The Syria Series//A Prayer for Syria//Tony Homsy, SJ//

Tony Homsy is a Syrian Jesuit. He is currently a student at Creighton University in Omaha where he studies Digital Journalism and Computer Sciences. He wrote this prayer which was read today during a Prayer Vigil for Peace in Syria at St. John’s Church. The text has been copied from The Jesuit Post

Jesus, my friend, I don’t ask you these things often, but,
what if you were a Syrian in your thirties?

I ask you this naïve question – but it’s really not a question. I ask so I can tell you how the past two and a half years have brought Syria – my country! – to a new turning point, from which we can’t go back. I know Syria is not strange for you, because you spent most of your life so close by. I know you know the color of our land, that you met Paul near our capital, Damascus.

I do not bring this up because I am afraid of the future, or the consequences of war – anything external. I say these things to you because I want to be a Christian inside, not a part of a group that must survive. I want to live a Christian life, as one baptized to be priest, prophet and king – like you. I ask you these questions because I am lost and I cannot find answers that give me peace. Usually I want to be like you, but today – just today – I want to reverse this.

How would you react if you were in my place? Today I want you to be like me, my Lord, while still being my Lord. I want it so you can guide me. So I will know how to live as a good Christian.

It’s not that we are so dissimilar. What you experienced two thousands years ago, it was very similar to what I am living right now. I too was born under a dictatorship. Like so many Syrians, I too have dreamed about the day of freedom.

Do you still remember when you were born under Herod? And the terror? Let me see this current situation as you saw yours. Grant me the gift to see in it not only tyranny, but also a call – like yours, like the one you felt – that encourages me to change this world.

And your family, I am sure it faced problems when the blind bureaucracy demanded of Joseph and Mary a trip to Bethlehem to be registered. I know, too, what it is to face such a bureaucracy each day. All I want for my country is progress. Which is why today, as people around the world pray for peace in my land, I ask you to grant me – give us all – your gifts. So I will be patient and understand that everything takes time. But still, my Lord, can peace come sooner? And progress?

I know you do not need an Internet connection to see the atrocities the world sees, the massacre of children and women. Surely it must be similar to what you heard – the stories of massacres in Jerusalem, like the one committed just after you, an incapable infant, had been born. I wonder if you felt trapped as you lay swaddled in the manger while the killing of innocents happened. I too feel trapped, like a constrained child who cannot yet talk. Today, I ask you to grant me your gift of freedom, the freedom to not respond to such violence with more violence. So I will be meek and not act in violence.

Do you still remember the day, driven by the Holy Spirit, you left home for the wilderness? Didn’t Mary wish that you would stay? It seems impossible a good mother could want her son to leave – but Syrian mothers do these days, they prefer missing their sons and husbands. Better to see them safe, away from home, than in coffins. Today, I ask you to grant consolation to every bereaved mother, and to every mother far from her children. Give solace to each widow and all lovers.

I am one of these far away sons, my Lord. I am far from home and so I feel the waiting in fear and the edgy panic of these days through my family and friends. Do the hiss and whine and the explosion of the missiles launched from one neighborhood to another sound like the thunder you knew? Do you know that the fear your disciples felt while you slept in the boat is only a shadow of the fear my friends and family feel at the sound of the bombs? Today, I ask you to grant us the gift of courage. So we will never feel insecure again – because we feel you beside us.

Do you know, Jesus, that I have never carried any kind of weapon? I don’t even know how to use one. Which is why it is so strange that part of me wishes for someone, someone with powerful weapons, to intervene and deliver us from our misery. It was your Pope’s call for peace that brought a sliver of the desire for peace into my heart. And then I remembered that you refused to carry a weapon as well, even a stone to throw at a supposed sinner. Today, I ask you to grant me your gift of a peaceful heart. So I will call for peace, compromise, instead of the use of power.

How quickly the chemical weapons killed so many children, innocents. The blink of an eye. My degree in chemistry won’t help me to describe for you what the poison gas smells like, or what a human feels when they are dying of it. But you know what it is to suffer and choke as you die. Today, I ask you to grant us the gift of compassion. So we can share the suffering and passion of those innocents.

So many of my friends have left Syria, some before, some after this crisis. Why did you come back to Jerusalem? Hadn’t you noticed the success you’d had in Galilee and the Decapolis? Hadn’t you felt the happiness of sitting and eating with friends and strangers? Why did you leave that to go to Jerusalem when you knew what lay before you? Was it because you too learned to love Jerusalem only after you left? Today, I ask you to grant us your gift of fidelity. So that we too may wish to return home, to love Syria, again.

I will tell you a secret today, Jesus, that I have never told to anybody before. Usually, you know, it isn’t proper for me to speak too much about the trespasses of your Church – but you never stayed mute about undesirable attitudes. And today the same cancer is still spreading. So with apologies I tell you that sometimes I am embarrassed by all the speeches about the suffering of Christians while the misery of our Muslim sisters and brothers is ignored. I am almost crazy with it sometimes. Today, I ask you to grant me your gift of merciful compassion. So I will love your Church in its trespasses – and remember that I too am a part of this Church and need forgiveness.

I have one more question, Jesus: how did you forgive them as they crucified you? It’s what haunts me the most, the difficulty of forgiving those who have hurt me. I can’t find it; I have no logical explanation for how you could forgive them as they did it. When I look for one all I can remember is your call to follow you, and buried within that call is the instruction: forgive those who hurt you. So today, my Lord, I ask you for forgiveness. Forgive me and let me forgive my enemies.

I am walking a thin line between hope and desperation, Jesus. I think it is the same feeling that was inside your disciples after your death. Like them I want my dream to come true, I want freedom, and for the blood of the 100,000 to not have been shed for nothing.

I believe in your resurrection. So when I – when we – feel tempted to give up, when we want to stay buried in the tomb of slavery, come and rise in us then. Come rise in us so that we can cross Golgotha to the glory of resurrection. And trusting in your Father we Syrians, and those who pray with us today, can say: God, into your hands we commend our country. Oh my Jesus, bring your resurrection to Syria today.

Tuesday Newsday [3.26.13]: A prayer.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments about Proposition 8 in California, the gay marriage ban. Tomorrow, it is hearing arguments about the Defense of Marriage Act. For many of our friends, neighbors, and strangers, this is the most important two days in the history of the United States Supreme Court.

In Tuesday Newsdays, I usually try to maintain a pretty consistent neutrality, and just give you the news. I also believe there is a time when neutrality is evil. Now is one of those times. Below is the prayer I am earnestly praying every minute of the next 48 hours. I would implore you to pray something similar. I place no stock in my own words, but I place all trust in the power of passionate, love-driven prayer. Join me. Use my words or write your own. Pray.

Faith, Hope, and Love (the greatest of which is love),

Westin
_____________________________________________________________

A prayer for Tuesday, March 26, 2013 and Wednesday, March 27, 2013:

Holy creator of every person, emotion, and action, hear our earnest plea. Hear the cries of those we have oppressed, feel the pain of those we have bullied. Weep over the heartbreak of those whose love we have denied. Cower with those we have broken, shriek with those we have driven to rage.

Today, bless the tongues and minds of those arguing to end the oppression of your creatures. Speak through them in the most literal way. Let them think your thoughts. Make a lawyer your prophet.

Remind your 9 creatures in black robes they are yours. Make them feel your passion, your love, and your righteous anger. Overwhelm them.

Forgive us, Holy Creator, for we have sinned. We have sinned in action and in neglect. We have perpetrated sin, we have ignored sin, and we have committed hamas against your people. Stop us.

Change this country. Change our hearts. Change our laws. Feel the pain and hope of your creatures whose love is under discussion, and hear the rallying cries of their allies.

Show us what love looks like in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Amen. Amen. Amen.

THINK: Neighborliness

Alright, so the following list was found in an article on Sojourners. The title of the article is “Neighborliness is the New Sexy.” The tone that is created because of calling neighborliness “sexy” seems a little silly–but nonetheless, the ideas hold. So, you don’t have to be concerned with sexiness to be concerned with your neighbor. Anyway, just read:

7 Ways to be a Good Neighbor

1. Be a regular somewhere: Our neighborhoods are actually rather expansive spaces. Some of them involve strip malls. Some of us commute to work and, in that sense, we live in various neighborhoods. Yes, plural. How can we root ourselves in these places?

Well, becoming a regular at the local cafe or restaurant can be sexy in that Cheers kind of way. Always using the same branch of your bank or credit union and learning people’s names can be too. Develop some habits of participating in the local economy like it was a small town even if you live in a big city or suburb. Suddenly, you’ll find that you are learning the concerns of the shop owners and coffee clerks. You might find yourself learning the names of the others you see every day at the same time. You’ll learn about their lives, their worries, and their joys. As localized as it is, you’ll find that it will expand your image of the world around you. Having an expansive image of the world is sexy.

2. Leave your garage door open when you are home: Yeah, I know this sounds like a recipe for having your bike or lawn mower stolen, but think of it this way: When you get home from work, do you just pull in your garage and shut the door behind you? It’s like crawling in a cave and rolling a stone in front of it. Not sexy, Trogg. None of your neighbors gets to see you … or your stuff. I love seeing what someone’s garage looks like, the stuff they store there … the old tennis racquets and basketballs. Maybe there’s fishing tackle there or just boxes of old books and a Hoosier cabinet. Who knows? But what people store in their garages is really interesting … even sexy. Heck, maybe there’s an old motorcycle in there and suddenly the revelation strikes you that the neighbor you thought was so stuffy and boring is actually a weekend gearhead hoping to go out for a ride with her spouse. Garages are sexy. Let people see yours.

3. Hold people above principles: Are our neighborhoods enclaves of like-minded people who all vote the same? Well, some sociological evidence suggests that they are slowly becoming so. Definitely not sexy.
We redraw districting lines to make sure that elections favor one party or ideological set of concerns over another. Certainly that can’t be sexy.
Even our congregations are increasingly homogenous in this regard. Are we losing the ability to hold people above our ideologies? I hope not. People are not their ideas. Our lives are much more complicated than that. Complicated is sexy. We may even change our minds many times over the course of a lifetime as events befall us that challenge our thinking. What if we made a habit of holding people above ideas? Love your neighbor … even if they vote for the other candidate.

4. Listen first: Our culture needs to regain the sexy art of listening. Listening is sexy because it’s about relationships and connects us to one another. We can get stuck talking about ourselves, our kids, our work, and never ask, “How are you?”
Listening requires our full attention to the other— make eye contact,don’t make everything about you, don’t start thinking about a response before the other person stops talking. Those things are anti-sexy. Instead, absorb their words and repeat them back. That way, you open up to one another. And the vulnerability of opening up is sexy.

5. Be confrontational when necessary, but never hostile: I’m not a confrontational person, and my sexiness is diminished because of it. Jesus was sexy (only an extreme Gnostic would disagree with that statement!) in part because he was confrontational with some of his neighbors. We’re human. As such, neighbors will experience conflict. But if we bottle up emotions, they become hostile … and they will explode. It’s a way of scapegoating and that is about the most anti-sexy thing anyone can do.
It works like this: I have a dispute with a neighbor. Because I’m a nice guy, I don’t want to confront him about it. So I go to another neighbor and tell him about how much of a jerk our neighbor is. (Not sexy.) When we have a conflict with a neighbor, the sexiest thing we can do is go him or her – keeping in mind that number four on our list is listening. Listen. Try not to blame. Seek to understand. If you find yourself feeling hostile, then walk away. Come back when you are ready.

6. Pray: Prayer is sexy because it connects us to God, who seeks to connect us with one another in the spirit of love. Pray alone and pray in community. Listen for where God might be leading you and talk with God about your successes and failures of being a good neighbor. Only through prayer can God keep us centered on the big picture. Through prayer God lead us in participating in the reconciliation of all things. Oh. The reconciliation of all things … now that’s sexy.

7. Be foolish: None of this is possible if we aren’t willing to be foolish in some way. The vulnerability will embarrass us, but it’s sexy … and I don’t mean in that ‘Hey, girl’ Ryan Gosling way. I mean in that “Take me as God made me” way. What if they see your old golf clubs in the garage or, simply, the mess that’s there? What if our neighbors find out that our kitchens are a mess? “What if the coffee clerk figures out that I buy the same beverage each and every time. I’m so boring! I’m so disorganized!” Yeah. We’re going to look like fools. But that’s OK. We’re going to have to be foolish and give our time to this slow and fitful process of becoming good neighbors to one another. Jesus said that we’re going to look like fools. It’s true. Embrace it. Enjoy it.

Speaking of foolishness, this may have been an exercise in foolishness. It’s silly. It’s ridiculous, but what’s so wrong about finding these things desirable? What’s the problem about understanding one another as an object of God’s desire? “Sexiness” is just a fun way to think on it … to get a laugh from it. But there it is.
This is why we’re playing with the idea of neighborliness being sexy. We are to desire one another like God desires each and every one of us. What would it take for you to see each and every person you encounter in your neighborhood as an object of God’s desire? And if you could receive that spiritual gift, how might that change the world?

_______

What hinders you from being a good neighbor? What are other ways that you can orchestrate your neighbors in to your life? If you don’t have a garage door, what other parts of your life can you “leave open”? Where can you be a “regular”; do you know people there in the same way that they know you? When do your principles stop serving people and their flourishing? Do you find yourself talking way more than you listen? Do you shy away from confrontation and thus deprive a relationship of reality? Do you ask God to center you and remind you how to be a good neighbor? Are you willing to risk looking foolish to be a good neighbor?

 

Monday Meditation: On “Bedroom Window Spirituality”

Last year we had a dear Jesuit on campus. His name is Michael Rossman. Lucky for us, he is a tremendous writer. Below is an article he wrote for the Jesuit Post and has so graciously agreed to let us re-post it here:

Just off the airplane that had carried me from Instanbul to Dar es Salaam, I stepped into my new bedroom.  Immediately I heard the Muslim call to prayer filtering through the mosquito nets that covered my bedroom window.

“Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” I thought.

It was 4:00 in the morning, and practically the whole world was asleep, but that didn’t stop one of the nearby mosques from calling people to rise, pray.

“Get up! Get up! Your bed will turn into a coffin,” the man called out in Swahili.

But life, as it is wont to do, has gathered itself into familiar patterns and what began as novel has become a morning routine. Even if the message isn’t aimed at me, it has become my own personal call to prayer.

Like the other sounds, smells, and sights I encounter everyday, this morning call to prayer filters through my mosquito screen-covered window into my life.  It’s led to what I’ve begun to call my bedroom window spirituality.

***

Truism: we do not enter into relationship with others, God included, in some disincarnate spiritual zone.  Our spiritual life is rooted in and shaped by our daily experience – even when that experience enters through the bedroom window.

I use the same prayer methods I did before, but these are not the same prayers.  Now it’s Dar es Salaam, sneaking below the window curtains, that curbs the sharp edges of my prayers. It’s my crowded, industrial, religiously diverse neighborhood that cups my encounter with the Gospel.

So now I’m called to prayer by three nearby mosques.  Now the downshifting of diesel truck engines grind across my room.  Now the sweet, sharp smell of burning plastic slides up the walls of my house and into my room.

The images that appear when I pray the examen (or when I catch myself daydreaming rather than lesson planning) tend to look a lot like the flood of people and things that I see during the rest of the day.

I see the woman who does not have a lot to give her own family, but who still regularly gives me fried cassava when I walk by.  I hear the greeting of “As-salamu alaykum” from my kofia-wearing neighbors.  I taste soda1 and coffee and feel the ubiquitous plastic chairs that random strangers and new friends offer me.

Unlike a faucet, I can’t – and wouldn’t want to – turn off this flow images. When I close my eyes and turn my thoughts to the Lord, it’s images of Dar es Salaam in all its generosity and struggle and beauty in which I’m immersed.  Without being called, it’s these people who drip into my reflection on God’s activity in my life and in our world.

That said, some of us might have limited bedroom views.  When I was in graduate school in Chicago I spent one semester with a window that opened onto nothing but a brick wall no more than an arm’s reach away (I called my Semester of Living in a Cave in Chicago).  I hope my spiritual life wasn’t as dark as my room was that semester.  After a few weeks of living there I realized that I had to be intentional about finding ways to let the world into my heart.

Because what we see from our bedroom windows, from wherever our home location is, has a significant impact on how we relate to others.  A recent article by Nate Berg in The Atlantic, “Isolated and Under-Exposed: Why the Rich Don’t Give”, says the same.  Berg highlights a recent study by theThe Chronicle of Philanthropy that indicates two things: first, that the rich give a lower rate of their discretionary income to charity compared to others; second, that that rate of giving goes up when wealthy people live in economically diverse neighborhoods rather than in affluent enclaves.

The conclusion is straightforward: if I regularly interact with neighbors who have opportunities similar to my own, it’s highly likely that I will start to think that my experience, my way of life, is the norm.  If we stop for a moment, we know that may well not be.

Those windows into our rooms can also be windows to our hearts, opening them up – or not – to the challenges faced by others.

***

Of course we’re not stuck.  Of course we can live in a wealthy area and still enter into relationship with those of different backgrounds.  Of course we can live lives of committed service from many home locations.

But in my own experience it’s awfully difficult to do.  In my own life simply reading about something or someone “out there” doesn’t bring spontaneous prayers to my heart in the way that rubbing shoulders does.

I knew what malaria was, but it became real when malaria killed a child in a family I knew.  I had read about HIV and AIDS, but it wasn’t until a student of mine told me the story of how his parents died of AIDS and that he was HIV positive that it became real.  Like the sound of that call to prayer, they had entered the window of my life.

***

Bedroom window spirituality actually has deep roots in Jesuit tradition.

Ignatius of Loyola, sensitive to how our external world affects our internal life, used to advise retreatants to adjust the light in their rooms to suit the mood of the retreat.  During the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, when one contemplates sin, Ignatius instructs us to deprive ourselves of light.  Sometimes closing the blinds on our bedroom window deepens the reflection.

A Jesuit who knows the Spiritual Exercises better than just about anyone I know asks those doing spiritual direction with him to commit themselves to regular contact with the material poor.  Contact with the poor greatly deepen the experience of prayer, he says, and naturally help deepen our encounter with Jesus throughout the Exercises. It’s not that we can’t find Jesus in other places, but it also makes sense to spend time with the people, and in the places, where Jesus said he would be.

None of this is to say that the window with the roughest, or loudest, or ugliest view is therefore the most spiritual.  (Getting caught up in a kind of dark competition to see who can suffer the most is just as far from real spirituality as is locking ourselves away in affluence).  After all, there’s a reason why most retreat houses are in quiet, beautiful places, and why Jesus so frequently goes away to pray in an isolated place.  I cannot prevent my eyes from seeing or my ears from hearing when I’m in living contact with the poor, but even so I can still prevent myself from feeling what I see and my hands and feet from acting in response.  Which makes time apart, time for quiet, all the more important.

Even if we live in an idyllic gated community, often our lives are anything but quiet.  We often need some space to make sense of the joy and pain we feel – including the pain that hides behind those seemingly perfect gates.  Just as I put screens to prevent those malaria-carrying mosquitoes from entering my room, unless I have some distance from the complicated realities around me I often end up putting screens around my own heart.

***

We move too often as Jesuits.  Eventually, I’ll move again and I won’t have a 4:00 AM wakeup call unless I set the alarm myself.  Still, no matter where I go, my bedroom window will be a way for God to get through to my heart.

– – – – –

  1. Does anyone else who grew up in a “pop” part of the country feel like you’re betraying your roots every time you find yourself uttering the word “soda?”  Even when the local word in Swahili is “soda,” I still can’t say it without a little inner-squirming.

– – – – –

How do you make space to sense the joy and pain you are feeling? How do you use the culture around you to deepen your spirituality? How do we leave defensiveness and take away the “screens” around our hearts?

Unconventional Thoughts on Prayer

If you’ve ever sauntered into the CCSJ, you may have met the one and only Michael Rossman, SJ. Something you may not know about him is that he is an avid blogger for a site called “The Jesuit Post.” You should check out this article that he wrote entitled, Everything I Know About Prayer I Relearned in Spin Class. Seriously, read it. Also, you should go spend time with Michael because he leaves us soon to head to Africa!