A Prayer of Sorts

HJN, Apocalypse, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in.

HJN, Apocalypse, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in.

I pay more attention than I’d like, for personal reasons, to news coming from a region of ceaseless conflict. Recently, three men attacked a secure place. One breached the gate by killing himself with explosives so that the other two could enter and mount their assault. The upshot: much loss of life. In other words, a Monday or a Tuesday in that part of the world.

I struggle to imagine the chillingly mundane planning that must precede operations that incorporate voluntary death as part of the plan: “You park your car at this place and kill yourself so that we can enter the gate and pursue the attack.” And perhaps it’s diagrammed on paper.

Such acts are celebrated and reviled by the usual suspects with the usual rhetoric, but what strikes me is the fearsome devotion to cause that must underlie such ruthless, calculated giving and taking of life. Also, the sheer difficulty of defending against attacks by persons whose exit strategy is not to have one, whose battlefields are neighborhoods, and whose targets are brazenly collateral.

The memory springs unbidden to me of bluestocking ladies of a certain age — mothers, grandmothers, widows perhaps — maintaining a card table on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Their placard said “Pray for Peace,” and they invited passersby to sign a petition requesting that another long conflict be brought to an end. Their action seemed quixotic even then, but it gibed with a streak of idealism that was present in towns like that.

It’s been ages since I’ve seen or heard the slogan “Pray for Peace.” It even has a quaint, anachronistic ring to it. I’m not sure but what it might be taken as slightly heretical or unpatriotic now. But prayer for peace would not seem to argue with support of the troops. Now that I’m supporting one very specific “troop” I wish fervently for peace to break out where he will serve. It’s said all politics is local. War has turned local for me where my own blood is in it.

A kind fellow blogger left a comment wishing me well in what might prove to be my analogue to the non-quest that surprised C.S. Lewis with joy. The comment itself gave me joy. For some reason I think of the repentant slave trader who penned “Amazing Grace.” Also, of Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven” poem in which the speaker, fleeing desperately from it, is virtually hunted down and subdued by the beast of salvation. I seem to resonate to the unsought or sneaked-up-upon aspect of these several tales
of spiritual revelation. A faint star’s light is brighter when we look not at but past it.

My mother, a practicing Methodist, would say now and then, “Send one up for me” when facing a challenge of some sort. I’m her very son and not beyond praying, though I be heathenish! I send one up for peace.

(Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.)

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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5 Responses to A Prayer of Sorts

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    “why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
    iful than these heroic happy dead
    who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter”

    You already know the poet. These bitterly ironic lines have stuck with me since I read them when I was 18 or 19. Even without explicit suicide tactics, scores of men have always been sent in battle as sacrificial pawns (as you well know). Your text just reminded me of that. This isn’t a rejoinder. I’m just lamenting the sad, awful reality of it. If people find themselves desperate, hopeless, and with seemingly nothing to lose, death becomes less objectionable.

    When the year 2,000 rolled around I thought what a great time it would be to rid ourselves of our most egregious collective cancers — war. I thought we’d evolved enough, but I was woefully wrong and stupidly optimistic.

    • JMN says:

      Honesty time: I likely know the poet’s name if I see it, but I can’t place the verses. Kipling comes to mind, but also one of the young English poets who died in WWI? “…The sad, awful reality of it.” Yes, I hope I didn’t sound flippant about the dreadful sacrifices made in incidents like the one I described. It were best that lives be spared all around and that the circumstances that the circumstances that keep such unrest roiling were addressed. I share a sigh with you at being optimistic, however. (OK, I couldn’t resist. I Googled, and it’s e.e. cummings! I should have snapped to your lack of capital letters, but truthfully I’m not that familiar with his work. Thanks for that citation!)

      • Eric Wayne says:

        I was listening to Steven Pinker yesterday, and his new book, “Enlightenment Now”, or some such thing, is about how when we stop and look at the real facts and statistics everything is improving. There are less wars, less people dying in them, less violence overall, less poverty, less hate crimes, more education, less starvation, etc. It often doesn’t seem that way, but It’s nice to know that’s the very strong trend.

      • JMN says:

        Very true. Things are indeed better. I haven’t been exposed to Pinker directly, but I’ve read a little about him. I’d like to tune into some podcasting. I haven’t explored that world yet.

      • Eric Wayne says:

        You can easily find tons of stuff from him on YouTube, including lectures and interviews about the new book.

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