National Catholic Reporter
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Prayer in a Time of WAR
Issue Date:  April 18, 2003


From Darkness to Light
A Meditation


“The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;
The times are winter, watch, a world undone.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins(1) knew all too well, as he wrote above, much darkness and winter, but he also knew that “Nothing is so beautiful as Spring.” An earlier fellow poet also knew the movement from darkness to light. In a dark, dingy cell along the Tajo River in Toledo, Spain, John of the Cross(2) was brutally “degraded” nearly to death by his brothers. The Spanish friar compared his captivity to being swallowed by a whale that later vomited him out in an alien land. John’s vignettes of a “cramped prison cell” and of a person “hanging in midair, unable to breathe” were images, we may be sure, derived from his time in prison. Despite his “horrendous night,” the Castilian poet and mystic composed one of the Spain’s most beautiful, powerful and sensuous poems, “Dark Night.” This poem is a celebration of a “night more lovely than the dawn.” For John of the Cross, the dark night experience, for all its feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, is ultimately not about darkness and despair. Rather the dark night is always for the sake of liberation, light and love, always about a movement from darkness to light.

During the terrible and horrendous darkness of the war in Iraq, John of the Cross’ convictions about the dark night inspire a desire and a hope for peace, a peace that must be whole, lasting and binding on all. As Hopkins knew, “piecemeal peace is poor peace.” Shall we not pray that conquerors and conquered will come to know that darkness is for the sake of light and love, that war is “always a failure” even for those who have thought it just?

We must struggle to overcome what Hopkins would call this “sordid turbid time” with mutual growth in love of neighbor, no matter how far away the neighbor may live, whether in Baghdad or Boston, Basra or Bristol. It is incumbent upon us all to pray for a new creation where divine love will wipe away the tear from every eye and “make each morn an Easter Day” (Hopkins). Easter has come late this year, fighting lingers on all too long; in fact, it feels not at all like Easter. However, with Hopkins let us “Breathe Easter now.”

It is also time to beg God/Allah to bless all peoples; to drive the demons from all hearts, whether those hearts belong to the vanquished or to victors. And let us pray that the world may be washed with rivers of mercy, compassion and forgiveness and that this world undone by violence, destruction and death may be redone and rebuilt by the divine Architect.

We who are Christian can look to the Risen Lord, our Morning Star, to be a beacon who dispels “the darkness of this night,” so that, as the church sings out with the Easter Exsultet, a “peaceful light” may shine on and in every human heart. Let us pray, too, that no nation may ever again be abused by its rulers, nor may any nation ever again give up a search for peaceful means to right wrongs, no matter how arduous that struggle may be. May we who have been called Easter people sing only and everywhere a song of peace. And, as Hopkins has written, may we be committed to “Make each morn an Easter Day.”

1. English poet and Jesuit, 1844-1889
2. Born Juan de Yepes y Alvarez, considered one of Spain’s greatest poets; founder with St. Teresa of Avila of the Discalced Carmelite Order; named a doctor of the church for his mystical theology.

Dr. Keith J. Egan holds the Aquinas Chair in Catholic Theology at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. The founder of the Center for Spirituality at St. Mary’s and its director for 20 years, he currently is an adjunct professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and a fellow of the Institute of Carmelite Studies in Rome. He and his wife, Connie, are the parents of two children.

National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2003

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