We are a long way from Kosovo, and it has been a long time since things there were on the front page of our minds. New York, Afghanistan and Iraq lead the list of hot spots that now dominate the attention of the world.
Yet once again the Balkan states are on the verge of ethnic chaos.
One thousand United Nation soldiers have been sent to quell the violence that has claimed 28 lives and put another 500 in hospitals. Sixteen churches have been destroyed.
It has been a week of rage and revenge among Albanians and Serbs, people whose tortured memories have made it almost impossible to forgive and forget.
What to do?
We are commanded to pray: “First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”
So wrote Paul the apostle to believers of both the first and 21st centuries.
Calls have gone forth for faithful people to join in this prayer.
Patriarch Payle of the Serbian Orthodox Church conducted special prayer services and encouraged his people to resist the instinct of retaliation.
Pastor Beka of the New Hope Baptist Church in Kosovo also led special prayer services. “We cry out to God to pour his grace and his peace to all citizens of Kosovo.”
Zelmimir and Branka Srnec direct relief work in the city of Novi Sad. He describes the atmosphere as dominated by “negative power which is ready to destroy lives and peace.”
Against this “negative power” of evil comes the “positive power” of life, justice, truth, freedom and beauty. It is a power unleashed by the prayers of faithful people.
How this works is mystery: people in one corner of the world praying for people in another corner.
Does it release a power held in reserve until the prayer is made? Does it motivate the praying person to action? Does the knowledge that others pray embolden those in the midst of strife?
Does God’s power to sustain life, establish justice, reveal truth, extend freedom and create beauty depend upon the prayers of people?
Nevertheless: “pray without ceasing” continues to be the admonition of Holy Scripture.
“We pray with those who are mourning … and with those who have been forced to leave their homes or see them destroyed by hatred.” So said Samuel Kobia of the World Council of Churches.
Metropolitan Herman of the Orthodox Church in America urges us to pray: “During this Lenten season, in which we are reminded to take up our crosses as we follow our Lord to Golgotha, let us especially remember those who are enduring the Golgotha of terror, ethnic strife and gross injustice.”
It is not always easy to know how to pray in such situations.
Jesus offers us help: “Your will be done on earth, in Kosovo, as it is in heaven.”
I know what the people of Kosovo are praying: some version of another part of that prayer: “Deliver us from evil.”
Every time we pray the prayer of Jesus we are praying with the people of Kosovo: and not only the people of Kosovo, but every population in any place where death overwhelms life, wickedness trumps justice, superstition suppresses truth, captivity prevents freedom and outright ugliness obscures the beauty of God’s good creation.
To pray is to believe in the power and presence of God even in the midst of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
C. S. Lewis had a word to say on such things.
In his book The Screwtape Letters he has the Chief Tempter write to his underling that the cause of evil “is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do the will of God looks round upon a universe from which every trace of God seems to have vanished, and ask why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
We might add: and still prays.
Dwight Moody is a writer, preacher and theologian living in Lexington, Ky.