one in seven billion – in Paris too

On Wednesday last week, many of the Sanctuary’s local community came through our door to take part in a twelve hour prayer vigil for peace and for those affected by the refugee crisis. Together we prayed for the millions whose lives are being taken, threatened or decimated by war… and celebrated again the infinite worth of each one as equally and uniquely made in the image of God. Forty-eight hours later we heard of a fresh atrocity in a fresh place as Paris was hit by a series of deadly attacks, subsequently claimed by IS. We were devastated.

pray for paris peace vigil revisited

On Saturday, we opened up the Sanctuary specially and a few of us gathered to pray, using one of the same stations that had been a focal point for all of us just a few days before.

It felt like the only possible thing to do. And through it, we shaped words from our heart-ache and poured them out in images and words to God – and for others – to use in prayer in our space, in our window and on our twitter feed…

‘Oh spread your wings of mercy over France…’

wings over france

paris left behind for passing prayers

And we felt able to do all this with hope by Saturday evening, having listened to sparrow song worship their way through songs whose words became newly resonant immediately beforehand. Songs like God of our Yesterdays and Holy Overshadowing became powerful new prayers and statements of faith in this new, poignant context.

The day had been spent in a flurry up till that point – sending messages of compassion and prayer to French friends, using social media to get the word out about gathering to pray, and passing on some of the prayers already written and being passed round, like this beautiful one from the Church of England (which we’re sharing again here for you to continue to use if you haven’t already seen it):


And then yesterday… we rested, but the deluge of communication continued around us.

It was heartening to see such a show of support just days after a prayer vigil for peace was still seen as more of a fringe activity than something everyone needed to engage with.

‘Pray’ became almost the most common word on all our news-feeds and in one of those beauty from ashes un-intellectualised immediate responses, profile picture after profile picture took up the colours of the tricolore in an honest outpouring of love, solidarity and grief.

But later on yesterday, we began to be troubled by something new we saw cropping up again and again. Many people started essentially saying that it was inappropriate to give prayer – or solidarity – for Paris such attention, when so much of the world was suffering.

And then they started posting lists of countries that had been hit by disaster or tragedy, comparing numbers and making accusations about selective grief and people caring more about white people or Europeans.

In response, some others felt the need to explain why they had wanted to show support from France. The fact they felt so attacked they felt they needed to justify such a good and spontaneous response brought another heart-breaking dimension to this tragedy for us.

There is a time for pointing out that some things affect us more than others and for questioning why that is and why that might be so… for challenging our hearts to feel and act beyond their normal boundaries.

But surely that time is not during France’s very real mourning period.

And surely that time would never in any way negate the very real and right action that it is to pray for a closely neighbouring country with whom we have innumerable ties and connections and who has just experienced something so deadly and devastating.

On Thursday morning, the day after the peace vigil, two of our regular pray-ers came to join us for morning prayer. They had been hit by a big situation in their personal lives the day before and so had had to miss the peace vigil itself. The stations were still laid out and they wanted to use them that morning…

But of course, before they did, we spent time listening, talking and praying about their situation. Anything else would have been peverse. How could it be true to say that we care about refugees and people in war-torn countries we have never met if we cannot care about the people in front of us who we fellowship with regularly – who are our friends?

Jesus put heaven aside to come down to earth for us. He would have died for just one. Every one in seven billion is deeply, profoundly loved as a precious, unique individual; each is pursued; each is showered with mercy in the hope they will soften and repent even when they mistreat God and each other so extremely… And more than 60 million of those precious individuals are in France today.

At the Sanctuary we spend most of our time speaking up – and praying for – those in the world that people do not feel as closely related to as perhaps they should. For those living in poverty, for the voiceless, the oppressed and the trafficked, for the refugee and the orphan… for communities in poor nations far away from us whose lives are seen as more disposable than our own.

We need to for the world still needs a lot of convincing – it is so very far from God’s heart of deep love for each of his one in seven billion children.

But today we are speaking up for Paris, and for the French people. For our next door neighbour nation and a city many of us have been to; for a place where we have friends and a people whose history, present, culture and geography are so inter-twined with ours.

Just as a death in our own family or friendship circle cannot help but touch us more with its proximity, its very known-ness and near-ness, than the countless deaths that happen in our nation to people we don’t know, there is no shame in the deep outpouring of close, neighbourly affection that has been shown to France.

Indeed the idea that you might show no distinction of depth of emotion between someone you know intimately and someone you have only heard of in principle is a deeply troubling one. It is simply human to often feel deeper for those who are more closely related to you. Just as in other parts of the world, there will be more of an outpouring for situations that happened elsewhere on Friday, rather than for Paris.

In God’s economy of course though, there is no exhaustible or relative supply of love. Instead, there is an inexhaustibly deep well for every person and every nation. Just because the poor are overlooked by the world and not by God, it doesn’t mean he has no love for the rich. Just because there are equal atrocities happening in so many other places, it doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t weeping over Paris today.

For humans, the reality is the more we love people close by truly, the more we are likely to be able to love people far away. And if we are told off when we manage to pour out our hearts for those in the next door nation, and made to feel guilty, is that really going to result in a genuine transfer of affection for others elsewhere?

For hundreds of years our nation focused on just how different France and French people were from us. We fought each other and spilled each other’s blood. But for more than 100 years we have been friends and allies. There has been a triumph of peace in our relationship. We have seen that we are more similar than we thought – and of course we have felt less different as our horizons have widened globally. Surely there is a beautiful promise in our love for France of what might be possible as we get to know our more distant neighbours better too?

In honesty, we actually suspect that most of the people in the UK praying the hardest for Paris and France right now, and the ones grieving the most deeply for her outside of her own borders, are also the people who are praying and grieving the most for other international situations too.

They are probably also the same people that have been praying for Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Mexico, Myanmar, the refugee crisis and all the other nations and situations also in the news this weekend for weeks, months and years… and will go on doing so for the weeks, months and years they still have breath left. Surely today and for as long as that is what is over-flowing out of their broken hearts, they can use that same breath to pour out their prayers for Paris to God too?

So today we are giving thanks that many in our nation care enough about a country that is not their own to enter into grief and solidarity the way they have – and hoping that in time, many of them will also learn to feel more of this for places and people they are less connected to. And we’re praying that the French people can be spared from hearing any of the statements suggesting any show of genuine solidarity and prayer is somehow more than they should receive in this time of pain given what other nations are going through.

All the while hoping we can get back to the core of the matter and simply stand and mourn with those that mourn and pray for peace with every fibre of our hearts, minds, souls and strength:

Come Prince of Peace, come. For Paris, and for all of us, in your mercy, come.

Let mercy triumph over judgement and guard our hearts against revenge and hatred through your grace, your perfect example of enemy-loving forgiveness and by the power of your unquenchable love.

Give us instead your wisdom so that we might act humbly, justly and – through it all – somehow, have love.

And protect the refugees – and anyone else – who is at risk of being made another casualty of this horrible tragedy.


If you would like to find worship songs and prayer resources to help you pray for France and other nations facing conflict and tragedy, please visit our topical resources page.

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