Praying for the enemy

Peace hands worldThere are many words fighting in my head right now to get out and I’m not sure my fingers can translate, but it seems they want to try, so here goes.

I used a line to describe this blog when I started it last January that goes like this: trying to love the world one person at a time. And I have tried to use the words that I put down to tell stories of people I have loved and who have loved me. People who have made love real in my life. In my own dictionary, their faces would be illustrations for what love looks like and feels like. They are people I have met in travels, in school, at church and in my family. Receiving that kind of love makes me want to return it as the gift it is.

I spent this last weekend with some of those very special people, two sisters and a brother: Susan, Sally and Mike. We made a journey to speak with the district attorney who is handling the murder case that will one day be tried in Riverside County, California, for the rape and murder of our baby sister Cathy. We have walked this journey as a family for the last twenty-two months and we will walk it every day for the rest of our lives, because it won’t end when the trial is over. Cathy has been taken from our family in the most heinous way and her loss is unbearable.

But we have walked this journey together as a family with love for Cathy and love for each other. It is the kind of love that is forged like hardened steel in a fiery forge. It’s unbreakable. Unbendable. And I know that not every family experiences that kind of love. The six of us siblings who survive Cathy have this deep, deep love. And I am grateful for that.

But the scripture that I base my faith on, the one that gives witness to Jesus, says that I am to love my enemies. As someone who avoids conflict and seeks peace, I don’t consider anyone my enemy. I know there is hatred and violence in the world, there is oppression and suppression and just downright evil manifested in this place we call home. I have prayed for the enemies of my friends in Iraq and Syria; prayed that they will see the light of what they have done, recognize the wrong in the slaughter they have committed, and repent. I have prayed that same thing when our government commits those same kinds of acts in what they say is a defense of our country.

I have prayed for reconciliation on many fronts. That is what I am called to do, compelled even, because of who commands me to.

This is the hard part for me now. I have an enemy: a man has killed my sister and I have been introduced to him in California. I met him in the photos the DA showed us. I met him in the video they made of him on the night he was arrested. I met him in his words transcribed in the report of a psychologist.

I have seen his face. I have heard his voice. His words describing what he did are things no one should ever have to hear. And this is the only way I know him and it causes conflict in my heart and my head to think of him as my enemy, but he must be. He killed my sister.

But I have also learned something about him. He is the son of a mother who went through the same nine months of carrying him in his womb that my mother and Cathy’s mother went through. She felt the same pains of labor as she delivered this beloved child. He has a mother who has surely lost a son in a way that no mother plans for.

He has two sisters and a brother who are caught in the same life sentence that me and my sisters and brothers are, for we cannot escape the consequences or the loss that we experience on this side of heaven. (There will surely be consequences for his actions. This I do believe!)

I haven’t gotten to the level of loving this man who is my enemy and only with God’s grace will I, but I have been praying for him since his path crossed paths with my family. And now I am praying for his mother and his brother and his two sisters, as surely as I pray for my own.

I have just finished reading Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be. And the thing that sticks with me is his exposition on Jesus’ command to love my enemies. Not loving them – not seeing their humanity – will eventually dehumanize me, and I will become what I hate. Becoming what I hate will only feed the powers and continue a cycle of violence. And yes, I believe hate is violence.

I am tired of hate. I am tired of violence. I am tired.

And so I pray. I pray that God will redeem this story, as surely as he will redeem everything in his time.

And I love. And I am loved. And I feel it from every side and it gets me through each day: yesterday, today and all the tomorrows to come.

And finally in this week (I am so thankful for the timing!) our church staff got to the part of the book of Revelation that I have been waiting for:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3-5)

No more death.

No more mourning.

No more crying.

No more pain.

Everything made new.

For God so loved the world.




Healing garden in the rain

A number of years ago, a wonderful family in our church provided funds for the creation of a healing garden on the north side. It’s just a beautiful spot now. The trees and shrubs have matured so well. We have the sweetest gardeners here at West Hills who give such care to our gardens, and they have masterfully kept this one free of weeds. It’s a spot to sit and read, or pray, or contemplate. God always seems so close in a garden. I love to wonder at his creation in this one, and my gardens at home.

God has been good to us in Nebraska this year with rain. Even now, on the last day of September as we should be creeping into the bright colors and then browns of fall, the rain is coming down and everything is as green as that beautiful green of spring. In that healing garden today, it is no different. That beautiful soothing place is like an oasis and even in the rain it beckons me. “Come sit. Come pray. Come share what is on your heart with God. He’ll meet you right here.”

Okay, so it’s raining, so I didn’t go out there. But it didn’t stop me from taking the moment looking out the window to share with him that I am indeed in need of healing.

God bless Sr. Joyce Rupp today! Her devotion in “Fragments of Your Ancient Name” for September 30 reminded me that “I need relief from my burdens.” I need healing from their weight, and I can take that right to my Father:

Alleviate what bothers me
About certain aspects of my life.
Lighten the burdens I carry
In my concern for others’ woe.
Allay my fear of the future
And what it might bring to me.
Smooth the rough edges
That irritate my reckless mind.
Reduce the tension of my troubles
As I place greater trust in you.

She found inspiration for this ten-line prayer from something in the Qu’ran. And the significance of that for me today was something.

In a conversation today at lunch a question came up about one of those worries or burdens that I carry around with me. We were talking about ISIS/ISIL and what they are doing in their rampage through Syria and Iraq. One person wanted to know why we never hear from Muslims in our country speaking out against this perversion of their faith. An Egyptian pastor I know believes their ideology is the real Islam. Yet, he pointed out to me an Iraqi Shia imam who has been arrested in Iran, who preaches something very different from this. Others I have heard from in my travels tell me the same thing: this ideology is NOT the real Islam.

I worry that this ideology is wreaking havoc on people I know and love in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. It’s destroying their homes, their families, their way of life. They are fleeing the lands where their roots go back to the beginning of the church.

And here in this ten-line prayer, inspired by words from a tradition not my own, written by my first grade teacher, who discipled me as a child and inspires my faith even now fifty years later, is a reminder that God is so much bigger than I can imagine.

He sends the rain to reduce the tension of drought. He brings forth the greens of the earth which smooth and soothe the rough edges of my worries and burdens. He carries the weight of my concern for others who are suffering in places so far away. He invites me into that healing garden – even if it’s only a place in my mind because it’s raining outside – and invites my conversation with him.

In days like this, I really need that reminder of healing and where to find it. My heart is broken for a murdered sister. My heart aches with the pain this has brought to my family. And I know that there are countless others in this war torn world that feel this same brokenness in the loss of their family members. And we cry out for justice that is not in our hands, and over which we have no control.

I need to get on my knees and pray. I need to sit in the garden and talk to the healer. And I need to remember that he makes the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous and it is not my job to decide who belongs in which group.

He tells me to love my enemies and to pray for them too.

During Lent in 2013, I spent those forty days with a Facebook group reading through the sermon on the mount every day. So each day I read through the entirety of those amazing words in the gospel of Matthew, chapters five, six and seven. Some days I settled on certain places and a poem was birthed.

Today, in the healing rain, I just wanted to share this one:

Love Your Enemies: Lent Day 35 Mathew 6:43-48

Ten years ago it started
With shock and awe and blood
An unfounded persecution
of a country misunderstood
They told us it was in response
To the terror of Nine Eleven
But the lies have since been exposed
Forgive us, God in heaven.
For by our laws the “they” is “we”
The phrase is “we the people”
And so we all must bear this stain
Of a war that is blatantly evil.

I pray for this forgiveness
And in the praying know
That across nine time zones there are those
Whose prayers arise also
The sun that rose today for me
Shines also in eastern desert
And when it rains from western skies
It can fall in the east as treasure.
They know these verses that we read
In fact, they heard them first!
May they be prompted to love their enemy
“We the people” who caused grievous hurt.

May we each pray for forgiveness from the other, and in the praying find healing for our broken lives and hearts.