[ by Charles Cameron — glimpsing the Necker Cube effect, when the weapons of war meet the prayers of peace ]
A while back I co-authored a book with a physician friend, Cleaves Bennett MD, on the control of high blood pressure, and since he wanted to include the idea that humor had a role to play in reducing stress, we included a joke with each week’s exercises — and one of the jokes I suggested, and which made it into the book, was this:
A Catholic priest, a Dominican, once walked into London’s Farm Street Jesuit Church and found one of his Jesuit friends kneeling in prayer, smoking a cigarette.
“How do you get away with it?” the Dominican muttered. “I asked my father confessor if I could smoke while I was praying and he absolutely forbade it.”
“No wonder,” said the Jesuit. “I inquired if I could pray while I was smoking, and my confessor said, ‘Of course, old boy, feel free. … I don’t believe you should ever stop praying.'”
This post could well be included in my “form is insight”: series, with the form in question being “the reversal”.
Here’s a recent BBC picture with the tag-line “An Israeli soldier prays at dawn on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip”:
Some readers might look at that picture and recall Psalm 94, verses 3-5:
Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves? They break in pieces thy people, O Lord, and afflict thine heritage.
Some might reflect on Psalm 122, verses 6-7:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.
Some might recall the Qur’an 49, verse 13:
O mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another.
Others might think of the Gharqad Tree hadith, quoted in the charter of Hamas:
The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.
And I myself have no idea what the prayers that Jewish soldier offered were all about — his own safety, that of his family and loved ones, that of his own people, that of all the world’s people — nor about the prayers of young Muslims on the other side of the wall…
I look at that photo of the soldier boy praying beside the munitions of a brutal war, and my first instinct is to feel sadness — because the essence of prayer, surely, is shalom, peace, salaam.
And then I am reminded of the Dominican and the Jesuit in that story I told you.
Substituting “peace” for “prayer” and “war” for “munitions” to get at the essence here — should I be more sad that here, peace is depicted in the presence of war — or more glad that here, war is depicted in the presence of peace?