Every week at my seminary there is a time during the chapel service for “prayers of the people.” I was asked to write a brief prayer for the unrest in the Middle East.
Loving Lord, God of the oppressed, today as a community we pray for the Middle East, and yet at the same time struggle to know how to pray, how to speak when confronted by the sheer enormity of pain being experienced by individuals, families, communities, and nations so many miles away. But even though we can only stammer and groan, empower us to draw near to you and cry out, full of the Spirit.
Merciful God, protect those who are vulnerable from the raging wildfire of the self-proclaimed Islamic State and their horrifying anger. May those who are fleeing find refuge, and those who are unable to flee be spared violence. We mourn the slaughter of Christians and the loss of worshiping communities all over Iraq as a shroud of silence falls where bells and holy liturgies have proclaimed your presence for 1800 years.
We pray, as we have been for many months, for Syrians, notably those now fleeing the border-town Kobane, whose lives have been torn apart in the ongoing civil war and ISIL encroachment.
We pray for the Gazan families trying to rebuild their lives in the midst of rubble and chaos, and ask especially that young Palestinian men would not be consumed by hatred at the unchecked injustices and thus turn to violence that will only perpetuate the cycles of destruction.
We pray for the Bedouins and African refugees, increasingly threatened by prejudiced land laws and xenophobic policies.
We pray for those in Israel, that they would not have to live in fear but also that their leaders would not use their fear as pretense to occupy and oppress others.
But we thank you, God, for those blessed examples of vibrant faith being displayed in the midst of the darkness, for moments of grace, compassion, and humanity.
For those of us from the United States, we ask forgiveness for the ways our nation has contributed to the plagues of instability and violence that characterize vast swaths of the Middle East, and we repent of our sinfully short memories that so quickly absolve us.
Lord, do not let our prayers be reduced to a holy anesthesia that numbs us to the suffering of others, that too easily satisfies our sense of responsibility, but may our prayers instead increase our capacity to embody a just expression of love and grace.
May our partial awareness of the suffering around the world not cause us to grow weary, but may we be inspired to serve those living here in Los Angeles with a greater passion and dedication.
And may we all look more like Christ as we pray this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.