Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Blessing

A while ago now I was asked by a very senior leader to accompany him and an even more senior Iraqi leader on a visit to some Christian churches in our Area of Operations. I, of course, made sure that SFC McG was invited along as well! I suppose it might have been a bit cheeky, but seeing as we'd actually be outside the wire and walking on neighborhood streets, I wanted to be sure SFC McG was there to keep me in line.

(Remember that he's told my parents, and pretty much anyone else who'd listen (notice, I'm not including *myself* in that category of persons) that he's going to shoot me in the foot if I do anything stupid. "I'm NOT going to lose a Chaplain on this deployment! Never have yet. Not going to now," quoth he.)

So, the next morning I piled into one vehicle and SFC McG into another and off we went. I found it a bit terrifying -- yet amusing -- that our driver took a wrong turn at some point. We wound up on a tiny, narrow dirt road in the middle of nowhere, and had to back up in order to get out of there. We're in a convoy of vehicles, mind you.

It was at that point that I noticed how far I've come in terms of surrendering to the powerlessness of the moment, and being able to relax and enjoy the ride.

For one thing, the seats in that vehicle were nicely padded (could it be that because I was with one of the Grand Poohbahs?). More than that, though, I've "gotten it" that giving in to fear and anxiety DOESN'T HELP.

Getting myself worked up into a lather because we'd taken a wrong turn would not have helped get us on the right road, or have kept us from harm in any way.

Amazing how long it's taken me to learn that!

Perhaps it's so many years of knowing so many people who go to AA and Al-Anon and other 12-Step meetings. They tend to intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle me. Perhaps it's so many years of praying the Suscipe prayer attributed to St. Ignatius Loyola.

Perhaps it's having said, at every Mass I've celebrated since Ordination, before Communion: "What return shall I make to the Lord, for all the good that God has done for me? I shall take up the cup of salvation, and call upon God's name, and the Lord will save me from all that frightens me."

(One of our Novice Masters, Frank, used to pray that prayer 30 years ago when I was a novice, and probably because I was frightened so often by so much, it made a huge impression on me. I have never forgotten it, and have adopted it as my own.)

In any event, I'm living with much less fear these days, and am grateful for that!

After meeting up with the Iraqi bigwig, we convoyed to the first of the churches we were going to tour. SFC McG and I were told that this place hadn't had services in quite a long time, because all of the faithful had fled the area in the wake of so much violence, and so much of it directed towards Christians. The caretaker was the only person left there, and we'd get the chance to meet him and see his church.

Mar Zaya Assyrian Church of the East has weathered the storms of sectarian violence, intact. One of the Iraqi General's translators told me that the "little guy" (as he called him) who looks after the place is "a giant in courage" since even many Muslims in that area fled, as did his whole congregation. The violence was too great.

It turns out that the man who is the caretaker is also the priest at this church.

Fr. Gabriel speaks no English, and doesn't even speak Arabic. He only speaks Aramaic -- the language spoken by Jesus and the ne'erdowells he was constantly pallin' around with.

Fortunately, the interpreter who came along with us could speak Aramaic as well, so he translated both to and from Arabic and to and from English for the priest. To the left is a photo of the priest with the Iraqi General (and myself).

Before we moved on, I asked the translator to ask Fr. Gabriel if I might have his blessing. At first the priest demurred, but after a short conversation in Aramaic with the translator, he kissed his hand cross and then held it out to me to kiss. He began to pray in Aramaic, with his cross held above me as I bowed down.

I caught a few of the words he said, since Aramaic is a Semitic language, and very similar to the Biblical Hebrew I studied in priest-school.

The prayer went on for what seemed to be quite a long time. I'm pretty certain he invoked the intercession of Mary and other saints. What I could not see was that the priest and four Assyrian Christians who were with us were all crying as the priest was praying his blessing.

Afterwards, when our General asked him what he wanted from us, Fr. Gabriel replied, "Nothing. I only want peace."

The translator told me as we were leaving the building that Fr. Gabriel had told him that this day was the happiest day he had had in years.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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Mary Coady said...

T, This is so deeply moving. To be spoken to in the language of Jesus,and blessed in the same language...The Assyrian Christians weren't the only ones with tears: I wept when I read this.

It sounds as though Fr. Gabriel, the little "giant in courage," is someone whose prayers we should request. Especially in light of the violence around his congregation. What a saint he must be and what a privelege for you. So when/if you're talking to Fr. Gabriel, let him know that you to pal around with folks who could use the prayers and blessings of certain Aramaic speakers. MTKKM

Dana Michael Krull said...

Once again, CH Meier, you've given me hope and inspiration to drive on in seminary to finish what God has called me to start in working towards the chaplaincy. Your ministry reaches across the globe, even 12 time-zones away in L.A. I know that moments like the one you described here make being away from home worth it, so my prayer is that you will have many more like it and that your prayers of blessing for the people around you will be as effective as the priest's were for you and those present. Thanks for sharing this story and the photos because it truly motivates me to keep plugging away in seminary.
In Christ,

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