A few days ago I posted A Litany of Prayer for Aleppo. I was and still am heartbroken and overwhelmed, maybe even possessed, by what is happening in Aleppo. Omran has become for me an icon of that tragedy. His face and silence are ever before me; waiting, questioning, and convicting. I could not not pray.
I also know, however, that Aleppo is just a microcosm of what is happening throughout Syria and the world. I thought about the other prayers and litanies I have prepared and offered: for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 (9/2011), for Syria (9/2013), for Ukraine (1/2014) for persecuted peoples and religions (8/2014), for Beirut and Paris (11/2015), for Orlando (6/2016), for Turkey and the world (6/2016), for Istanbul, Bangladesh, and Baghdad (7/2016), for Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas, (7/2016) for France and Turkey (7/2016), for post-election America (11/2016).
The world’s pain seems to outpace my prayers. The faces and places might change but the prayers, the intentions, concerns, and needs, are always the same. I pray for those who have died, for those who grieve, for the suffering, for the injured. I pray for peace, that we might tear down the walls and borders that divide us, that we might love our neighbors as ourselves. I pray that we might not grow weary of caring, become indifferent, or accepting of violence as business as usual. I pray that we might not live in fear, mistrust, and suspicion of the other. I pray for justice, wisdom, and compassion. I pray for forgiveness. I pray for God’s mercy and consolation. I pray for generosity and soft hearts. I pray for the Omrans of the world.
There I was writing prayers one more time. This time for Aleppo. I wrote with tears for Aleppo, and anger and frustration that I was once again writing prayers in response to anther human catastrophe. When I finished I went to take a shower and clean up. Aleppo, however, cannot be washed away. I thought about Aleppo and the prayers I had just written. I asked myself, “Why? What difference does this make? Another tragedy, another prayer. Is that what it has come to? Is that the new norm? This is bull****.”
I was brushing my teeth when I heard a voice from within. It was not audible to anyone else but it was clear and direct. I heard it.
“Aleppo doesn’t need our prayers. Aleppo needs people of prayer.”
Aleppo needs people of prayer: people willing to let their lives be shaped and reshaped by the words they pray; people willing to take on Christ’s concerns, values, and priorities as their own; people whose words of prayer become flesh. Aleppo needs people who embody the words they pray.
If I am not willing to, in some way, enact the words I pray then I should not pray them. In a sense, prayer begins after the words have been offered. “Amen,” let it be, is the beginning not the end of prayer. We must not let the people of Aleppo live and die in the gap between our words of prayer and our prayerful actions.
So what will I do? What will you do? How will we enact and embody our prayer? That’s the question each one of us must answer. We will all answer it differently, uniquely, according to our lives and circumstances.
In answering this question we come face to face with ourselves and our own sense of powerlessness. What can I do? What difference can one person make? I don’t know, but I know this. That cannot become an excuse. For as Rabbi Tarfon says, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it” (Pirke Avot 2:16). My work, then, is to pray for Aleppo and become the prayer I offer.