Dear URI sisters and brothers,
My love and prayers go out to all those affected by the bombings in Baghdad, Iraq and Kabul, Afghanistan. These horrible acts against sisters and brothers continue to rip at the seams of the human community. It is our care and love for one another expressed first through words of condolence and prayer and then through action on behalf of peace that is the only way forward. As I watch the news, and the powerful responses from the URI community on Facebook, WhatsApp and email from my hotel room in Moscow, I want to share a few reflections on being peacemakers in the midst of war – for this is a war we are in, not just a military war, but a spiritual war for the soul of humanity.
Bombs explode in Baghdad, targeting young families breaking the Ramadan fast and older people collecting their pension. 31 dead, many hospitalized. A bomb explodes in central Kabul, killing more than 80 people and wounding hundreds. Lives destroyed. Families shattered. Communities in chaos. Conflict between groups deepens. The world goes further into shock. This is the intent of terrorism, whether it be by extremist groups or government-sponsored. And of all the horrible outcomes of these cowardly and evil acts, the last may be the most dangerous – sending the world into shock.
When we are in shock, we are paralyzed. Shock is a normal and completely understandable reaction in the face of this kind of violence. Any of us who has witnessed killing firsthand whether it be between gangs on city streets, as acts of terrorism or in the midst of war, know that to witness human life be so thoughtlessly and easily destroyed tears at our souls. I will always remember the face of a young man who worked in my youth program in New York City gunned down before my eyes, and the faces of women in Gujrat, India who had lost children and loved ones in the mass riots as we sat together and wept. I choose to remember the pain in their faces and the pain in me, because it keeps me from wandering too far down the road of shock in which I feel paralyzed to act and make a difference. The intent of the kind of violence we have recently seen in Manchester, Baghdad, Kabul, Mindanao, Egypt, Nigeria and so many other places is to so shock and horrify us that we give up trying to bring peace to our communities and to our world. The intent of this violence is to drive us into isolated places of fear where we are paralyzed and alone. But if we can find a way to open ourselves to that pain, if we share this pain together, then our hearts open and expand. And we realize that together we have enormous capacity to hold the pain of the world in our hearts, and that this pain connects us to all other members of the human family. Through this sense of connection we can then move that pain towards action for peace, justice and healing on behalf of humanity. The war raging at this moment, is not just the war being fought in city streets and villages, it is also a war being waged within us – between despair and hope, fear and love, paralysis and action.
In moments such as this, when horrific acts of violence and the resulting pain of the world seeks to overwhelm me, I remember these words from one of my spiritual teachers, Howard Thurman.
“There is a wholeness at the heart of humanity
that must abound in all we do,
that marks wth reverence our every step,
and has its sway when all else fails
that wearies out all evil things,
that warms the depths of frozen fears,
making friend of foe.”
In the midst of madness of this moment in our world, may we know that wholeness that flows through our hearts connecting us to each other and all living beings. May we acknowledge our shock and feel our pain and that of others. And may these feelings connect us to one another and to the work of peace, justice and healing that is ours to do.
The Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian Jr.
United Religions Initiative