Blessing and praying for our enemies

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 3, 2022

Psalm offers hope for both victim and victimizer. Photo of osprey wing by Jo-Anne Oucharek

One of our longtime coffee companions has been the object of a serious slander campaign in recent years. He asked me the other day how he should respond. Was he considering ways to take revenge? No, not all! His concern was: “How am I to pray for my enemies?” He was referring, of course, to Jesus’ words in His Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

I’d been meditating lately on several Psalms which speak of finding refuge under God’s wings. I’d been using that image as a form of visual prayer for people and situations when words escaped me, such as this matter of how to pray for our enemies. In fact, I’d written my June 9, 2022, column on that very image when praying for current events in our troubled world.

Allow me to revisit that column, with our reader’s concern about how to pray for one’s enemies as the context.

AS I ENTERED Cochrane Coffee Traders the other morning, world events were weighing heavy on me. In fact, even when I’d tried praying for them, words had failed me. But an image had come to mind, so I tried praying with that. No sooner had I sat down at my favourite table, than I was joined by an inspiring “Amen!” – not surprising, considering the source.

I think most of us have been deeply touched – indeed, left speechless – by the epidemic of mass shootings in the United States, Putin’s murderous madness against Ukraine, and the legacy of Canada’s notorious Indian residential school system.

With that darkness on my mind, I had just taken my first sip of the morning, when Eric Bourchier entered Coffee Traders. Immediately spotting each other, we gave each other our traditional “Cup of Light” greeting (see my Feb. 17, 2022 column), and he pulled up a stool to sit with me.

I shared with Eric my feelings of inadequacy in knowing how to pray for the victims being headlined in the news. He agreed with me on the failure of words at times like these.

When I described for him an image I’ve been substituting for words in my prayers, he enthusiastically bought right into it.

The image: that of wings of a bird wrapped around the victims in a most comforting way – like a hen might wrap its wings around its chicks, or an eagle spreading its wings out to protect its young from the scorching heat of the midday sun.

Eric knew well the biblical image I referred to from Psalm 91:4, where speaking of the Almighty’s comforting presence, it says: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”

Reflecting on our conversation, Eric subsequently wrote me: “My cup was filled to the top. The Spirit was truly with us.”

Yes! And may that same Spirit embrace the headlined victims we both were so concerned about. Our cup-of-light conversation at the table that morning recalled for us words from a hymn treasured by many. Here are a few comforting lines from William Cushing’s 19th Century classic, Under His Wings:

“Under His wings I am safely abiding; Though the night deepens and tempests are wild, Still I can trust Him. I know He will keep me…. Under His wings, Who from His love can sever? Under His wings my soul shall abide, Safely abide forever.”

AND APPLIED to our coffee companion’s slanderers and how to bless them? Yes, God’s love extends to victim and victimizer alike. In the latter case, I visualize his victimizers embraced by God’s wings as a refuge from the evil that would imprison them in bitterness, healing their hearts and leading them in the way of truth, reconciliation and love. May it be so.


© 2022 Warren Harbeck

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