Pray for your enemies

We like to think that we haven’t an enemy in the world.  Think again.

OK, maybe “enemy” is too strong a word — but given the state of our current public discourse, it’s clear that we’re angry, cynical and deeply divided.  We may not be enemies — but we’re not all friends, either. We don’t “hate” anyone — but there are people we want nothing to do with.

Episcopal minister, writer and spiritual director Barbara Cawthorne-Crafton offers this perspective on “praying” for our enemies in her book Let Us Bless the Lord: Year One:

“In praying about any controversy in your life, consider praying first for the one with whom you disagree. Think about praying first for the one who infuriates you. And pray for that person or group of people without an agenda of your own — don’t pray that they might see the error of their ways and repent, or that God might give them all a walloping case of intestinal flu. Don’t pray anything specific for them. You don’t need to the madder you are about it, the more assiduously you should avoid any words at all in your prayer for your enemy. Leave the details to God. God doesn’t need our suggestions anyway — he is fully informed about our affairs. We don’t need to tell God things. God knows.

“Just name them before God . . . Just lift them up to God for blessing, the same blessing for which you yourself long. You need do nothing beyond this in prayer.

“Something interesting will happen if you do this: Your foe will become a human being to you. He will cease to be a cartoon of his offense. You will come to understand that there is more to him than the part you despise. This is the beginning of healing.

“And there is more: Something happens in your foe when you pray as well. Not something you can predict or control, but there is an ecology of prayer: Change something, and everything changes, just a little. A lot, sometimes. You have to be foolish enough and brave enough to take the counter-intuitive step of praying with humility and without words for someone you can’t stand. For those who can summon such foolishness and such courage, a miracle awaits.

“Spend some time in prayer for your enemy, in these days of high emotion and hot temper. Have the courage to present your adversary to God and trust that God knows our hearts — all of our hearts — and that Christ is, as we have always maintained, the Lord of history. Nothing can happen, in the church or in the world, that is beyond the mercy of God to heal. Nothing is beyond the power of God to turn what happens in human affairs to possibility and good.”

Jesus’ point in today’s Gospel is that to love as God loves, to care with the “measure” of God’s compassion, is hard work. In his teachings on loving one’s enemies, Jesus challenges us to break the cycle of fear, hatred and vengeance that ensnares us and society in dysfunction by realizing how our self-centred interests diminish the dreams and hopes of others. Only in realizing the struggles and disappointments of those we love — and of those we find difficult to love – can we begin to move beyond feelings of bitterness and demands for retribution. The faithful disciple of Jesus seeks to break that destructive rut of hatred and distrust by taking that formidable first step to love, to trust, to heal, to be reconciled with those from whom we are separated.