Can you find heaven in the midst of hell?
In the book, A Table in the Presence, Lt. Carey H. Cash tells the story of how a U.S. Marine battalion “experienced god’s presence amidst the chaos of the war in Iraq.” As a Chaplin in 1st battalion, Lt. Cash served with a decorated regiment, the first to cross the border into Iraq, fiercely bringing the fight to downtown Baghdad.
Before crossing the boarder into Iraq, the men of 1st battalion camped out on the boarder of Northern Kuwait for forty nights, preparing for the battle to come. Lt. Cash recounts this time:
…in that vast, desolate and inhospitable setting, the ache of loneliness, and uncertainty became the blessing of solitude and spiritual hunger. It has always been in places of barrenness and isolation, where the heart of man begins to perceive that which, in the midst of his fast-paced life, he never could. Removed from the subtle pleasantries and his work-a-day world, his needs become simplified and yet more urgent; his ears become more sensitive and able to hear those gentle songs of heaven beginning to resonate in his soul… he listens to the whipping wind beat against his ears. And the all-consuming quiet, he is confronted with his own emptiness, his own spiritual poverty. He is forced to confront those inner recesses of the soul that craved the bread of heaven and the water of life; until now have only known the emptiness of a fast-food, image-driven world.
Beyond the spiritual reflection that occurred before crossing into Iraq, Lt. Cash describes the power of community and communion in combat:
In the half year I had served as the battalions Chaplain, I had not gotten to know either of them very well. But now, having driven with them for the last three days, I felt like I had known them for years. The bond that develops between those who have shared experience in war is hard to explain. One or two good firefights, or dangerous breach crossings, and we felt our friendships extend way, way back. Perhaps that bond is one of the few “graces” of war.
Like the experience of tight-knit community in the face of danger, the Christian ritual of communion also served to benefit the men in 1st battalion:
Our men yearned for something they could touch and taste, something they could visibly and tangibly share in the presence of others… communion was a way to partake of something spiritually concrete before rushing off onto a field of battle full of intangibles and uncertainties.
In addition to providing communion, Lt. Cash baptized fifty-seven men during the war. He describes these experiences in the following words:
With tears in their eyes, they came. They came to hear Gods Word, to receive Holy Communion, to pray for their brethern. They came to see a deeper reality shinning through the reality of bullets and death and destruction… peace amidst war. After Schlueter’s dramatic baptism, I remember thinking, ‘the audacity of it all!’
Through his service with 1st battalion, Lt. Cash concludes the following:
Their stories seemed to have one common thread—they all believed they had been in the midst of a modern-day miracle…. These were not men who had “found religion” momentarily, or who were courteously acknowledging the practical aspects of prayer or faith in times of need. These were men who had stumbled onto something historic, something they had to share with family and friends—a message, a lesson, a story that had to be told.
If you are interested in reading the full story, you can find it here:
A Table In The Presence
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