By Lauren R. Stanley
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls.’”
That prayer from Psalm 122 always resonates deeply within me, because I pray for peace in the Middle East on a daily basis. I do love Jerusalem, and I do want peace with her walls. But my prayers don’t stop there; this psalm leads me on a journey that circles the world, touching down in other places, especially those I know and love, where strife threatens the peace and prosperity of their peoples.
On the first Sunday of Advent, my prayers turned specifically to two nations in desperate need: Sudan, with a vote looming in January that will decide the future of that war-torn nation, and Haiti, which held national elections on Sunday that were disputed even before the polls had closed.
Both nations have suffered for seemingly forever. Both are plagued by problems that seem overwhelming. Both are plagued by those who do not care, or care enough, about the people, by those who fear peace because they would lose their power, their riches, their exalted places.
Sudan’s situation is desperate because the referendum in January could lead to renewed warfare. The South will be voting on whether to become an independent nation, which the North does not want. The military on both sides is armed and ready. Already, there has been violence. The people, who want to be left alone to live in peace, who would love to experience even a smidgeon of prosperity, know how precarious their situation. But their difficulties have not stopped them from dreaming of a new, different and better future for their children. They pray – and work – for peace every single day.
In Haiti, the national elections held on Sunday have resulted only in confusion and accusations. The people have been oppressed and maltreated for their entire history on that island. Cholera, which hasn’t been documented there in decades, is ripping through the country; 1,600 already are dead, tens of thousands are affected, and up to 200,000 more may become ill. Fifteen percent of the country – more than 1.5 million people – still lives in the tent cities and camps that sprang up after the devastating earthquake last January. The government has failed to provide leadership, the rubble still remains in the streets, and the country has barely begun to recover. Yet there, too, the people pray – and work – for peace every single day.
Often, when I talk with people here about what is happening in those countries, about how we have to pray for peace within their walls as we pray for peace within Jerusalem’s, I am met with deep sighs, resigned shrugs and defeated attitudes.
Sigh. Shrug. “Will they ever stop fighting?” Sigh. Shrug. “Is it ever going to get better?”
I admit, I get frustrated with those sighs, shrugs and attitudes even as I understand them. I don’t have the answers people want to hear; I don’t have a “plan” that will solve the problems, a “vision” that will miraculously end the strife. I, too, often want to sigh, to shrug, to admit defeat.
But when I think of the people in both lands, people I love and respect, I realize that simply because the situations are difficult beyond compare, I can’t walk away from them. And I certainly can’t stop praying for them.
The people in both lands would not be criticized for giving up. Yet they refuse to do so.
And because they don’t, I won’t. So I lift my prayers for peace daily, and use those prayers to guide me as I do what I can to help turn those prayers into reality.
That’s what prayer does, at least for me. First, it takes me on a journey, from person to person, place to place. Then, it helps clarify for me what I need to do.
With Sudan and Haiti, my prayers lead me to continue to tell the stories of these long-suffering people, to make sure they are not forgotten, to make sure that we, who live so far away in such different and vastly better circumstances, do not let the people of either land disappear from the front pages of our hearts.
Yes, the Sudanese have been fighting for decades; yes, Haiti is a mess, all across the board. But the people of both lands are doing their best; they are being faithful; they are filled with hope. Their prayers are not centered on having too much, but rather, enough. Enough peace so they can live without fear. Enough peace so that they can have a tad of prosperity.
So every day, I pray: For the peace of Jerusalem. For the peace of Sudan. For the peace of Haiti. That those who love them will prosper.
The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is a priest of the Diocese of Virginia. Her web site is www.gointotheworld.net.