Yesterday was our monthly Peace Vigil. I don't know whether I've mentioned this part of our life before, but I know I haven't talked about it lately.
It all started during Lent several years ago. We decided that we wanted to do something about praying for peace. We organized a day of prayer for peace and we advertised it in the area and among local religious communities. We had one of the monks in the church all day long and other people came and went, and we finished with a service of peace in the evening. It attracted a substantial crowd and the church was pretty packed for the evening service and a number of friends and clergy and sisters and brothers from other Orders took part.
Then during Lent we continued our vigil on Saturdays and invited our guests and people from the neighborhood to join us. By the end of Lent it had become part of us. We knew that we wanted to continue it, but doing it weekly seemed more than we were able to sustain, so we decided to do it on one Saturday a month. We still advertise to people in the neighborhood and those who are in the Guesthouse to join us. Sometimes people do come and pray with us. Sometimes they don't. But several years later, we are still at it, keeping vigil for peace.
We begin at Matins in the morning. Before the service begins we light a candle and I pray a prayer for peace as a way of dedicating the vigil and this place to the quest for a more peaceful world. Then at the end of Matins the vigil begins. One of the brothers takes a seat close to the altar and is there for a half hour, praying for peace. We take turns, a half hour at a time through the morning. At noon we have a special Liturgy of Peace in place of our usual Office. There is a hymn ("Peace Within Us, Peace Over Us, Peace Under our Feet....") a reading from Scripture, some silence and then we stand and read the names of all of our troops who have been killed in Iraq and in Afghanistan during the past month. Then we remember all of the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan who have been killed (though we don't have their names), and the families and friends of all of them. There's another reading, this time by one of the more famous figures in the Peace Movement (yesterday it was Oscar Romero), some more silence and a closing prayer.
It's quite deep, and sometimes pretty intense. It was particularly difficult yesterday because the list of names from Afghanistan was very long and the longer the names were read, the more difficult it became to stay with it without breaking down. Nearly all morning there were people from the Guesthouse and from the local area who were praying with us, and that is a bit unusual. People said, as they often have, how moving it was to see one brother get up at the end of each half hour and give his space to the next monk, because it made the sense of unceasing prayer more real.
And, of course, all of this brings up the issues of what it's for. Is this worth doing? Does sitting quietly in a church once a month change anything?
Well, just what is changed is always problematical and the "results" aren't always immediately evident. "Results" aren't a very good way to measure prayer. A better measure would be whether this is something we feel called to. And there does seem to be an imperative about it: for a community dedicated to prayer it really does seem like we have to pray for peace quite independently of whether we can see anything happening. We just must do it.
Then there is the fact that things are changing. Slowly, gradually, things are changing. War is no longer celebrated in the way it used to be. It no longer is regarded as a glorious adventure. It is more often seen as a failure - the last refuge when we can't manage anything else. And that is progress. Changing the world by prayer is often a matter of centuries rather than weeks, and it certainly does wonders for a sense of humility about one's place in the whole scheme of change.
Of course, there is the one change that I simply can't deny. One of the things that is changed by this Vigil is me. If you want to have peace, first you have to be peace. That's the way it works. And I see it working.
My approach to the whole issue of peace, has changed and deepened. My sense of a need to be involved grows steadily. My intuition that God is involved in this great sweep of history that is moving us towards reconciliation has also gotten more compelling. I am not the same Bede who started this vigil-keeping. God is at work here.
In the end we do this simply because we must. We make sense of it as we go along, as we can. God summons; we see how we can answer. Given our life and what we have been called to, this response makes sense to us. And it's growing deeper - to that I can testify. It is good to be part of this growing mystery of the road to peace.