Marie-Elsa Bragg

Article for The Church Times on A Prayer by Terry Waite

Lord Christ, pour you spirit into my heart.
Heal the wounds that are there,
That I may be a healer for others.
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By Terry Waite

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This prayer came back to me last year when I heard that Terry Waite was planning to go to Beirut and meet Hezbollah after having been held captive by them for nearly five years between 1987 and 1991.
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It is a simple prayer, which has helps me rest, and enter into a time of silent contemplation and remarkably, it also supports me in the heat of fast paced work.
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On my own, I use it when I have time to sit quietly. I find, possibly because of the author, I can be in any room, small or grand, cupboard or chapel and it gives me a sense of inner freedom that I can relax into. After one line I often give unmeasured time before I will say the next. The first line, perhaps because of the use of the word ‘pour’ carries an optimism and trust which only love can inspire. Even when I am feeling depleted, it puts me in the place of the beloved and reminds me of the bewildering truth that it is important to God that we receive divine love. The words also comfort me with a resonance of the Angelus: ‘Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts.’
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In the next line, spoken as if by someone in true relationship with another, there is a natural and yet blameless confession of the wounds in my heart and the hope of healing. It is a confession of brokenness to someone who believes in me and knows the many mistakes I make ultimately derive from my wounds. Like a Psalm, it calls to someone who knows I can be healed by entering further into divine love. And in the time that follows for me after this line, I often find I examine a day, a situation or myself with a sense of being in confession and working through things with Christ. The final line swiftly moves me into reciprocation, into inevitably giving my love in return.
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When I am at work however, this prayer changes into something I say with speed in my mind, even under my breath, whilst in the thick of things. It helps me find a guiding vision to keep me fully dedicated to my job. The swift reciprocation of the last line now affirms my work as a contribution to the greater work of Christ. Through this prayer, I now ask that I don’t lose my course. Now, the middle line provides a reminder of the humility of service. Not a humility which can paralyse so that I never seem good enough to do a job - that would be unproductive - and to do any work of worth, I need to be realistic about human nature. Instead, the prayer shows me that humility is the only way we can bring communities together. It can be vulnerable, as in my work I am of course as dependant on the community as anyone else, but, with Christ as my support, it is a step worth taking.
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Before Terry Wait was taken as hostage, he had been involved in dangerous but rewarding work as the envoy to Archbishop Runcie and had negotiated the release of hostages in Iran, Libya and Lebanon. But his use of an American helicopter to fly between Cyprus and Lebanon, and his appearance with Lt Colonel Oliver North in 1987, meant that he was wrongly associated with the Irangate affair. Against advice, in a bid to demonstrate his continuing trust and integrity in the relationships he had built with those taking hostages, and his commitment to the remaining hostages that year, he took a risk and returned to Beirut to negotiate with Hezbollah. Sadly, that year he describes what had been an expected blindfolded journey of swapping cars and waiting in rooms filled with voices that he normally agreed to for the possibility of negotiating the freedom of a hostage as the slow realisation that he had now been taken hostage himself. He had taken the same risks before but this negotiation lead him into captivity. It is clear that every time this risk was taken it must have been frightening. With the support of his prayer I have come to not only honour but dwell on the dedication to service which his actions showed.
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In our recent correspondence, about his return to Beirut last year, he wrote, ‘I am quite convinced that the only way forward in that part of the world is for groups and individuals to put the past behind them and build a new future together. Idealistic perhaps but no ethnic or religious group has an untainted history. My visit to Hezbollah was a simple gesture taken in the belief that reconciliation has to be made up of thousands of such gestures. I have to confess that Hezbollah were surprised to see me, but as we talked, we got on well enough together.’
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Both Terry’s actions in 1987 and 2012 seem to me to be an example of generous symbolic gestures. One lead to becoming a hostage, the other to a dialogue of hope. Both showing someone striving to follow grace in a confused world, following his commitments and doing what he believed was the best for all conserned. It is a realistic view of peace, which, like his prayer, admits our wounds and frailty, our success and failures are not the most important part of doing what we believe is right. The prayer invites us to depend on the irrational belief that our hope and support can be found in actions that are both invisible to others and that may not come to fruition. It also invites us to hope that a deep and courageous integrity might just win through in the end.