I have been “off the air” for a few days. I attended the College English Association Conference in Savannah. The International Thomas Merton Society is an affiliate organization and six of us presented papers on Merton. My paper was, “The Nature of Mysticism: Hildegard of Bingen and Thomas Merton.” More of this later.
Today we move to the third station on the Good Friday Ecumenical Prayer Walk. We stop at the Veterans Transitional Housing Facility. Serendipity or the ever-wonderful divine “coincidence” led me to several sessions at the conference on was, especially its impact on altering the lives of veterans and bystanders victims of war. An astounding one third of our veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the suicide rate is off the charts.
One point came home to me during the talks. Our soldiers are not the only ones who suffer the ill effects of war. Soldiers and all too often civilians on the other side suffer the same ill effects. One book on the Kindle waiting list is about the effects of our wars on Iraqis. Currently I am reading The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam by Bao Ninh. An entire North Vietnamese platoon is wiped out by bullets and napalm at a place that came to be known as The Jungle of Screaming Souls.
The Gospel of the Risen Christ clearly calls us to nonviolence; however, government leaders and corporations pursue war to seize resources and exert dominion. Speakers at the conference pointed out that we have many books and movies about Vietnam and very few about Iraq and Afghanistan. I think we can have more empathy for Vietnam because the soldiers were drafted. Today’s military is all volunteer; however, “volunteer” takes on a strange new meaning when we realize that hefty signing bonuses entice men and women who come to see military service as their way up and way out. I grant that some enlist out of a sense of duty; however, others become just paid mercenaries.
Lincoln is supposed to have said that he did not think of God being on our side but rather he thought about our being on God’s side. Recently I visited Fort Christmas near Titusville. It was a Spanish fort built for the southern Florida expedition to drive out the Seminoles. Immediately my minds went to the biblical account of the Israelites driving out the Canaanites. Does God really help people murder other people so they can have land? I think not. When we think God is on our side, we turn God into a tribal idol. God does not have a special smile for America or Americans. God blesses every nation and every person. If we abandon our tribal idol gods, we might be taking giant step toward peace.
We are spending 52% of our budget on defense. People are screaming about the Sequester’s cuts on the military and hardly a voice is raised over cuts in services, including education, for the least among us. Deep down we know that we have a responsibility to challenge our inordinate expenditures on “defense’ but we are reluctant to speak out.
The prayers at this station say it all. The opening prayer:
Lord Jesus, we are searching for you. Where are you suffering today?
All: Look for me among those who suffer the destruction and terror of war, and the pain and death of the battlefield. Look for me among the families devastated by the tragic loss of a son or daughter, wife or husband, mother or father during a war or conflict. Look for me among those protesting war and advocating for non-violent and peaceful resolutions to our problems, who are mocked and persecuted for following your way. Look for me among those who have come home suffering still from the terror of war and the fear of returning.
Seek me there, and you shall find me.
The concluding prayer:
Jesus, you lived and died under the brutal heel of Roman military might.
The leaders of your own people sold their souls and the well-being of the nation for a share of the power and wealth of their foreign rulers.
Still today, millions suffer the terrors and destitution of war
because of greed for power and money,
and because of the intolerance of so many
in control of governments and factions in all parts of the world.
Many of our own veterans return from war
carrying physical, mental, and emotional wounds
that may destroy relationships
and entrap them in poverty, addiction, and misery for a lifetime.
In your name, we ask for healing and peace for these men and women,
and for eternal rest for all those who have died at the hands of war.
And so together we pray,
All: Lord Jesus, slain and resurrected, hear our prayer for the poor.