Prayer unbounded

Needed now, in the wake of the warm and tumultuous homecoming for the 52 former American hostages, is a claiming of public emotions. The national spirit clearly has been uplifted and renewed by this extraordinary event. But, as smaller celebrations continue, they should not be allowed to become more of a catharsis for the public than a benefit for the returnees.

Today Americans gather in churches and synagogues across the nation to offer prayers of thanks for the safe return of their countrymen. Certainly it did not require a congressionally and presidentially designated "day of thanksgiving" for citizens to show their gratitude. They have been doing this through the visible outpouring of love and affection for the returned men and women. but a quiet, devotional acknowledgement of Deity's power of deliverance is always fitting, for the spiritual force of such affirmation helps to guide the nation and keep it on righteous course.

We would hope that Americans pray for more than their own, however, and expand their thoughts to embrace the world. Surely the Iranian zealots, too, need liberation -- liberation from the cold hatred, desire for martyrdom, suspicion and fear that have seemed to dominate their thoughts and deeds. They are in truth more captive in mind and spirit than the US hostages ever were. And today it is they who suffer the opprobrium of the world's condemnation and must struggle to be rid of the image of an international outlaw. What we need now is a healing process that will enable the US and Iran to have a normal relationship once again and above all help the Iranians bring forth the best in themselves. As Michael Metrinko, one of the 52, generously put it, "The time for bitterness is past."

President Reagan perhaps felt it necessary to warn that more seizures of Americans abroad would bring "swift retribution." But few people could fail to observe that the captives were home alive and well -- all of them -- precisely because of the US government's prudent policy of restraint and moderation. In this connection those who still favor quick use of force in such situations might consider the comments of former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who cautions the US against following Israel's lauded example of consistently refusing to negotiate with terrorists: "The main weakness in [the military] option is not the technical difficulties and dangers involved; rather, it is the fact that, in using it, the superpower gives up its tremendous military and political advantage and tries to achieve its ends by resorting to means that any country, including the smallest and weakest in the world, could apply."

It all comes down to how a great nation uses its power. For the most part America these past many months used it well and drew from Bruce Laingen, former charge d'affaires of the US Embassy in Tehran, a heartfelt expression of pride in how it had conducted itself. Mr. Laingen in fact reminded all Americans where true strength really lies when he cited a quote passed on to him early in his capacity by th Spanish ambassador in Iran to the effect that "patience is a bitter cup that only the strong can drink."

It is such inner moral and spiritual strength that the American people can also acknowledge -- and pra y to preserve.

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