Elizabeth Scalia puts herself in the place of an Iraqi Christian writing a letter to her former neighbors –Ed.
My Dear Friends,
To be ripped from our neighborhood, the ancient land we have shared, so companionably for so long, is a tragedy that must transform each of us. I have been forever changed by the experience of being marched away at gunpoint, empty-handed, my past wrested from me. They gave me two choices, leave or die. And you, too, are changed for having to quietly watch me go, or die yourselves. It is not how old neighbors should part.
Why do they do this? Because they can. Because the “great men” and peace-prize-winning princes of the age will not stop them. Because they have been given uniforms and arms, and the sense of strength and prestige that goes with them, and these things are like a salve to their weakness, a balm to their spiritual wounds of inadequacy. Yet, I believe that somewhere deep inside they know this is all an illusion of might, a falsity that feeds their sickness.
Perhaps that is what makes them so dangerous. Give a security guard with a dejected soul a uniform and he begins to believe he is a police officer. Give weapons and a dubious cause to a people who have felt disrespected and thwarted in their creative ambitions, and they will quickly seek to affirm themselves with a demonstration of their new powers. Having felt like nobodies for too long, they must become somebodies, and this they do by dismantling the personhood of others, by obliterating their pasts.
And so they have pointed missiles at our shrines and holy places, and flattened them. They have confiscated our homes. They gave us no time to collect the treasured mementos or to pack the clothes and photos and spare cash that might sustain us. They killed our friends, so we would know we are only creatures. They forced us to leave with nothing but the clothes on our backs, not even water or medicine or passports or indentifying papers. In this way, they tore us from our past; permitted us no standing, no reflection of who we are.
Our Fertile Crescent was the place from which life expanded ever-outward, and with life there is light. It is today a place only of impending doom, of darkness. What have the Christians done to be exiled, like this? Who will help us? Turkey? Europe? The Kurds, bless them, are giving us refuge for a time, but where shall we run? Lord, to whom shall we go?
For the first time I understand what the Jews must have felt like when they were pulled from their lives and shoved into ghettos in Poland. Even then, they were not left in peace, but were later forced away, into the unspeakable horrors. Walking away from the land of first-belonging that has been ours since before the coming of the Lord, and our early baptism in his holy name, until today, I find I am suddenly in solidarity with refugees from the Balkans, and Syria, and so many places, East and West and North and South of these Nineveh plains, between the Tigris and the Euphrates. With each step away from golden-brown, sunbaked Mosul, I have become a sister to all who have crossed marshes and mountains and swamps and sand, away from what is known. I have echoed their pleading question: who will help us? We have nothing.
The author of evil uses ailing, hollowed-out people to break the minds and spirits of others by stranding them in the horror of having nothing, and belonging nowhere. Evil thrives in that place of ache and emptiness. How often have I opened John’s gospel and read the words “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” and I have pondered the mystery of nothingness—that it can only be where God is not, because God is everywhere and in all things.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race
the light shines in the darkness
and the darkness has not overcome it.
In my house in Mosul, the holy Icons before which I prayed gave daily testimony to the light shining in the darkness. The eyes of the Holy Ones were written wide for the glory they could see. They were haloed and surrounded by brightest gold, because in that transfiguring light there were no shadows. Forced to leave them behind, I realize, as I write this, that I can see them still in the subversive refuge of memory.
And in that remembrance, I can pray, and in my prayer I find a hope—a lifeline to my past—one that, with God’s help, with the prayers of the holy ancients, with the prayers of you, my friends, will sustain me, as I fight the lie that I am become nothing, and resist suffocating in a void that I now see cannot in reality exist. For Christ Jesus is the Constant Reality, and he is with me.
Only do not be afraid. I say this to myself, and to you, too! Only do not be afraid to make the dangerous prayer of blessing for all of us, the one offered in praise of the Holy One, that surrenders me completely to his will and providence. It is the prayer that will ultimately force me to pray for the ones I wish to call savages. I want to hate. My prompted soul challenges me to do more—to pray for their salvation. This is the other part of my hope. The one that can pull me forward, into tomorrow, wherever that may be.
Good-bye then, good-bye, my dear friends, and may the God of our common father, Abraham, bless and keep you. Ameen, ameen. God be with us.
Elizabeth Scalia is the author of Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols of Everyday Life and the managing editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos.com, where she blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles can be found here.