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February 17, 2004
They have been over there for a long time now. Some have been there since before the bombing of Baghdad, enduring through the changes in the war that have unfolded since its this'll-only-take-a-minute beginning.

This is about the time that people turn away from a war. At first, yellow ribbons are everywhere, and flags, and signs in peoples' windows that say We Support Our Troops. But the new American attention span is brief, in the best of times: we lose interest quickly. The news from Iraq is never good news -- good news doesn't sell many newspapers. And so, since we don't like to hear bad news about something from which there seems no ready release, we begin to ignore the war altogether. And with it, the young people we have sent to fight it.

Meanwhile, peoples' tours are extended and people come home wounded. Some come home dead. Other people go over to replace them. Our web guy gets the names of people who have died off the Internet once a week, my friend Jim says, and we pray for them every Sunday. This is wonderful. It is also unusual. Probably none of the soldiers for whom the people of Heavenly Rest pray are members of Heavenly Rest. But they are all children of God.

There is another prayer of which we are equally in need, a prayer that many of us, perhaps, have yet to begin. In any war, we need to pray for our adversary. We need to pray for those who hate us. One day, we will live together as friends. We need to begin seeing the enemy as a human being now, before that day comes, because it will never come if we cannot.

Sometimes people who oppose a war feel uncomfortable praying for those involved in it, as if the act of praying for nineteen-year-old soldiers far away from home carried with it an implied endorsement of the hostilities that brought them there. It does not. We all have the right to our opinions about this or any war, and we have the great blessing of living in a society in which we can express them freely. But those opinions do not in any way excuse us from the obligation we have to reach out in love to people who need love.

As a matter of fact, it's probably more important for those who oppose the war to pray for service men and women than it is for other people. It is in precisely the place where we are torn that God shows up first. God enters our ambiguities before He enters our certainties. God explores with us, measures our doubts with us, wonders aloud with us in conversation and prayer with others who also wonder.

Those of us who are not over there are privileged. We can adjust the heat in our houses, we travel safe roads, we never ask ourselves if the stranger we just passed on the street might turn around and kill us. If we are worried in the night, we tap our spouses gently on the shoulder and they wake up and tell us to go back to sleep. We see our children every day.

We can afford a few minutes to remember before God those for whom these things are the stuff of dreams.

Visit, if you have not done so already, the website of the Episcopal Church's ministry to the armed services, The Rt. Rev'd. George Packard is the Suffragan Bishop for Chaplaincies, and the site is full of things we need to know about this and all chaplaincies in which the Church is involved. You can also read about what other parishes and dioceses are doing to remember those who serve.

Prayer for those in Military Service
God our Stronghold and Shield: Watch over those dear to us serving in this time of war. Go before them to make their path safe, Shelter them by night and by day. Lift them up when they grow weary. Fortify their hearts when they are afraid. Defend them through the storm in the assurance of your presence and mercy, and keep them in the companionship of Jesus, through whom we pray. Amen.
from the website, Episcopal Church's Suffragan for Chaplancies

Prayer for the Whole Human Family:
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes here on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
from the Book of Common Prayer
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