During the week, I came across this story by Brian Keenan, who was a prisoner of a small group of terrorists in Beirut from mid–1980s, for four and a half years. I found it in the South Australian Council of Churches Newsletter.
Hundreds and hundreds [of ants] seasonally invaded the cells in which we were kept. Like the giant Gulliver in a rage of frustration and cold sweat, I would stamp and slap and crush them without mercy, without any thought of their separate existence. But after days of this I got tired of my anger. It exhausted me. The ants were inexhaustible . . . As I watched them pour into the cell through so many different places, they became for me a form of entertainment. I watched them work. I watched how they would search out a crumb of bread four or five times their own size. They would trail and pull or push this piece of bread the full length of my tiny cell, scale a vertical wall, crawl along ridges until they found an exit point and take with them what they had found.
My fascination made friends of them. I was grateful for their fortitude, for their strength, for their resilience and instead of raging at them, I would sit awaiting their return. I watched how they worked together. And how, if I had crushed one in the night by accident, the others would gather around and if there was life in it still, comrades would lift this wounded companion and carry it across what for these tiny creatures must have seemed like miles, crawl up the vertical wall and search out an escape point through which they could take this maimed insect to be amongst its own. This incident became a symbol for me in this blank room with its three chained creatures [prisoners]. We cannot abandon the injured or the maimed, thinking to ensure our own safety and sanity. We must reclaim them, as they are part of ourselves.
This spoke to me of the faith, hope and love which appears to elude many humans and the despair they sense due to the incessant bombardment of the news media cycle. You may recall that as part of my message last week I quoted the words of Desmond Tutu:
“Do your little bit of good where you are: it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world”
And might I add, may even overwhelm us!!
Tutu’s words and the words of Brian Keenan took me back to a chapter on The Work of Hope in John Dear’s book on Thomas Merton, Peacemaker (Orbis Books 2015, pages 76-86).
In re-reading this chapter, I came across these reflections by John Dear writing about the words of Thomas Merton:
Do the good because it’s good, Merton advises. Do what’s right because it’s right. Work for the abolition of war and seek God’s reign of peace because this is the greatest cause in history, because this is what Jesus did, this is what God requires, this gives ultimate meaning to our lives. Place your hope then in God, and learn that the outcome is in better hands than ours; it’s in God’s hands. This lifelong struggle, undertaken in love, is the victory.
This is an ancient spiritual teaching. Instead of worrying about results, we give our lives for justice and peace in pursuit of God’s reign and trust that God will use our efforts for God’s greater purpose. We love everyone, resist empire, and surrender our lives to God and God’s work. We try to mobilize people through creative nonviolence, as Gandhi and [Martin Luther] King did, into a new grass-roots movement for disarmament, justice, and stewardship of the earth. As we do, we change the world, beginning with our little corner of it. And know that God is the one doing it. Our hope is in God, and so we embark on this journey with others to undertake the impossible. We’re like the abolitionists of old who pursued the impossible dream of a world without slavery. Most of them never lived to see their dream realised, but it would never have happened without their persistent lifelong efforts.
That’s what Merton is calling us to. Avoid the push for immediate results, remain faithful to the work of hope, let your life bear good fruit in God’s own time. Along the way, concentrate on the love of others and the blessings of creation and life. We might enjoy small victories along the way, but even the defeats can be understood within the long-haul victory to come. We take heart knowing that we played our part in God’s salvific work through history to bring a more just, peaceful world.
Over the past few weeks the story of Moses and the Israelite’s journey from Egypt to the Promised Land has been recalled in our weekday Mass readings. Once again, I came across these wonderful words from Deuteronomy (6:4-13) which Jewish people recite each day. It is Moses who says these words to the people:
"Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God,
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.
Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.
Drill them into your children.
Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.
Bind them at your wrist as a sign
and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.
Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.
To go on with some of the words of John Dear reflecting on Thomas Merton:
In the end, for the Christian who dares to engage in the work of hope, everything boils down to the resurrection. Do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus or not? Do you believe in your own resurrection or not? If not, then there is no hope and we are all the greatest of fools. If so, then the victory has already occurred, life has triumphed over death, and eventually the reign of peace will be realised here on earth.
On February 18, 1959, Merton wrote to Milosz (a Polish writer):
Life is on our side. The silence and the Cross of which we know are forces that cannot be defeated. In silence and suffering, in the heartbreaking effort to be honest in the midst of dishonesty (most of all our own dishonesty), in all these is victory. It is Christ in us who drives us through darkness to a light of which we have no conception and which can only be found by passing through apparent despair. Everything has to be tested. All relationships have to be tried. All loyalties have to pass through fire. Much has to be lost. Much in us has to be killed, even much that is best in us. But victory is certain. The resurrection is the only light.
Like Merton, we live in peace, say our prayers, help others as best we can, and carry on the work of hope. We keep our eyes on the risen Christ, trust in the God of peace, and lift up a seemingly impossible vision. We must become practitioners of resurrection. Then we will be people of authentic hope. (John Dear page 86)
And while travelling around the diocese over the past two weeks I was listening to my Abba CD and remind you of the chorus of the song, “People need love”
People need hope, people need lovin'
People need trust from a fellow man
People need love to make a good livin'
People need faith in a helping hand.
I hope you are able to recall this tune and sing it with conviction over the coming week. We all need hope, lovin’, trust, love, good livin’, faith and a helping hand.