Twelve years ago today I went to half-deserted classes, wondering vaguely why everyone was missing, getting nervous at the reservists running around in uniforms and clearly not quite sure what to do with themselves. I finally heard what had happened after lunch and spent the afternoon at the campus ministry building, not because I was particularly upset but because I figured people who were upset would go there and maybe I could lend an ear or a hug to someone who needed it.
Really, it can be incredibly odd to think that the defining moment left you feeling blah. I knew I should be angry or sad, but mostly because other people were. And to my great shame, I actually cheered on when we invaded Iraq, because it seemed like the best way to make those people who were upset that I knew feel safe again. It was exciting. And I was nineteen.
A little over five years ago I moved to New York and made friends with my neighbors, people whose home was attacked that day. I got to know the survivors and saw the way 9/11 has impacted my adopted home. So these days I have stronger feelings, but they’re more connected to later points built around 9/11, and my own growing pacifism and trying to live with the question of why civilians dying from planes flown into in towers was worse than civilians dying from drone attacks in Yemen, except for maybe the scale. I’m not saying they are the same, but living with that question has been a paradigm shift in many different ways. So much so that anything I could say on this subject seems utterly insufficient at the moment. Maybe I’m not the wordsmith I try to be, or maybe this is just one of those moments where we need to be rather than say or do, at least for a moment.
In lieu of deep thoughts, I hope you’ll accept a prayer from St. Anselm I’ve been thinking about lately. I’m not sure how interesting this will be to non-Christians or non-theists, but maybe it will speak to us all and the need to love our enemies. It seems particularly relevant today. So if you’ll indulge a philosopher-mystic-old soul…
Prayer for Enemies
Almighty and tender Lord Jesus Christ,
I have asked you to be good to my friends,
and now I bring before you what I desire in my heart for my enemies.
For you see, O God, the reins and the heart,
you penetrate the secrets of the mind.
If you have sown in the soul of your servant
something that can be offered to you,
you see it there;
nor can it lie hid from you
if I and the enemy of mankind have sown there
that which will have to be consumed by fire.
Most gracious God,
Do not despise what you have sown,
but cherish and increase it, perfect and preserve it.
I can begin nothing good without you,
neither can I bring anything to fruition
nor maintain it, without you.
Merciful God, do not judge me
according to that which displeases you in me,
but root up that which you have not sown
and save the soul you have created.
For without you I cannot amend,
because whatever is good in us you have made
and not we ourselves.
My soul would not be able to bear it
if you should judge it according to its sins.
You alone, Lord, are mighty;
you alone are merciful;
whatever you make me desire for my enemies,
give it to them and give the same back to me,
and if what I ask for them at any time
is outside the rule of charity,
whether through weakness, ignorance, or malice,
good Lord, do not give it to them
and do not give it back to me.
You who are the true light, lighten their darkness;
you who are the whole truth, correct their errors;
you who are the true life, give life to their souls.
For you have said to your beloved disciple
that he who loves not remains dead.
So I pray, Lord, that you will give them love for you
and love for their neighbour,
as far as you ordain that they should have it,
lest they should sin before you against their brother.
Tender Lord Jesus,
let me not be the cause of the death of my brothers,
let me not be to them
a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence,
For it is more than enough, Lord
that I should be a scandal to myself,
my sin is sufficient to me.
Your slave begs you for his fellow slaves,
lest because of me they offend
against the kindness of so good and great a lord.
Let them be reconciled to you and in concord with me,
according to your will and for your own sake.
This is the punishment
that in the secret of my heart
I want to exact
for those who serve with me and those who sin with me -
this is the punishment that I ask
for those who serve with me and hate me -
let us love you and each other
as you will and as is expedient for us,
so that we may make amends to the good Lord
for our own and for each other’s offences;
so that we may obey with one heart in love,
one Lord and one Master.
This is the revenge your sinner asks
on all who wish him evil and act against him.
Most merciful Lord,
prepare the same punishment for your sinner.
Do this, my good Creator and my merciful Judge,
according to your mercy that cannot be measured.
Forgive me all my debts
as I before you forgive all those indebted to me.
Perhaps this may not be so
because in your sight I have not yet done this perfectly,
but my will is set to do it,
and to that end I am doing all I can.
So I offer this to you here, Lord,
so that you may perfectly forgive my sins
and deal with me as gently as you can.
Hear me, good and great Lord,
for my soul hungers and longs
to feed upon the experience of your love,
but it cannot fill itself with you;
for my heart can find no name to invoke
that will satisfy my heart.
For no words have here any taste to me
when my love receives from you that which you give.
I have prayed, Lord, as I can,
but I wish I could do more.
Hear me, and answer as you are able,
for you can do all that you will.
I have prayed as a weak man and a sinner
you who are mighty and merciful, hear my prayer.
Fulfil my prayer, Lord, not only for my friends
and the enemies for whom I have prayed,
but distribute the healing of your mercy
wherever you know it may help anyone
and not be contrary to your will,
both to the living and the departed.
Hear me always with your favour,
not according as my heart wills or as my mouth asks,
but as you know and will that I ought to wish and ask,
O Saviour of the world,
who with the Father and the Hly Spirit
lives and reigns God
throughout all ages. Amen.