Give 'candles and prayer' a chance

A commentary reprinted from

Rumors of war with Iraq abound. Words like "inevitable," "necessary," "urgent" are part of the proponents' vocabulary. They cite Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as a threat because of his past use of chemical and biological weapons, and the belief that he is bent on developing nuclear weapons that he will use on Israel and other US allies.

Though there is considerable opposition to this war, both in America and abroad, the rhetoric of war increases daily.

But even if the threat is valid, is war the only and inevitable option? Recent history shows that means other than war have proved effective even in the most intractable situations.

Prayer has been one of them.

A classic case is found in detailed accounts of the end of the cold war, which began in late 1989. The political and military tension between the United States and the former Soviet Union seemed permanent, prompting the accelerating buildup of huge arsenals of nuclear weapons with potential to destroy the planet. The demarcation of that opposition was symbolized by the Berlin Wall.

And yet, on the night of October 9, in the streets around Leipzig's St. Nicholas Lutheran church, over 70,000 German citizens gathered to demand freedom and democracy.

The demonstrations had started earlier as regular Monday night peace-prayer vigils across the city. That particular October night, 2,000 people were inside the church hearing and quietly meditating on sermons based on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and other peacemaking ideas. It is reported that about 600 of those inside the church were members of the Stasi, the East German secret police, and their mission was to disrupt the services. They didn't. They didn't even try.

As those 2,000 left the church, they were welcomed by the thousands waiting outside with candles in their hands. One report about the incident summed up the power of the moment thus: "Two hands are necessary to carry a candle and to protect it from extinguishing so that you cannot carry stones or clubs at the same time. The miracle occurred.

"Jesus' spirit of non-violence seized the masses and became a material, peaceful power."

Those who pray know that when thought aligns with a power higher than military might, that thought becomes a formidable force for good. "Whatever holds human thought in line with unselfed love," wrote spiritual healer Mary Baker Eddy over one hundred years ago, "receives directly the divine power" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 192).

And so it proved. In fact, so powerful was that thought that the previously brutal military brigades, police, and Stasi started to participate in the discussions and eventually withdrew. A month later, the Berlin Wall fell, and with it a half century of communist hegemony. The cold war soon came to an end without a shot being fired.

Years later, Horst Sindermann, an East German official, uttered that now famous admission: "We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers."

As a wave of spiritual quickening moves through society, faith in and recourse to a power superior to human skill, force, and passion is becoming more commonplace. People are praying, in large church assemblies, on the streets, and in private. And not only for the resolution of their personal problems, but for global concerns like the threat of war.

It's possible they are finding that prayer opens up options that are invisible or distorted when looked at from a strictly materialistic point of view, options that include the satisfaction of all right desires in a controversy.

Prayer calls forth innovative solutions and persuasive peaceable thoughts. Some hold that prayer engages their thoughts with divine Love, a spiritual law that brings harmony to relationships.

There are even signs that a spiritual awakening is rippling through officially secular Iraq. A report at BBC News Online tells of how praying is on the rise there, as Iraqis desperately seek relief from the anguish of two wars, 12 years of sanctions, and the threat of more weaponry raining down on them. The report quotes Wajed, a young Iraqi, as saying: "We feel we need support, we need peace, so we pray."

Peacemakers everywhere are praying with you, Wajed.

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