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A Nonviolent Reformation

Friday, October 23, 2015

Healing Our Violence

A Nonviolent Reformation
Friday, October 23, 2015

Jesus lived a nonviolent life, taught it, and died it, yet the tradition that proceeded from his teaching didn’t even understand the concept enough to have a word for it. Mark Kurlansky writes that “The concept has been praised by every major religion. Throughout history there have been practitioners of nonviolence. Yet, while every major language has a word for violence, there is no word to express the idea of nonviolence except that it is not another idea, it is not violence. In Sanskrit, the word for violence is himsa, harm, and the negation of himsa, just as nonviolence is the negation of violence, is ahimsa—not doing harm.” [1] The word nonviolence didn’t even exist in the English or German languages until the early 1900s, I am told.

Gandhi coined a new term, satyagraha, because “passive resistance” didn’t truly express what he was doing. Satyagraha combines the Sanskrit word sat—that which is, being, or truth—with graha—holding firm to or remaining steadfast in. It is often translated as “truth force” or “soul force.” Jonathan Schell describes satyagraha as “direct action without violence in support of the actor’s beliefs—the ‘truth’ in the person. The philosophy of satyagraha prescribes nonviolent action in which the actors refuse to cooperate with laws that they regard as unjust or otherwise offensive to their consciences, accompanied by a willingness to suffer the consequences.” [2]

Now consciousness and awareness have evolved so that we can talk about such things. Restorative justice has only become a common phrase in the last thirty years. Previously when people heard the word justice, it almost always implied merely retributive justice. Yet the prophets and Jesus clearly practiced restorative justice. Jesus never punished anybody!

The toothpaste is out of the tube. There are now enough people who know the big picture of Jesus’ thrilling and alluring vision of God that this Great Turning cannot be stopped. There are enough people going on solid inner journeys that it is not merely ideological or theoretical any more. For the first time, on a broad basis, future reformations can come from the inside out and from the bottom up, in a positive, nonviolent way. Only now is human consciousness evolved enough to think and act this way. Before it was quite rare, even among many otherwise saints.

The big questions are more and more being answered at a peaceful and dialogical level, with no need to directly oppose, punish, or reject other people. I sense the urgency of the Holy Spirit, with seven billion humans now on the planet at the same time. Our future is either nonviolent or there is no future.

It seems to me that true progress, or the Gospel hope that we have, is not naively optimistic, nor is it a straight line without regressions. It is signed with the cross, as we Christians would say. Knowing this ahead of time will keep you on the path forward without despair or cynicism—which otherwise will almost surely take over.

Gateway to Silence:
Love your enemies.

[1] Mark Kurlansky, Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library: 2008), 5.
[2] Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People (Henry Holt: 2003), 119.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 101-103.

Image credit: St. Francis embracing the leper, by Lawrence Zink, reprinted from Francis: The Journey and the Dream, copyright © 1988, Murray Bodo, St. Anthony Messenger Press, p. 13. Used with permission.
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