The headlines are coming fast and furious, and they are horrifying:
Execution or Exodus: Iraqi Christians face grim choice
Iraq is heading towards a humanitarian, cultural and historical disaster
Jihadists seize Iraq monastery
A Desperate Cry from Iraqi Christians
“ISIS took the keys of their convent in Mosul.”
ISIS Attacks 1800 Year Old Christian Church, And Completely Burn It Down And Destroy It
ISIS in Mosul, Iraq “No aid to Christians and Shiites”
Pleading at the Vatican (Muslim neighbors in Mosul bid farewell to their distraught Christian neighbors.)
“It’s too bad you’re not a Muslim
And, as noted here, Christian Holocaust Underway in Iraq, USA and World Look On.
Yep. If you want news on this impending genocide, thank God for the Near-Eastern press because the Western leadership hasn’t much to say about it, and the press coverage is rather thin. Nothing like the saturation coverage of the World Cup, or the launch of a Beyonce album.
This is the latest piece I could find from Western media: The last Christians in northern Iraq are fleeing from places where their communities have lived for almost 2,000 years, as a deadline passed for them to either convert to Islam, pay a special tax or be killed.
One of Christendom’s oldest and deepest roots is being ripped from an ancient garden, and many in positions of power, even among so-called “Christian” nations, seem content to let it go unremarked upon and unchallenged.
Perhaps they feel inadequate to the task of pleading on these Christian’s behalf.
Perhaps they believe that any engagement in their defense would embroil them in a larger conflict they are unwilling to face — as though mad tyranny will simply burn itself out if left uncontested.
Perhaps they think there is nothing to be done but fling hands to heaven, in which case they expose not only a lack of imagination, but a distinct misunderstanding of time and space, which they want to accept as linear.
We people of faith — people of all faiths, no less, not simply Christians — who believe in things seen and unseen know better. We know that time and space are constructs, and that they may be penetrated with the powerful (and brilliantly subversive) weaponry of prayer. We may not be able to provide the rhetoric that can capture and encapsulate the brutal reality happening as you read this; we may not be able to influence governments; we may not be in the position to stake personal and material things, or even our lives in order to defend these people (like this Muslim man who gave up his life for his Christian neighbors), but we are not wholly powerless in the face of this evil.
Here are five things you can do, no matter what your religious tradition, or even if you claim no tradition. You can do these things even if you are not a believer at all, but know a humanitarian crisis-of-justice when you see one:
1) Extend your prayer or “well-wishes” with a candle or a wheel: The Judeo-Christian practice of lighting a candle at prayer is not very different from the Buddhist act of spinning a prayer wheel. In both cases, a prayer is begun, and allowing the candle to burn in vigil, (or slipping the prayerwheel into a windy place or in flowing water) allows the prayer to continue — even as one must leave to attend to the rest of one’s day — for as long as the wick burns, the waters flow, or the wind blows. So, say a prayer for these persecuted people, who are losing everything, and whose heritage is being destroyed, and then set something in motion to continue that prayer.
2) Make a sacrifice; offer it for the sake of these people: It needn’t be a big thing. Give up a seat on public transportation; give someone else the right-of-way; resist an urge to snark; forgo tonight’s glass of wine; bite back a clever retort meant to wound; turn off the television. Any of these small sacrifices, done mindfully, will make a difference, because a thought is a thing. “Offering it up” may be an oldie but it’s still a goodie. A small sacrifice, offered intentionally for a greater good, is efficacious in battle. It is a spiritual warrior’s grenade, strategically released.
3) Begin a fast: If sacrifice is a spiritual grenade, fasting is a spiritual cannonade. It being Ramadan, a great portion of the world is already fasting. Muslims, as I understand it, are fasting for no other purpose than to grow near to God. That’s one reason to fast; the other is to fast in supplication, for the good and welfare of others. Fasting for these Iraqis under siege is a way to bring everything together into one resonating whole — both the power of extended prayer and of sacrifice — within one’s own body and in that way to make an offering of one’s self. It is to make one’s whole body a channel through which the will of God may flow. If there is no greater gift than for one to lay down his life for another, fasting, when it is undertaken with a whole-hearted intention for another, is potent variation on that theme; your life gets to be used, but not used up. If, because of illness or age one cannot fully fast, make a partial fast by refraining where one can, always with mindfulness.
4) Offer Material Assistance; Make a donation to the the Catholic Near East Welfare Association to assist in addressing the needs of Iraq’s refugee Christians:
What can you do today to help Iraq’s Christians and give them hope?
You can support the brave priests, nuns and brothers — CNEWA’s partners — who are on the ground and ready to care for the injured, the orphans and the frightened refugees. Please be as generous as you can. You can share the love of Christ with those who need him the most.
CNEWA is on the ground, serving and assisting people of faith where their lives are most challenged, and they do great work.
5) Write a letter; ask your leadership to address this ongoing violent and history-destroying purge of people from their ancient homelands. Begin a letter-writing campaign in your church or temple. If you have already given up on political leadership, write to your bishop urging condemnation and attention. If you’re sending a donation to CNEWA, add a note of prayerful solidarity to the people of Iraq and ask CNEWA to see it forwarded. I’m sure they’ll do it. They’re good people.
We are the people of a resurrected savior, the very Word, of whom it is written,
All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.
“Nothing” can only be where He is not. We are never powerless; in Christ’s name, there is never “nothing” to be done. The Word is Life; it is the continually expanding “thought that is a thing.” It is the constant assent of God, unfurling ever-further, into eternity.
We are never powerless.
UPDATE: I thought of a sixth thing we can do:
. . .let us call on the great Cloud of Witnesses who have preceded us in our 2,000 year history, and ask them for their prayers before the Throne: Saint Francis, himself, friend of the Sultan. The Maronite monk, Saint Sharbel Maklouf. Saint Macarius the Great, of Egypt. Blessed Mary of Christ Crucified the Syrian Carmelite known in Palestine as “Al Qiddisa” (The holy one). Amma Syncletica of Alexandria, the Desert Mother. Blessed Charles Eugène de Foucauld, martyr.
As I said yesterday, we are not powerless; we are in possession of the most subversive weapon of ambush, which is prayer, which moves through and pours forth from time and space, intercepting and impacting our times, beyond what we can comprehend.
Our brothers and sisters in the ancient province of Nineveh are fleeing, shocked and without hope. They are “Flattened, destroyed.” They have been pulled off of long-traveled footpaths and watched them become erased before their eyes. It might be too early for them to realize that, in the supernatural way of Christ, their stronghold and inheritance remains — that there is still a path to follow, and a future. But we must help them to know it, to feel it within, by the force of our prayers, our fasting, our alms.
In my life, I have known when people are praying for me. I have felt it; been sustained by it. Help them to feel it.