For a few days early this month we were tensing up for another American military adventure in a faraway place. President Obama talked of using our missiles and bombs to somehow punish the government of Syria for using poison gas in the civil war there and deter further use of such weapons.
Then two things happened to scale back that tension. Pope Francis called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace, and diplomatic minds finally concentrated enough to see a nonviolent way of gaining at least Obama’s main goal: preventing any more use of poison gas in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his diplomats picked up on a comment of our Secretary of State John Kerry as an invitation to use their influence in Syria on behalf of that goal. They did that, and Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, agreed to turn over his chemical weapons to the United Nations.
Now we wait to see whether and how that squeeze on Assad works out. Will the iron fist of the United States together with Russia’s big brother relationship to Syria succeed in this case? Are we seeing a new kind of police team enforcing world standards of behavior?
And what about that prayer and fasting? Does it get any credit for events?
It does here. Both prayer and voluntary fasting are practices of peaceful relationships, of solidarity. There wouldn’t be enough police officers and diplomats to manage the chaos of the world if the spirit of prayer and sharing disappeared. We can’t measure the effect of opening ourselves to God but we can experience it in peace, patience, and the courage required to trust one another.
First comes the humility to realize that we need help beyond our grasping, which means prayer, and then the wisdom to do our practical best.