March 2003. The world has mixed feelings about war — always has, always will. But one thing is certain: War means death and destruction and grief and weeping. And so we enter the first week of the war on Iraq with the spiritual practice of weeping.

by Abigail Hastings

It is not about fretting, bitching, sniveling
kvetching, whining or whimpering . . .

It is not about aches and pains,
maladies, discomfortures,
irritants, annoyances, fits of pique,
backbiting, perturbations, provocations,
or digestive disappointments . . .

It is not about the host of things
we count as the afflictions of our decrepitude
and for which we manufacture
our paroxysms of complaint.

It is about the deeper level of living
the one rooted in the earth's groaning
for its very life and being . . .

The one that throbs in the pit of your stomach
with an instrument of stone
that settles into the grey marrow of your bones
and tutors you in the literal meaning
of the ache of a beating heart.

It is the birthplace of keening, the cry that is not
dainty or trickling dripping easiness,
but deep powerful wails of knowing
that cannot be contained, that reach up and out
and long to be met by something,
anything, that speaks to the pain
that we know exists not just within us,
but beyond us, that knits us together in

a suffering heard all over the world
in sighs too deep for words,
one that connects us to a Truth perhaps too
terrible to look at or contemplate alone.

And so we come together, and ask might not
this bitter cup pass from humankind, and if not,
is there a wisdom that could fall on our heads
like anointed oil,
could a peace that passes all understanding
take up residence within us —

For truly we see through a glass darkly
and fearfully and longingly
this day

And the best we can confess to you
is that we stand ready this hour
to be open to your Spirit
moving in, around, and through us.

Every morning now is mercy.
Every day now is mercy.
Help us in this hour to celebrate
a day of peace and more to come
For all the people of the earth. . . .

— Call to Worship,
Judson Memorial Church, New York City
March 16, 2003


Religious scripture and literature has a full share of expressions of disappointment, despair, and grief. One-third of the Psalms in the Hebrew Bible are lamentations. Here are contemporary examples.

Daniel Berrigan on the War's Victims
"How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations." So begins the book of Lamentations in the Bible. Jesuit priest, peace activist, and poet Daniel Berrigan has written a fiery commentary on this text. Pointing out contemporary parallels, he rages against the realities of war and laments its victims.

Edward Hays on the Practice of Lamentation and the Wailing Psalm
Christian teacher Edward Hays sheds more light on the spiritual practice of lamentation, especially the personal psalm-prayers in which people cry out in pain over their misfortunes. He urges Christians not to feel guilty about lamenting and offers a psalm of profound personal grief.


The Spiritual Path of Grief: Quotations and Stories from Contemporary Teachers
"No bond in closer union knits to human hearts than fellowship in grief," writes the poet Robert Southey. This piece, compiled after September 11, offers perspectives and practices that are also appropriate in these times. Several of them — listening to sad music, reading poetry, carrying a tear bottle, sitting with despairing friends, and, of course, weeping — are very concrete.

• Empathy Practice with the People of Baghdad
During the bombing of Afghanistan in 2001, a U.S. officer commented, "A 2000 lb. bomb, no matter where you drop it, is a significant event for anyone within a square mile." Those of us who watched the bombardment of Baghdad on television can only imagine what it must have looked like to the Iraqis on the ground. And imagine we must with empathy practice.
View the Children of Iraq Gallery

Finally, we asked Shaikh Kabir Helminski of the Mevlevi Order of Sufis what would be an appropriate "zhikr" for these times. Zhikr is a basic Sufi practice involving the repetition of one of the names of God to both remember and invoke that quality. Kabir emailed us this: "There is Ya Qay-yum. Changeless, eternal, self-subsistent pole of Being which runs through all of manifest existence. Dogs bark and the full moon passes across the sky; crows caw and the fruit of the orchard ripens. These are hints of how we could be even in the midst of this mixture of hysteria and numbness."

Keeping that name of God in mind, we were very happy when we received this email.

Dear Frederic & Mary Ann,

My children & I have shared our views & feelings about the effects of war & have been praying for peace in our country and for the entire world. We couldn't feel better and to make things a little bit lighter, my youngest child (aged 12) and I composed a poem yesterday. I would like to share it; here it goes:

Cloudy blue skies,
Sun beginning to shine.
Birds chirping gaily,
Flowers abloom with dew.
Trees growing bigger,
Fruits abounding.
Animals of the fields grazing,
Tillers ready to plow.
City people on the move,
Noisy, busy streets in the making.
Classical music playing,
Soft touch felt.
It's a new day,
A mighty God in control!
Blue-greenish seas,
Calm in its display.
Warm breeze blowing,
Peaceful stillness.
Little children happily playing,
Cheerfulness given.
Mother earth's a remarkable place,
Richness of God's creation!

Thank you very much & God bless!

Angie M. Mactal

Our gratitude to Angie and her family.