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Prayer for the week

by
28 March 2013

Marie-Elsa Bragg on the power of the symbolic

ISTOCK

Lord Christ, pour your Spirit
into my heart.
Heal the wounds that are there,
that I may be a healer for others.

Terry Waite (b.1939)

THIS prayer came back to me last year, when I heard that Terry Waite was planning to go to Beirut and meet Hezbollah, after having been held captive by them between 1987 and 1991.

It is a simple prayer, which has helped me to rest and enter into a time of silent contemplation; remarkably, it also supports me in the heat of fast-paced work.

On my own, I often use it when I have time to sit quietly. I find it gives me a sense of freedom that I can relax into, and, after one line, I often give unmeasured time before I say the next. The first line, perhaps because of the use of the verb "pour", seems to carry an optimism and trust that only love can inspire. Even when I am feeling depleted, it puts me in the place of the beloved, and reminds me of the extraordinary truth that it is important to God that we receive divine love.

The words also comfort me with a resonance of the Angelus, where my prayer is supported and guided by Mary in the words used at the end of the collect for the Annunciation: "We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts . . ."

In the next line of Waite's prayer, there is a confession of the wounds in my heart, though without any blame, and a hope for healing. It is a confession of brokenness to someone who believes in me, and knows that the many mistakes I make ultimately derive from my wounds. This is someone who knows that I can be healed by entering further into divine love.

Then, in the time that follows for me after this line, I often find that I examine a day, a situation, or myself with a sense of working through things with Christ. After this, the final line swiftly moves me into giving my love inevitably in return.

When I am at work, however, this prayer changes into something I say at speed, in my mind - even under my breath - when I am in the thick of things, and need to make sure that I have a guiding vision to keep me fully dedicated to my job. The swift reciprocation of the last line now affirms my work as a contribution to the greater work of Christ.

Before Waite was taken hostage, he had been involved in dangerous but rewarding work as the envoy of Archbishop Runcie, and had negotiated the release of hostages in Iran, Libya, and Lebanon. But he was wrongly associated with the Irangate affair. In a bid to demonstrate his continuing trust in the relationships that he had built and his commitment to the remaining hostages, he took the risk and returned to Beirut to negotiate with Hezbollah, and was taken hostage.

Although such risk is frightening, with the support of his prayer, I have come to honour - perhaps even to understand - a little of the dedication that his actions showed.

About his return to Beirut last year, he wrote: "I am quite convinced that the only way forward in that part of the world is for groups and individuals to put the past behind them, and build a new future together. Idealistic perhaps, but no ethnic or religious group has an untainted history. My visit to Hezbollah was a simple gesture, taken in the belief that reconciliation has to be made up of thousands of such gestures.

"I have to confess that Hezbollah were surprised to see me, but, as we talked, we got on well enough together."

His actions in both 1987 and 2012 seem to be examples of profound symbolic gestures. One led to his becoming a hostage; the other to a dialogue of hope. Both showed someone in conversation with Christ, beyond the terrorism, violence, politics, and deprivation that he was working with.

It is a realistic view of peace, which, like his prayer, admits our wounds and our frailty, knowing that our true hope is found only in the breadth of vision and generous outpouring of divine love.

The Revd Marie-Elsa Bragg is a Duty Chaplain at Westminster Abbey, and a priest in the diocese of London (www.marie-elsabragg.co.uk).

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