Note: While many MCCers perhaps have much more peacemaking training or experience before heading out as service volunteers, I have been thankful for the practical and personal ways I am learning about peace buliding during this assignment in Chiapas, Mexico. Jacquie.
Last month I picked up a new book to read from our MCC Office in Mexico City – Living Peace: A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action by John Dear. I didn´t realize until later that this author is the editor of a previous book I have mentioned in other posts – Road to Peace, a compilation of writings of Henri Nouwen.
What first attracted me was the two words in the subtitle of the book, contemplation and action, which speak right to the heart of what I have been learning about during these years in Mexico with MCC. In these two words I am finding much truth in what it means to live and work for peace. (Interestengly on a personal note, I think these two words describe a bit of Rick and mine’s personalities or tendencies, and give many reasons why we both compliment and challenge one another).
As opposed to giving a review of the book, I wanted to share some thoughts that have impacted me. The first comes in the section of the book that Dear describes as “The Inner Journey” of peaceamaking. In particular, a chapter entitled -“Letting Go” – left me reflective and challenged. Throughout this chapter Dear encourages his readers to find peace by letting go – to what you may ask? Here is one of his responses:
Our First World culture socializes us to cling to our possesions. Through fear, insecurity, and faithlessness, we aculumate a wide variety of paraphernalia. We carry on our shoulders a lifetime supply of material goods, as well as anger, jealousy, bitterness , and violence. These weights prevent us from coming to God as we truly are–vulnerable, ordinary human beings. They prevent us from diving deep into our own spiritual wells.
Vulnerability (and weaknes) – a character trait that is not highly encouraged or desired – he goes on to say, is the key to learning dependence on God, as it is so well exemplified in the life and death of Jesus. Again to quote Dear: “Jesus manifests utter dependence on God. He has let go of his very life. He focuses completely on God. There is nothing left but God. In this perfect letting go, within his heart and now in his death, he not only finds peace, he incarnates it. ” Now while these words resonate within, I am left wondering – what would such a life really look like, as a mother, a wife, as someone who finds purpose and enjoys this present world? How do I balance finding contemplative ways to let go of all the baggage -of material goods, of emotions, of concerns, of responsibilities, of the struggles of this world – and gain more freedom and peace in God, while also engaging in the realities that I am faced with on a daily basis?
And yet, I am learning a partial response to this answer, for God is not only teaching me to find peace by more fully and continually contemplating who I am as his child, but he is calling me to act for peace. While Dear highlights numerous different possibilites as how we can actively work towards peace in a public forum, I still find myself wanting to start at home, which for me means challenging myself towards identifying and removing violent words or actions from my own daily life. Not to say I see myself as a really violent person, but most of us all have our moments and/or outbursts of violence which perhaps stem from anger, jealousy, anxiety or feelings of defensiveness. Not to say these emotions are wrong in and of themselves, but when they result in words or actions that threaten or harm others, we, perhaps unconciously, perpetuate violence amongst each other. As the Bible challenges us…”But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander,and filthy language from your lips…. clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentelness and patience…Let the peace of Christ rules in our hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Col 3:8,12b,15).
In reading this book I am pushed further than seeking to be a peacemaker solely in my own context – and instead feel moved to find ways to work for the “peace for all of humanity,” recognizing that, as others have said, without justice, true peace is dificult to attain.
While not a new concept, I am learning more about the idea of Active Nonviolence, a chapter title of Dear`s book, but also words which remind me of a Gandhi movie I watched this past month. In this particular moive, Gandhi is portrayed more as political activist than a religious guru, yet clearly his ability to live simply among the poor and stand for peace seems to stem from his own religious beliefs and disciplines. On one hand the movie speaks of Gandhi as a small, simple man, but also one with great courage, determination, and love. A man who stood up to local and foreign policitans both in South Africa and India; in the latter country he mobilized the people of India to bring about their independence from Britain, all the while being extremely commited to nonviolence even if that meant being jailed, beaten, fasting for days on end or calling on his followers to do the same. In a likewise manner, John Dear also stresses the need to not think of a life of nonviolence as something passive, but include such things as getting involved in local peace groups, or through just and active means to publicly speak the truth, resist evil, love enemies, work for reconciliation and care for the poor. All are actions that are based on the principle of the equality of all, equally loved by God, and all in need of his peace.
Now while these thoughts are fairly basic peacemaking principles, I still find the challenge of actually living them out at home and in this world somewhat humbling. They leave me with many questions as to the manner and ways I am or am not currently involved in such “public peacemaking”. Or questions such as “how will God continue to guide me in this path in my future?”. Regardless, I am left with the clear understanding of the need to root my longings for peace in Christ, and that my own desire for peace inevitably forces me to act towards such peace for others.