the rest of this chapter and text offer vital, life-giving and life-leading thoughts. I encourage you to read it. It is a short book overall, but it is packed to overflowing with wisdom for our lives.

Finally, I leave you with a passage that Laura (our International Office Manager) brought to our time of office prayer this morning. She presented the first part of Psalm 46 (The Voice paraphrase) for us to read together in Lectio Divina fashion with the four stages of Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio.

The passage particularly resonated to me with the word “sure.” We are “sure” because of God. Among other emphases in my life, I often focus on the need for humility and being okay with mystery because of course we don’t know all things nor are we all powerful. However, in faith, there is also a foundational sense of divine confidence that we can hold in relation to the promises of God. This is what Nouwen writes about in connection with prayer. Through prayer, while still moving forward in humility, we can also move forward in confidence that the Lord is indeed the Faithful Guide and will not give us stones when we seek bread. Ultimately, with God, though we die…yet shall we live.

Psalm 46:1-3

God is our shelter and our strength.
When troubles seem near, God is nearer, and He’s ready to help.
So why run and hide?
No fear, no pacing, no biting fingernails.
When the earth spins out of control, we are sure and fearless.
When mountains crumble and the waters run wild, we are sure and fearless.
Even in heavy winds and huge waves,
or as mountains shake, we are sure and fearless.

In all the various ways possible, may we all be a praying people.

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