If, for many, August is a time to go on holiday, throughout history it has always been a season for war and conquest. August was the month in which Christopher Columbus set off on the journey which led to the European ‘discovery’ of the Americas. It was the month that Julius Caesar’s Roman invasion landed in Britain, and the month when the Battle of Bosworth took place in 1485. August 4th 1914 was the date the British Empire declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, and August 7th 1964 was the date of the Gulf of Tonkin Declaration that led to the US becoming more involved in Vietnam.
I tell you all this because this August we enter the last phase of remembrance for the one-hundredth anniversary of the Great War. On August 8th 1918, the ‘On- Hundred Day Offensive’ began that led to the final defeat of the German Empire. In 2018, churches and faith communities are being encouraged to pray for peace across these ‘one-hundred days’.
The One-Hundred Day Offensive was, as were so many Great War battles, horrifyingly bloody. However, it also shakes-up our ideas of what World War One was like. In our minds, we think of blood and stalemate. These final one-hundred days of the war were full of movement and demonstrated that, by the autumn of 1918, Britain had the best army and tactics of all the combatants. If Germany was a spent force, its military and defences were still formidable and the casualties were eye-watering. Among the dead were the Great War poet, Wilfred Owen, killed just seven days before the Armistice on November 11th. His mother received the telegram about his death on the day war ceased.
If all of this seems rather grim for an August letter, I simply want to remind you that we still live in troubled times and in our fractious world not only is war ever present, but conflict forever threatens to break out. In an age of authoritarian and pompous world leaders, brinksmanship is back on the agenda.
How might we react? One route, which perhaps we all take from time-to-time, is to bury our heads. We might think, ‘Oh, let the world hang’ and head off to the garden for a cool drink. It is an understandable reaction and one that, when I’m on holiday, I’m inclined to take. Such is the nature of our world that we can feel powerless.
Perhaps, one more pro-active approach is to seek to spread a little peace wherever we are. This is when, metaphorically (and sometimes literally) we open the peace of our own ‘garden’ up to others. So, instead of retreating from the world, we invite those around us to be involved.
How might we do this? Well, one way is simply to model peace in our interactions. When we’re tetchy and tired (especially in hot weather) this can be challenging, and yet most people instinctively respond to kindness and generosity. (Recently, I remember seeing a photo of Anne Holmes and Anne Tudor outside Didsbury Mosque joining in a ‘demonstration’ of solidarity and hope one year on from the Manchester Bombing. I was cheered to see them standing in solidarity with people of faith and none for peace over violence.) Another way to model peace is to invite our friends and neighbours to join us at church from time-to-time simply to encounter a community that is seeking to be shaped by love and peace.
And, of course, we can pray. We do that week-by-week, of course, but prayer extends throughout the week in our daily lives. There are many different patterns and I believe we all pray much more than we give ourselves credit for. However, being intentional – that is, keeping times to pray for specific things – matters.
This brings me back to the ‘One-Hundred Days’ of prayer for peace. While many people are cynical about the efficacy of prayer, I’m clear that it does change things. That may not always be obvious at the geo-political or world level, but if prayer wasn’t powerful it wouldn’t have so often been banned (as in some communist regimes) or coopted by the authoritarian right (the Nazis, a godless lot if there ever was, loved to co-opt churches for their own ends).
Prayer shifts minds and attitudes and can motivate us to action. Indeed, it is an action itself. So, friends, do pray and keep praying, both individually and together. If you’d like to know more about the One-Hundred Days of prayer, see:
May we all have a blessed and peaceful August!