A documentary shot well before Sept. 11, but aired repeatedly on CNN in the weeks since, follows a filmmaker's journey deep into her father's homeland of Afghanistan in search of his one-time hometown. Because cameras were forbidden, they had to be smuggled in. If discovered, not only would the equipment have been confiscated, but the filmmaker and crew would have been executed. As it was, they all survived and caught on film the executions of other helpless individuals.
Devastation and famine across expanses of the countryside appear so complete that moonscapes, by comparison, seem almost more nourishing of life. Bombing this land into oblivion wouldn't take much.
In the campaign to end terrorism and buttress the safety of the United States, one prays that mercy for Afghans is not a further casualty in a land that knows so many casualties already. Mercy doesn't have to be lost, but can flow in helpful ways without sacrificing safety (or justice) for the US and rest of the world.
The US and British air strikes against targets within Afghanistan that began three days ago make the quest for mercy, the search for safety all the more urgent. Humanitarian aid is reportedly reaching a few areas in the country. But far from all. For innocent citizens in regions still within the Taliban's grip at this writing, the humanitarian aid they desperately need remains hopelessly beyond their grasp.
Even there, though, divine help is not out of reach. Prayer cannot be walled out. Could prayer serve as an opening wedge to allow more aid to mercifully pour in? Consider this: An account from the Hebrew scriptures tells of Joseph, cast out by his jealous brothers in the harshest of ways. But Joseph, who depended on prayer for guidance and for his very life, rose to power and ruled as governor in Egypt. Years passed. His brothers and father assumed Joseph dead while he lived wisely and well. He foresaw widespread famine and laid aside huge reserves. When famine struck, his brothers journeyed to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph recognized them, but they didn't recognize him. He provided them with grain without charge. Eventually, he made himself known to them, and the family was reunited. This story illustrates to me the opening wedge prayer provides so mercy can flow. For Joseph, the prayer-based outpouring of mercy - and of food - laid the groundwork for reconciliation.
In this episode, the mercy is obvious. The safety seems less so, at least at first glance. But it's there. Joseph's acts of mercy never brought him into harm's way or weakened his standing. He was protected and rewarded. Reunification with his father and other loved ones blossomed. Mercy forwarded his safety. Former adversaries were no longer a threat. They were transformed to allies.
Does this story depict a spiritual fact? Does it hint at a divine law? Yes. As we embrace in prayer the innocent and needy of Afghanistan, we can see that the ultimate source of mercy is also the source of safety. That source is divine, not human. The source of all good is Almighty God, infinite Love. Using Love as a synonym for God, the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, "Love metes not out human justice, but divine mercy" ("Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 11). With divine mercy and God-derived safety stemming from the same source, no wonder they function in concert with one another. This spiritual fact occurs with the consistency of law. Divine mercy and safety go hand in hand. We don't have to sacrifice one to the other. A Bible verse suggests this when it asks rhetorically, "Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?" (I Pet. 3:13). The implied answer: no one. Engaging in acts of divine mercy protects one from harm. That's spiritual fact - provable humanly as we stand with it in prayer.
So, here's an opening wedge, a prayer to start with: Dear God, help us see that You are the source of mercy and of safety. Enable us to realize that as we follow good - expressing Your mercy in acts both individual and international - we also experience Your safety as present and powerful to protect us all. Lift us to see this as true for all Your children, for all humanity.