Praying Peace: Women Speak to God and the World
The year from spring 2011 to the coming spring of 2012 has been a year full of women proclaiming “Peace!” at the top of their lungs. Not quiet wishes for tranquility or ease, but bold pushes toward equity and right-ness, even as they are buffeted in the process. Faced with such conviction, I wonder if their demands don’t carry the same weight we assign to formal “prayer”: an act moving people beyond themselves in acknowledgement of Something bigger, Someone more gracious and powerful. Across boundaries of age, economic status, nationality, and religion, women are reaching for more. Praying.
Peace. Justice. Mercy. Be to us.
Perhaps the women receiving the most notoriety for this stance are the three 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winners: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, first woman president of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, head of the Women Peace and Security Network (WPSN) and a mobilizer of Liberian women to end civil violence; and Tawakkol Karman, a dedicated Yemeni journalist and non-violent protester whose arrest became a symbol of the struggle against President Saleh. Women who refuse to implement the violence that surrounds them. Women the world has recognized for not accepting the conditions it has handed them.
Images from the Egyptian revolution also have a prominent place in this year: women, children, youth, and men alike protested against President Hosni Mubarak and the military rule that followed in his wake. Long hours spent on cold ground, holding placards, washing out tear gas from eyes and noses—these were shared experiences. Egypt’s women, however, have other stories to tell. Unique, difficult stories of “virginity tests” and beatings by military or police, of limited representation in the new Parliament, of a growing reliance on men for defense during protests, etc. The need to speak peace has not diminished.
In Bahrain, Zainab al-Khawaja has been in and out of detention as she continues to call attention to her country’s stifled uprising. While men in power attempt to shut down popular unrest, she continues to sit, to shout, to draw attention to issues that remain unresolved. Further east, in Afghanistan, religious clerics have recently submitted suggestions to President Karzai that, if implemented, would create restrictions on women’s activities; Afghani women, including MP Fawzia Koofi, are already speaking out, according to the BBC: “We have struggled for 10 years. We have gained so much. This is the beginning of compromising some of those gains that cost us and the international community blood and treasure."
Just across the border, Pakistan’s first Oscar-winner, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, received recognition for her film Saving Face, drawing international attention to the horrors of acid-burning and to women and doctors who work to reverse them. American women are wrestling with federal and state legislators on both sides of the aisle, voicing their concerns regarding birth control, required ultrasounds, and human life. This year women are speaking across the world, and the world is rubbing its eyes and taking notice of their positions and their protests - their prayers - for peace.
In both Christian and Muslim prayer, there is a practice that fascinates me. For Muslims, it comes near the end of the daily recitation: worshippers are kneeling, whispering "Peace" over one shoulder, then the other. To neighbors visible and invisible they speak the words wasalaam’alykum. "Peace to you." In liturgically-oriented churches, there is a point in the service for grasping hands or holding out arms to bless with the peace of Christ, that it might “rule, or act as umpire continually, in our hearts, settling all questions that arise in our minds” [Col. 3:15, Amplified Bible]. Those reaching towards each other dare to believe that through a posture of openness and grace, Jesus’s promised peace can flow, enter, reside.
When Jesus commanded his followers to pray for, receive, and pass peace, he didn’t promise that it would be easy or that we would be “understood.” He did, however, go so far as to say that we would be “blessed,” that we would be the progeny of God [Matt. 5:9].
Act, pray, reach out - then we will be God’s daughters.
As an international crisis continues to foment in Syria and disrupt the tenuous social balance in Lebanon, it is time for women to cry out for peace again, with and for their sisters in the Middle East. To express outrage at their needless deaths, the slaughter of their sons, brothers, husbands and fathers and to empower them to heal their fractured communities. To motivate the world toward humanitarian action and the world’s leaders toward soul-searching. To speak Peace - not “status quo,” not “silence,” but peace - into the violence, into ourselves, and into our world.
Click here for more information about peace efforts in Syria and Lebanon
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