By Rev. Fr. George EHUSANI
Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation
Almighty God and Father: As the New Year 2019 dawns, I dream of peace for the world and for my country that has gone through a protracted nightmare by way of economic distress, political instability, social decay, and a precarious security situation on account of the Boko Haram insurgency and the Herdsmen banditry that appears to have overwhelmed the law enforcement agents. Though I have watched with sadness the negative trends in the economy, the heightened tension on the political front, and the frightening security situation, I have nevertheless not abandoned my dream of peace for the New Year.
In spite of the mess I see all around the national landscape, I have chosen to hold on to the dream of peace, security and prosperity for the world and for my country. I am not entirely distracted by the blood and tears I see around me, nor am I overwhelmed by the selfishness and greed, the hatred and violence all over the place that today make peace impossible in the world and in our society. Yes, I still dream of peace for the world and for my country, for what is life without such a dream?
As we prepared for Christmas last month, we recalled the prophetic words of Zephaniah to the distressed people of Israel. It was at a time when they found themselves in socio-political and economic circumstances similar to our own today. The prophet told them: Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! …The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exalt with joy over you, he will renew you by his love; he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival (Zephanaiah 3:14-18).
At the onset of the New Year, my hope for a world of peace, security and prosperity is once again rekindled as I reflect everyday on Prophet Isaiah’s classical celebration of hope in one of those cheering Advent readings: The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on the inhabitants of a country in shadow dark as death, light has blazed forth.… For a son has been born for us, a son has been given to us, and dominion has been laid on his shoulders; and this is the name he has been given, “Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace” (Isaiah 9:1-6).
As the New Year 2019 dawns, I dream of peace for our troubled world and country, appropriating for us those gracious promises of the Lord through Prophet Isaiah when he says that, I will make rivers well up on barren heights, and fountains in the midst of valleys; turn the wilderness into a lake, and dry ground into springs of water (Isaiah 41:17-18). I dream of peace for the world and for my country, because I believe that our all powerful God whose glorious visitation by way of Incarnation we have just celebrated at Christmas, is able to bring about a transformation by which indeed the wolf will live with the lamb, the panther lie down with the kid, calf, lion and fat-stock feast together, with a little boy to lead them… No hurt, no harm will be done on all my holy mountain, for the land will be full of knowledge of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:4-9).
I dream of peace in the New Year because I take seriously the declaration of Jesus Christ in Luke 4:18 that the spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord. I recall too that Jesus says, I have come that they may have life and have it to the full (John 10:10). To those who have been humiliated by suffering, he says, Come to me all you who have laboured and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls… (Matthew 11:28-29). Again he says in John 14:27, I leave you peace, my peace I give you. The peace which the world cannot give, is my gift to you.
Lord, in the face of a nation where politicians are preparing for the next general elections as if we were preparing for war, I nevertheless approach the New Year 2019 with a great deal of optimism, believing as I do in your love and providence, and in the mystery of rejuvenation. I dream of peace for the world and for our troubled country, because I know that peace is possible if today we begin a revolution of hope that will include a genuine commitment to the life of righteousness, truth and the justice that makes for peace. I dream of peace because I am a believer who knows that with God all things are possible. Did he not create the world out of a formless void? Did he not bring water out of rock? Did he not put back flesh on dry bones? Did he not raise the dead back to life? Is faith in the resurrection not the cardinal point of Christianity?
As the Year 2019 dawns Almighty Father, I pray for the rejuvenation of the multitude whose life has been a calligraphy of agony and a mosaic of misery. Eternal Father, you who at the dawn of creation breathed you Spirit upon the formless void and brought order out of the primordial chaos, let the dawn of a new year bring a sudden twist in fate for those who in the preceding lean years gracefully sowed their tears and invested their sorrows in your loving hands. Wipe away the tears of the many who weep. Let those who have been sowing in tears now reap in joy. Let there be a change in fortune, Oh Mighty One, for those who held on to your Word of life and faithfully awaited your powerful visitation in our land. Forbid lord that the flood of tears of those who toiled and grieved in hope should end up in the ocean of decay. No lord, make it possible in this New Year, that their pool of tears shall become a valuable resource to be transformed into an oasis of fortune.
Make all things new in our own day as you promised in the Book of Revelations. Fulfil the promise you made through the Prophet Ezekiel that “I will give them one heart and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their bodies and give them a heart of flesh…” In this New Year, Oh God of Majesty, I pray that the dream of Prophet Isaiah may come true in our day: that wolves and the sheep will live together in peace, and leopards will lie down with young goats…that cows and bear will eat together, and their calves and cubs will lie down in peace…that lions will eat straw as cattle do…and that even a baby will not be harmed if it plays near a poisonous snake. Yes, let Isaiah’s dream be realised in our day that they shall hammer their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Let the dream of the Psalmist be fulfilled, that kindness and truth shall meet, and justice and peace shall kiss; that truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice look down from heaven.
As the New Year begins Lord, help us understand that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; that unless the Lord builds a house, the labourers labour in vain. Help us to understand Oh Wonderful Counsellor, that to have peace in the world we must first have peace in our hearts. Impress upon this generation the fact that we cannot shake hands with clenched fists; yes, that just as we cannot get a rose through planting a noxious weed, we cannot have peace while harbouring hate in our hearts. Impress upon us the fact that good ends cannot justify immoral means. Disarm our hearts Lord, for war begins in the hearts of human beings. Let our hearts nurture peace and cultivate love instead.
Help us understand those famous words of St. Irenaeus that the glory of God is the human person fully alive. Help us recognise with Thomas Merton that the God of peace is never glorified by human violence. Enable us appreciate with Martin Luther King Jr. that darkness cannot drive out darkness, just as hate cannot drive out hate, and that returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Make us understand with Saint John Paul II that violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of humanity; that violence is a grave crime against humanity, for it destroys the very fabric of human society. Help us accept the truth that as a personal or social method, violence is totally incapable of changing anything.
Lord show the men and women of our age that the Christian teaching of indiscriminate love, embracing friend and so-called enemy, has become a practical necessity, for humanity is on the verge of committing suicide. Show us that the basic Christian teaching of unconditional love has become an imperative, in an age when indiscriminate destruction threatens the human community and the planet entrusted to its care.
Help us to break the cycle of violence in the world and in our society. Teach us the unalterable law that hatred only ceases by love. Make the men and women of my generation know that the brave and the heroic are not those who can kill, oppress, dominate, and cause untold hardship. Make us know that the brave are those who can forgive, those who can love in return for hatred. Help us to see that it is in loving and forgiving those who tortured and killed him that Jesus revealed the full potential of humanity. Reveal to us the mystery of love which is the most subtle form of exorcism. Explain to us that there is a different way of responding to evil and to the machinations of our enemies that has the potential of breaking the endless cycle of retaliation that now threatens us all with ultimate violence.
Help us to see Oh Lord how peace is the outcome of a sustained life of truth, justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and human solidarity. Make us understand Oh Lord that it is no use preaching peace unless we preach the things that make for peace. Help us to accept the wise words of Pope Paul VI that if you want peace you must work for justice. Enable those who seek peace to heed the words of Prophet Micah by acting justly, by loving tenderly, and by walking humbling before you Oh Lord. Help us understand that a society cannot live in peace with itself unless every human person is treated with dignity and all human life is reverenced as sacred. Help us realise that peace cannot be privatised, and that there is no room in this global village for pockets of peace amidst a world of poverty, oppression, violence and strife. Show us clearly that it is not your will that in the same society some people should live in abject poverty while others lead a life of conspicuous consumption.
Enable us to know that all human beings are created in your image and likeness, and therefore each human person is inviolable. Impress upon us that “we are each responsible for all.” Let us know that the fate of the renown politician threatened by the assassin’s bullet is the same as the fate of destitute poor threatened by starvation; that the fate of the businessman violently harassed by kidnappers is the same as the fate of the petty thief that is to be summarily executed by an angry mob; and that the fate of the innocent worshipper threatened by the terrorist’s bomb is the same as the fate of the unborn child threatened by the abortionist’s forceps. Yes help us to appreciate the words of Pope Paul VI that true human development is the advancement of the human person, the whole person, and all the people.
Preach to us once again Oh God of mercy the Sermon on the Mount. Speak directly to our hearts, and make us understand that powerful message of yours known as the Beatitudes. Spell out clearly for our comprehension the nine lessons that constitute the kernel of the Gospel. Help us to appreciate the fact that contrary to the general perception, the poor are truly blessed, the gentle are truly blessed, those who mourn are truly blessed, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are truly blessed, the merciful are truly blessed, the pure in heart are truly blessed, the peacemakers are truly blessed, those persecuted in the cause of justice are truly blessed, and those abused and maligned for your sake are truly blessed.
Make us understand the logic of the Magnificat, the song of Mary. Help us to see that the religion of Jesus Christ is not the opiate of the people, but a force that exalts the lowly and casts down the proud, a force that feeds the hungry and sends the sated away empty. Impress on us the fact that Christ did not bring peace to the world as a kind of spiritual tranquilliser. Enable us to see with Thomas Merton that Christ brought to his disciples a vocation and a task – to struggle to establish peace not only in their own hearts but in the human society.
Enable us Lord to overcome the widespread illusion that life is a property to be defended, that illusion which has given rise to so much violence. Instead Lord, make us grasp the truth that life is a gift to be shared. Grant us the understanding which brings peace, and the peace which surpasses all understanding. Make us accept the fact that all pretensions to the contrary notwithstanding, only the meek and the humble shall inherit the earth, and that only the peacemakers shall be called sons and daughters of God. Yes, Lord, convince the men and women of this generation that all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, peace will be the last word of history.
Let many of us be convinced of this so that we may not be afraid to take a chance on peace, that we may relentlessly work for peace in a world of strife, and that we may tirelessly teach peace amidst the deafening drums of war. Show us Lord how to take a stand amidst the pervading darkness in deliberate clarity, calmness and confidence. Teach us how to be steadfast in perfect peace and cheerfulness, in the midst of tension, gloom, selfishness, and hatefulness. Above all, lord, help us to hold on to our ideals in spite of everything. Show us that we cannot build up our hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. Show us that in a world of madness it is crazy to surrender our dreams, and to see life as it is rather than as it ought to be. Help us to keep our hope as long as we live, for as Dostoevsky says, to live without hope is to cease to live.
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you are not known for half measures. You are not known to abandon your drowning faithful who cry to you midstream. Rather, faithfulness is in the very nature of your being. The Psalmist assures us that those who know you, who cling to your name, when they call upon you in time of distress, you will be at their side to save them. We read in the book of Exodus that with a mighty hand you saw the oppressed children of Israel through the Red Sea dry shod while the chariots of their merciless pursuers perished in the swamp.
When on Mount Carmel the corrupt devotees of Baal and Ashterot took on your servant Elijah, you did not abandon him in the hour of need. Instead your vindication brought down a consuming fire. When at the Sea of Galilee the boat in which the disciples of Jesus were travelling was threatened by a violent storm, they were not abandoned to their fate. Your eternal Son spoke the word of power and all was calm again. And when at a time of acute persecution your servants, Peter and John, cried to you from their prison cells, you did not look the other way. You miraculously loosened their bonds and threw open the gates of their jail house.
So visit us Lord this Year, and convict our elite of the life of debauchery by which we have often elevated thievery into a high state-craft. Visit us this year and uproot the monumental pillars of greed and avarice, which constituted a pandemic national perversion that brought the nation to its knees in recent years. Visit us this year and weed clean from our national landscape the thorns and after-growths of systemic corruption that like noxious plants have filled the entire environment with a poisonous stench. Visit us this year and dislodge completely the demon of kleptomania which until now has bestrode our land like a colossus, and has led us along the dark alleys of economic depression, political anarchy, social disintegration and international alienation.
Visit us Almighty Father, and deliver us from blind guides, callous mercenaries and greedy opportunists who plunder the common wealth with utter recklessness. Come and save our nation Nigeria from the hands of primitive feudalists, influence peddlers, contract chasers and prostitutes of power as well as their agents and allies at all levels, who camouflage as politicians. Breathe your almighty breath upon us this year and flush out from our midst the pathological thieves, the habitual rogues and the relentless brigands whose persistent impulse to steal and to grab often rides in tandem with their inordinate ambition for power.
Come down Lord with your outstretched arm and destroy the myth of money and power, security and invincibility, so that the corrupt elements that still litter our national landscape may give way permanently in order that uprightness may rise and flower in this country, and that Jesus’ civilisation of love may blossom in these climes. Show the men and women of reason in our country how to resist the temptation to apathy and despondency. Show us how to rise up and be counted on the side of reason, truth and justice. Show us how to refrain from joining the bandwagon in a life of greed and graft.
Visit us Lord in the course of this year, and enable us to appreciate the fact that peace does not just happen. Make us understand that it is no use preaching peace unless we also preach the things that make for peace. Show us how to cultivate and promote love, compassion and forgiveness, which alone can bring peace and prosperity. Show us that respect for human dignity and rights is the secret of peace, and that the peace of all only comes from the justice of each. Show us that if today we begin to cultivate these virtues, then we would have laid the foundation for a more wholesome life this year and beyond.
Intervene in our affairs Lord, and let those who claim to know you in this country realise that the God of peace is never glorified by human violence, and that those who use religious justification to slaughter their neighbours are blaspheming. Come down today Lord, and heal my people of their blindness, and free our people and our country permanently from the endless cycle of violence and war. Help my people to recognise that just as darkness cannot drive away darkness, and fire cannot quench fire, violence can never bring peace.
Lord, grant us this year the generosity of heart that we may let go of our anger and resentment over the injustices of succeeding governments since independence, over the atrocities of the civil war, over the gross violations of human rights during the profligate regimes of Babangida, Abacha, Obasanjo and Jonathan, and over the gross ineptitude and insensitivity of the Buhari regime. Disarm the hearts of the Niger Delta militants, the ethnic warlords of Bukuru and Wukari, the Boko Haram Jihadists of the North East, and the violent Herdsmen of Zamfara. Visit us again, and teach us to forgive and forget, for a world without forgiveness is a cold world of endless strife.
This year Lord, grant that there may be a moratorium on all anger and vengeance in our land. Grant that there may be a ceasefire between warring parties from Shagamu to Damaturu and from Bonny to Potiscum. Let the warlords sheath their swords and bury their dead along with their hatchets. Grant also that there may be a cessation to all oppression and exploitation, and to all the injustices that generate bitterness, anger, resentment and malice. Visit us in this year Lord, and lead us through the process of reconciliation and restoration, for that is what our nation requires today. Make all things new in our own day as you promised in the Book of Revelation. Fulfil the promise you made through the Prophet Ezekiel that “I will give them one heart and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their bodies and give them a heart of flesh…” In this New Year, Oh God of Majesty and Rock of Ages, I pray that the dream of Prophet Isaiah concerning the time of cosmic reconciliation may come true for us in this country: Let the Yoruba lion and the Hausa leopard eat straw together with the Igbo wolf, and let the innocent Tiv child play into the hole of the Fulani cobra, with no hurt, no harm. Let the deadly Boko Haram insurgents of Maiduguri shake hands of peace with their neighbours across the country.
Let the dreaded tigers of Kagoro cultivate friendship with the fierce cheetahs of Kaduna. Let the ferocious dogs of Bukuru wag their tails at the wild cats of Jos North. Let the fierce crocodiles of Warri swim peacefully with the dreaded shacks of Port Harcourt in the oily waters of the Delta. Yes Lord, let the blood hounds of the PDP, the ferocious dogs of APC, the wild cats of APGA, the dreaded vipers of ADC, the black scorpions of ANPP, and the foot soldiers of all other parties experience a transformation so as to stop approaching politics with a killer’s touch. Let them begin to see politics as the art of nurturing life and building society, not destroying them. Look down from on high, Lord, that the winds of righteousness may blow from Sokoto to Kano, and that the waters of justice may flow from Lagos to Calabar.
Visit this land this year Lord, that right may dwell on the highlands of Jos and Obudu, and equity may flourish in the creeks of Warri and Yenagoa. Let your justice roll like a rolling stone over the mountains of Adamawa and Taraba, and your peace flow like an overflowing stream in the valleys of Delta and Bayelsa. Come and finish your work in our midst, Oh God of compassion, so that truth may reign on the rocks of Abuja and Abeokuta and love may grow on the hills of Enugu and Ibadan. Come and finish your good work in Nigeria, that peace may flourish on the divided city of Kaduna, that harmony may prevail on plains of Makurdi and Katsina, and that security may abide in the forest regions of Abakaliki and Benin City.
Lord, visit us this year and chase away from our landscape the bloodthirsty fanatics and terrorist insurgents that have held this land hostage and devoured thousands of its people these last few years. Dislodge the Boko Haram warriors along with their iniquitous sponsors and callous conspirators from their stranglehold, that your people may once again live in peace and worship you in safety and security – from Maiduguri to Yola and Damaturu, and from Bama to Chibok and Biu. Visit us this New Year and dislodge the armed bandits and murderous herdsmen that have transformed our towns, villages, farm settlements and motorways into theatres of war. From Zamfara to Benue, and from Kaduna to Enugu, dislodge these armed bandits from our national landscape, that our farmers may till the soil and harvest their crops in peace, and that our motorist may ply the roads from North to South, and from East to West, in safety and security.
Visit us this year Oh God of Goodness, and lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth, from fear to trust, from despair to hope, from hate to love, and from war to peace. Breathe your powerful breath, Oh Lord, over the champions of our national destiny, until the lives of the lowly become precious in their eyes, and poverty and destitution are replaced by dignity and prosperity. Pour your oil of anointing on the administrators of the Nigerian commonwealth until the hungry are fed and the thirsty are given drink, and leadership becomes synonymous with shepherding. Confirm this New Year as the year of your favour, Oh God, that our land may be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the seas.
As you answer my prayer for peace Oh Lord, I pledge (on my own part) to be an instrument of your justice and peace. I know that I cannot change anything in the world until I first experience that change within myself. So today and everyday that I may live, I pledge to say NO to hate. I pledge to say NO to ethnic bigotry. I pledge to say NO to greed. I pledge to say NO to avarice. I pledge to say NO to covetousness. I pledge to say NO to class prejudice. I pledge to say NO to religious intolerance. I pledge to say NO to violence in all its forms. I pledge to say NO to corruption in all its shapes and sizes. Yes, today and everyday that I may live, I pledge to say NO to all forms of behaviour that abuse, diminish or dehumanise anyone of those created in your image and likeness. And I am committed to giving others the knowledge it takes to do the same.
I shall cry out against the various manifestations of the culture of death in our society. I shall cry out against terrorist bombing that kills indiscriminately. I shall cry out against hired assassinations by which perceived enemies are callously eliminated. I shall cry out against the practice of abortion by which the life of the unborn is senselessly terminated. I shall cry out against capital punishment by which an entire society celebrates vengeance. I shall cry out against jungle justice and extra-judicial killings at the hands of security agents. I shall cry out against mob justice or the summary execution of mere suspects by an angry mob. I shall repeat your injunction in the Decalogue, “thou shall not kill” to the men and women of my generation until my vocal cords collapse. Lord I pledge not to compromise with violence, whether personal, national or international, for it is always wrong.
Today and everyday that I may live, I pledge not to adjust to injustice, for as Eknath Easwaran says, to be “well adjusted” in a bad situation is not at all desirable. I pledge that I shall always be angered by injustice or cruelty, for not to do so is insensitivity. I pledge not to bear ill-will towards anyone, not to submit to injustice towards anyone, to conquer untruth by truth, and with Mahatma Gandhi, I pledge that in the process of resisting untruth I shall put up with all whatever suffering may come my way.
Lord I want to be afire with love for the bruised poor of our land, and to be in solidarity with the abused poor of every land, for as the Cuban writer Jose Marti says, I have no right to weep tears when others are weeping blood. I want to be ablaze with enthusiasm for the cause of the oppressed and the down-trodden, the widow and the orphan, the destitute and the handicapped, those detained without trial and those forced into exile. I want to identify passionately with those who are consigned to the margins of society, and those who have lost out in the power equation of a society where the winner takes all. I want to be on the side of all those who constitute the least of Jesus’ brethren, for I recognise that in situations of injustice to be neutral is to be on the side of the oppressor. Yes, Lord, like Martin Luther King Jr. I would like to be known as a drum major. I would like to be known as a drum major for truth, a drum major for justice, a drum major for righteousness, a drum major for human solidarity, a drum major for non-violence, a drum major for peace.
Lord I would like to be an expert in the art of making peace: pulling down the mountains of selfishness, and filling up the valleys of greed, cutting down the thorn bushes of hostility and raising up the lilies of hospitality, building bridges across the rivers of hate, and bringing together the fragments of disparate humanity. I would like to be an expert in peace-building: stitching torn nerves and mending broken bones, igniting the fire of charity and fanning the flame of humanity. I would like to be an expert in peace-making: rocking the boat that vengeance has set on sail and sending to sea the ship of reconciliation, destroying the myth of power and security, and laying down the foundation for a civilization of love. Ah, Lord, I would like to be an expert in the art of discovering the good and affirming the positive side of every human person, for no one of those created in your image is entirely bad. In this way I want to place my foot on the surface of the earth and put my seal of peace on the sands of time. I know that my peaceful steps are significant enough to make a difference. If I can take one peaceful step, then I can take two. And with a little more effort I can take a thousand and one peaceful steps. And all these peaceful steps shall be my seal on the sands of time. And thus I shall make a difference.
I make these commitments, Lord, with the awareness that the end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. I make these pledges because I recognise with Martin Luther King Jr. that the end of life is to stand up for the truth of God, in season and out of season, welcome or unwelcome, come what may. I make these promises because I know that it is only by giving our lives away that we truly find life, and that the truest act of courage, or the strongest act of humanity is to sacrifice oneself for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice. Lord I ask that you grant me the special grace you granted Gandhi to match the wicked person’s capacity to inflict suffering with my capacity to endure suffering. This at the end of the day is what it means to be human. So Lord help me to be truly human.
Lord, since I desire peace like St. Francis of Assisi, permit me to end my new year prayer with the prayer of that celebrated apostle of peace:
Make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow your love;
Where there is injury, your pardon lord;
And where there is doubt, true faith in you.
Oh Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love with all my soul
Make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is despair, let me give your hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there is sadness, ever joy.
Oh Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
It is in dying (to self) that we are born to eternal life.