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A few years ago, as part of the Two Year Academy for Spiritual Formation, Luther Smith (I think!) gave us the assignment, to write a prayer for an enemy.

Here’s what I wrote. If I were doing it today, it might be different. No, because I am doing it today, it is different. But when I gather myself to pray for an enemy, an adversary, a person or group who has done me harm, or a person or group who has a pattern of doing harm to any member of God’s beloved creation, this is something of how my prayer is led.


Prayer for an enemy

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:44)

If he were ISIS, this exercise would be easier!

I could abstract him,
“other” him,
pray for him in generalities,
and let the wind of distance sort out the chaff

At this point, it would all be chaff.

But he is nearer to me,
he hurts people,
he throws me into complicity,
and I cannot see him changing.

So who the hell do I pray for,
to pray for this enemy?
For him? Or for my sorry self?
For loathsome him? Or the self-loathing he gives me?

So I pretend for a moment.
[It might be safe, if I give a time limit.
Five minutes. Two. One.]
For a minute, I’ll pretend he’s just anybody.
I do what prayer I pray for the sick,
or the sad,
the poor,
or the lonely,
the oppressed
or the disaffected:

In the quiet,
(help my disquiet!)
I speak his name.
Claiming all your compassion
and justice
and longsuffering
and hope
I look on him
with your eyes
as from the cross (where he nailed you … where I nailed you)

[Damn it, this was supposed to be pretend, an exercise, something safe!
Now I’m Jonah in the shade of the gourd,
I knew you were going to pull something like this!
That’s why I have resisted this prayer for so long,
why I ran in the opposite direction.]

But here we are, you and I.
I hold him with your mind.
I give thanks for him, my enemy.
With your eyes I see,
     through his self-made smears,
     your shining reflection
I breathe, and realize your breath, his breath, mine,
     are not essentially different.
And I recognize that what troubles me most in him
     what makes him my enemy
     is the same stuff that troubles me most in myself.
I give thanks for him.

I am with him in your gaze.
What I hate in him is what I hate in me.
What I pray for him is what I seek for me.
Shock him out of smugness into awe,
O Christ whom he persecutes!
Wake him til he is truly woke.
Let him find humility that need fear no humiliation,
Save him from willing or doing harm.
May he live at peace, as you are peace.
May he live in joy.

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