Letter from the Road #8

Path of the Friend

Elias Amidon & Elizabeth Rabia Roberts


Back to Baghdad


Today we write from a small hotel in Amman, Jordan, waiting for our visas which will enable us to return to Iraq. The newspapers we have just finished reading announce “America Targets Iraq!” and recount the number of soldiers and tonnage of munitions destined for the country across the border.

So why then are we going back to Iraq now, when an attack seems inevitable? What possible use is there in this action?

Since our return from Iraq one month ago we have helped take the anti-war message to the American public. We have given speeches, interviews on TV and radio, been the subject of numerous articles in newspapers, and been quoted in USA Today, the Nation, and the BBC. Our “Letters from Iraq” have reached around the globe. By now probably several million people have heard about our earlier journey to Iraq. A week ago we decided it was time to return – to stand in solidarity with Iraqi citizens in their vulnerability. Not everyone can do this, or is called to such a gesture, but we are and have chosen to follow this call not only for ourselves but for all who travel with us in our prayers.

Two days ago we were in Pasadena, California, giving a talk to a large group at an Episcopal church. After our talk we attended the Sunday service – the church was full, maybe 1500 people, the sermon by Father Ed Bacon a powerful exhortation to become disciples not simply believers, to put Christ’s message of peace into action. Following the Mass, Father Ed called the two of us to the center aisle of the church, asking everyone to get up out of their pews and come gather around us. He asked those closest to us to put their hands on our shoulders, and then for each person in the church to touch another until we were all connected. The choir came down from behind the altar, the organist, the altar boys, the elderly ladies in their hats, the young couples, the wealthy businessmen, the Hispanic families, we all bowed our heads together in this web of people. The church grew silent. We waited. Then the priest invoked a blessing that encompassed and moved through everyone toward the two of us at the center of the web, and then beyond us. We were asked to be their emissaries, to carry their love and compassion as we journey back to Iraq. The charge was electric – many of us were in tears.

This was the most dramatic, but not the only time this happened prior to our return. We were blessed and asked to carry blessing by friends, by our children, by Buddhist roshis, Jewish rabbis, Sufi sheikhs, Methodist and Unitarian ministers, and by countless people in church halls and community centers and through our daily email. We understand this outpouring is not about us – we are simply its occasion. People throughout our country, from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles, California, are standing up, raising their voices, coming out of their homes and offices and demanding that our government not go forth in violence, not consider itself the sole arbiter of justice throughout the world, and not continue to undermine the work of a half century of multilateral agreements and treaties establishing cooperation among the community of nations.

So what is the use of returning to Baghdad with a war so immanent? While we do not intend to stay if the war starts, there are several good reasons to be there until then: we will help the Iraq Peace Team train the short-term delegations still coming through Baghdad (there are at least five groups coming in the next two weeks); as long as the electricity is up we will send out stories about the Iraqi people through these letters and through phone interviews; and we will help create public actions in Baghdad to attract the attention of the international press to humanitarian issues. We believe in the usefulness of the Peace Team’s presence in Iraq. It serves to inspire and link the worldwide peace movement to this beleaguered land, standing for the power of nonviolence as the circle of war tightens around this country and its 23 million people.

But beyond these reasons there is a deeper one – which is not about reasoning but about spirit. It has to do with the prayers of the people given to us in that Episcopal church and in all the other churches, homes, universities, and street demonstrations we have experienced in the past month. These prayers are inside us. They represent the intention of people everywhere to break through the logic of fear and war with gestures of hope and friendship. We take the spirit of these prayers back with us, to the mosques and churches of Baghdad to offer them in the presence of Iraqis. Prayer – which we understand not as supplication to a distant deity but as an expression of the heart’s deepest intention – may not be able to stop the U.S. attack on Iraq, but we know it has implications beyond what we can imagine. We return in this faith.

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