It was about 1 AM. No one else was up when I walked into the kitchen after a night out. The note lay on the table, lit by the moon through the kitchen window. I expected it to be from my kid about a school form I was supposed to sign. I sat down and read the words "Jim Loney has been kidnapped in Iraq."
I looked at the note, rereading it a dozen times, trying to squeeze other words from those on the page, hoping that perhaps the hour and the dim light were conspiring to play a trick on me. And then fear finally set in.
The news was only to get worse within a couple of days, when Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape from the previously unknown Swords of Righteousness Brigade demanding that unless the U.S. released detainees held in Iraq by today ( Thursday, December 8), Jim, along with fellow Canadian Harmeet Singh Sooden, American Tom Fox and Briton Norman Kember would be killed.
The four are part of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), which has deployed violence-reduction teams to many crises in the world, from Esgenoopetitj First Nations (Burnt Church, New Brunswick) to Chiapas, Mexico, Bosnia, Chechnya and Iraq. Their methods range from acting as human shields around communities under attack, bearing witness and reporting, to simply walking children safely to school. Members don't proselytize and only enter a region if invited by local peace orgs.
The group was one of the first to sound the alarm on detainee torture in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, and has since launched an international campaign to advocate on behalf of Iraqi detainees.
Last week Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk visited Toronto and told NOW the violence in Baghdad is now so intense that foreign journalists can barely do their job even with armed bodyguards. Jim and his friends had no body guards and no guns when they were kidnapped on their way to a meeting with Muslim clerics.
I'd seen Jim a few months earlier at the birthday party of a friend's young son in Toronto. I've known him for about 15 years. I'm not a close friend but part of that circle of folks moved by his willingness to put himself at risk alongside those living in extremely tense and violent conditions.
At the party we chatted a bit, the usual catch-up: How are you? What are you up to? I knew he'd already been to Iraq at least once, and I guess I was waiting to hear some interesting bit of inside info from the front line. Jim never even mentioned he'd been there. He was playing with the kids mostly. Maybe he thought, "You don't dishonour the suffering of others by using it as party chat."
I remember leaving feeling uneasy, not about Jim but about my own life, the lullabye illusions of safety, comfort and control I so easily sing to myself.
Everyone who knows Jim gropes in his or her own way to hold onto something hopeful. One night I get a call in the middle of the night from a friend who can't sleep. The next night I awake at 3 am from a dream and the first thing I think about is him.
I attend a prayer vigil with a couple dozen of his friends in a small room in a house in the west end. I pray for the first time in a few years, barely holding back the deep water behind my eyes.
A network of support rapidly emerges. You scan the online petitions ( petitionspot.com/petitions/freethecpt), watching the numbers rise - Monday 16,000, Tuesday afternoon 22,000. You calculate how many people are signing per hour worldwide. You feel a rush of joy when you hear that a group of influential Sunni Muslim clerics in Iraq has demanded their release, not once, but twice. The country's largest Sunni Muslim party, the Iraqi Islamic party, as well, urges the insurgents to let their captives go.
In Toronto, perhaps the most unexpected appeal comes from Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohammad Mahjoub and Hassan Almrei, all held here on security certificates.
These men, who are often kept in solitary confinement, could be forgiven if they had other things on their minds. Instead, they issued a statement on Sunday, December 4, saying in part: "This is the same James Loney who reached out to the families of the Abu Ghraib prisoners. This is the same James Loney who was against the U.S. invasion and is against the U.S. occupation of Iraq."
You hear the news and you're euphoric. You find yourself forgetting that this isn't the same as a release, but finally there's something to hold onto.
At a late-night meeting of CPT supporters, volunteers run down what's needed for the next few days: someone to answer phones, someone to bring food for the volunteers. Jim's good friend William Payne is exhausted. He apologizes, saying he isn't feeling really coherent right now. His emotions are barely held beneath the surface, his face is drawn, his throat dry.
"I hope that this dark moment for us will have some sort of bright ending," he says, "that the culture of violence will be weakened somehow by this situation through some sort of miracle." He pauses, then adds, "And we do believe in miracles."
While the rest of us wait
By Len Desroches
As I pass by our neighbours' home, Elle waves as she holds her very pregnant stomach. She's in the last stages of the great waiting. Inside, the baby waits. I'm on my way to the hospital for cancer tests. "Results will be in in a day or two." I wait; three days turn into a week. I wait. My doctor calls: "You'd better come in." Feels like the waiting might be leading to an encounter with death. It's not. When I come back, I see Elle walking slowly toward me, still waiting.
At suppertime, our two-year-old squeals with anticipation while he waits for ice cream. We wait a lot - birth, ice cream, death. Life.
But sometimes we're forced to wait in the face of terrible brutality: Jim Loney, one of my closest friends and our son's godfather, is waiting along with three other co-workers of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT).
I visit Jim's friend Sheila. She's waiting for news. "Nothing yet," I tell her. "I'll wait to hear from you," she says.
We're all waiting - through phone calls and e-mails, through fears, tears and exhaustion. And also prayer vigils. Why prayer?
It's Advent, the season in the Christian calendar that precedes Christmas. Advent is a sacred space set aside to plumb the depth and breadth of what it means to wait and pray for peace, for reconciliation - no matter how frightening, how painful the Birth.
Waiting in a Nazi cell, the Jesuit priest Alfred Delp confronts his fears and asks, "Are these hours of waiting preparation for an extraordinary Advent?" For us, Jim's community of friends, it has already been an extraordinary Advent. We stay awake with Jim and the others.
I know Jim well enough to know that whatever fears he might be suffering through right now, he is utterly aware of God's presence with him. He once wrote, "Love of enemy is not an optional platitude. It is how I can discover myself to be created in the image and likeness of God, whose love embraces all beings, regardless of whether they are 'good' or 'evil.'"
Neither Jim nor Christian Peacemaker Teams is waiting for false freedom. Neither Jim nor Christian Peacemaker Teams is waiting for some empire's shock and awe to deliver them. Both Jim and CPT believe, as Oscar Romero put it, that "we live by that power that even death cannot overcome."
The training that CPTers undergo is not in the force of organized violence, but in the other force, the force of organized non-violence - what Martin Luther King called "soul force." It requires the full participation of every one of us during this terrible waiting.
Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the great Muslim resister who risked his life many times to free India in the struggle against the "Christian" British empire, noted, "There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or a Pathan like me subscribing to the creed of non-violence. It was followed 1,400 years ago by the Prophet all the time he was in Mecca."
Both CPT and Jim's extended community are actively working every minute of the day and waiting for the unleashing of love that we have already experienced to open up a space in the captors, beyond their own wounds and fears.
"God often carries me as if I'm a sleeping child," wrote Alfred Delp from his captivity. We pray that at this very moment Jim and the others may experience this same love.
Len Desroches is a non-violence trainer for the CPT and the author of Love Of Enemy: The Cross And The Sword Trial.