Less harm, less harm, less harm
Creative Commons Syria crisis: new arrivals in Lebanon by CAFOD Photo Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0
"I feel like I'm watching the Holocaust, and I'm not doing anything about it," said a new friend about the most recent atrocities in Syria.
We sat warmly in her well-appointed living room sipping cocktails. We'd been taking note of our first-world problems before turning to other events. She apologized for getting emotional. No need. By the time she was done describing the horrors she'd seen online of children - innocent and loved - gassed to oblivion, tears stung my eyes, too.
I confessed, shame warm on my cheeks and neck, that I've all but tuned out the headlines. My head and heart doesn't know what to do with the world's hurt.
I know hiding my eyes is ineffective and foolish, but how do I help? How do I stop it? How do I go to sleep at night knowing what's happening to my fellow souls across the globe?
Today, as I was attempting to do some marketing work for a favorite client the ghosts of those Syrian children were on my mind.
No doubt, I was looking for something to ease my own selfish pain of doing nothing.
I dug around on the internet for awhile and ran across something by author Ellen Bass. As I read her prayer, or maybe it's a poem - or let's say it's both - dark and light, chill and heat, confusion and knowing, settled over me. The exquisite words, the plea for prayer, the plea do less harm, less harm, less harm pulled at me - is this what I'm to do, I wondered. Is this what we're all to do? Pray? Will this help?
Maybe the prayer/poem will make me stronger for the fight, help me look at the BBC's headlines again, write out a check to Doctors Without Borders, take in a Syrian child.
As John Lennon once said,"Peace is not something you wish for. It's something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away."
I don't know about you, but I'm going to start where I am (as if I have a choice), and I'm going to pray as I walk my pups, pray as I practice yoga, pray as I wash the dishes, pray as I fall asleep. And then I'm going to give away peace by the truckload.
Pray for Peace
Pray to whomever you kneel down to: Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross, his suffering face bent to kiss you, Buddha still under the bo tree in scorching heat, Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary that she may lay her palm on our brows, to Shekhina, Queen of Heaven and Earth, to Inanna in her stripped descent.
Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work. On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus, for everyone riding buses all over the world. Drop some silver and pray.
Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM, for your latte and croissant, offer your plea. Make your eating and drinking a supplication. Make your slicing of carrots a holy act, each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.
To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray. Bow down to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats. Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.
Make the brushing of your hair a prayer, every strand its own voice, singing in the choir on your head. As you wash your face, the water slipping through your fingers, a prayer: Water, softest thing on earth, gentleness that wears away rock.
Making love, of course, is already prayer. Skin, and open mouths worshipping that skin, the fragile cases we are poured into.
If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired. Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day. Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.
When you walk to your car, to the mailbox, to the video store, let each step be a prayer that we all keep our legs, that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs. Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves: less harm, less harm, less harm.
And as you work, typing with a new manicure, a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail or delivering soda or drawing good blood into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas–
With each breath in, take in the faith of those who have believed when belief seemed foolish, who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.
Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace, feed the birds, each shiny seed that spills onto the earth, another second of peace. Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.
Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk. Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child around your VISA card. Scoop your holy water from the gutter. Gnaw your crust. Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling your prayer through the streets.
- Ellen Bass