Being with pain, suffering, and conflict is almost unbearably hard. Being with complexity is incredibly difficult too. So I am practicing both as I grieve and pray for the Middle East (and too many other war-ravaged places)-- keeping vigil with agony, violence, fear, anger, and loss.
This ache is wrenching.
I visited Israel and Palestine in 2001. That deeply powerful place and those strong, generous people became dear to me. I remember the palpable sense of reverence I found in communities there-- Islamic, Jewish, and Christian. I also remember school kids making art about guns, planes, and bombs. To this day, I'm still trying to integrate the breadth of that experience and let it transform me.
Those same communities are fearing for their lives again now, while mourning for the newly dead and injured. I've joined the call for de-escalation, to stop adding weapons that create yet more violence in that beautiful desert land. I join in condemning and grieving the horrific attacks and hostage-taking. And I join in condemning and grieving violent retaliation and the history of oppression and blockade. I'm engaging my own woundedness and the injustices and violence in my country's history and current day. And with sorrow and humility, I lean my prayers and practice to support the wisdom of all the Israelis and Palestinians who have been peace-building for so many, many years. They will continue; they need our help.
This art image of mine rose up as I sat in prayer this week. Maybe it could serve as a prayer for you too (please forgive the watermark):
I wrote a practice in 2021 to accompany this art, and you're welcome to try if it speaks to you now:
We can strengthen our abiding skills by practicing calm and stillness, or by staying present with discomfort.
For a few minutes, imagine yourself sitting in a safe, quiet space with a candle, like the one in the art image. Or try it for real in a place you love. Practice simply staying there, without pushing, avoiding, or fixing anything. What happens in your body, mind, and spirit?
To go further, practice abiding with a specific challenge, impatience, pain, or injustice-- as if sitting quietly with a grieving friend or an unknown outcome. Try it for a minute or a month. Try it with others. Bring kindness when feelings come up, and pause when you need to as you build capacity for abiding. What changes within you, especially over time?
And now here’s an addition, especially for our times: Sometimes, abiding is not enough. Finding our open heart can then make room for clarity to emerge. For many of us, we see clearly that escalating violence and forgetting humanity does not serve, and we want to respond.
For example, as I continued to hold vigil space in my heart with Palestine and Israel this week, I have edited this blog post several times to speak more strongly than I had at first. I saw that my habit of not causing conflict curbed my words. So I’ll say now that I am dismayed my government didn’t seem to pause and consider the larger context as it backed a violent retaliation without question. I ask them to reconsider and work immediately to help de-escalate war.
If you'd like to take another action with me by speaking out to support peace-building, here's one: the Quaker lobbying group FCNL offers a tool for writing letters to congress about the Middle East violence and many other peacemaking issues, here: https://fcnl.quorum.us
What other actions might you and I be clear to make when we ground them in abiding?
May our collective vigil and active response continue to move our hearts and shift policies toward peace-building, in our world and our daily lives.