In the wake of yesterday’s prayer meeting with Pope Francis, Mahmoud Abbas, Shimon Peres and leaders of the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim faiths, one wants to ask, “So what?”
Really now. What good does it do to bring people together to pray on a nice June day in an Italian garden?
It was just a photo op right? Get everyone together. Pose for the cameras. Some Middle Eastern type kissing. Now let’s go home.
Hold on a minute. What exactly could happen through prayer? Putting aside the supernatural aspect, there are some very natural, human, practical benefits.
Firstly, warring parties come together to do something other than fight or haggle over a peace deal. They come together both believing (even if only a little bit) in a higher power and therefore a higher goal and a more lofty dream then they have when only being warring politicians. Secondly, they must face the idea the religion is meant to being peace, harmony and forgiveness. Even if it is only a nod to these ambitions, it’s still a nod that didn’t happen before. Finally, everyone gathered together for prayer is hoping against hope and believing against all odds (even if only a little bit) that prayer might just change things.
There is more. Prayer, like laughter is infectious. As soon as you ask a group to pray together something happens. A new chemistry starts within the group. Even if for only a moment you pause and keep silence and then say a short blessing there is a new spirit in the room. Something greater than a sum of all the parts begins to move. Everyone sense this with prayer–even the atheist can acknowledge that when prayer goes on there is a different mood–as when music begins to play in a silent room. Something deeply human takes place which cannot be matched by any other human experience.
The mysterious chemistry is infectious because the people praying begin to be more open to others who are wish for prayer and wish for peace. Peres and Abbas may therefore go back to their people with a slightly warmer heart, a somewhat more open attitude and a more hopeful spirit. They might spread that spirit amongst the decision makers and among their people.
These are all practical, human and natural benefits to prayer. When they are considered it can be seen how prayer brings peace on the personal and interpersonal level.
Then there is the possible supernatural dimension. It is shallow and immature to think that the way prayer works is that God, like a large vending machine, hears prayers that you put in like a coin at the top and the answer you want pops out of the bottom.
No. Prayer works much more subtly as the human heart opens up to the very gently and yet very persuasive work of God’s spirit in the world. Prayer opens up the human heart to the power of peace and reconciliation which God is constantly pouring into the world like some great cosmic waterfall. This outward action of God’s goodness toward the world we call “grace” or “mercy”. The Divine Mercy is radiating out to the world at all times and all place like some great energy force and power of Love.
Prayer is the mechanism whereby human beings tap into that source and allow it to flow in and through their lives and into their everyday situations.
This is how prayer can bring world peace: by enough people submitting themselves to this great power of God, power of goodness and power of peace that is constantly being poured into the world.
As individuals take the daring step of accepting this grace and co-operating with this mercy reconciliation happens. Walls are broken down. Enemies forgive one another. New ways of seeing and new ways of being are opened up. Fresh possibilities present themselves and new understandings develop.
Can prayer bring world peace?
If you have faith.