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Center for Action and Contemplation

Nonviolence: Weekly Summary and Psalm Writing Practice

Saturday, August 24, 2019


Summary: Sunday, August 18—Friday, August 23, 2019

The root of violence is the illusion of separation—from God, from being one with oneself and everything else, and from Being Itself. (Sunday)

Mohandas Gandhi said nonviolence was the active, unconditional love toward others, the persistent pursuit of truth, the radical forgiveness toward those who hurt us, the steadfast resistance to every form of evil, and even the loving willingness to accept suffering in the struggle for justice without the desire for retaliation. —John Dear (Monday)

Love of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith. Love of enemies is the recognition that the enemy, too, is a child of God. —Walter Wink (Tuesday)

I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. —Pope Francis (Wednesday)

Nonviolent campaigns have greater participation, loyalty, resilience, innovation, and civic impact than violent ones. (Thursday)

Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (Friday)


Practice: Write Your Own Psalm

On the whole we are not conscious of evolution, and we do not act as if our choices can influence the direction of evolution. . . . What will it take for us to realize that we are unfinished creatures who are in the process of being created? That our world is being created? That our church is being created? That Christ is being formed in us? . . . The good news of Jesus Christ is not so much what happens to us but what must be done by us. The choices we make for the future will create the future. We must reinvent ourselves in love. —Ilia Delio [1]

The psalms—like all great art—lead us to a truer image of ourselves, reality, and God. St. John Cassian (c. 360–c. 435) taught that the psalms carry in them “all the feelings of which human nature is capable.” [2] Poet Kathleen Norris writes of her experience singing the psalms three times a day as a guest in a Benedictine monastery:

To the modern reader the psalms can seem impenetrable: how in the world can we read, let alone pray, these angry and often violent poems from an ancient warrior culture? At a glance they seem overwhelmingly patriarchal, ill-tempered, moralistic, vengeful, and often seem to reflect precisely what is wrong with our world. And that’s the point, or part of it. As one reads the psalms, it becomes clear that the world they depict is not really so different from our own; the fourth-century monk Athanasius wrote that the psalms “become like a mirror to the person singing them.” [3] . . .

The psalms remind us that the way we judge each other, with harsh words and acts of vengeance, constitutes injustice, and they remind us that it is the powerless in society who are overwhelmed when injustice becomes institutionalized. . . .

In expressing all the complexities and contradictions of human experience, the psalms act as good psychologists. They defeat our tendency to try to be holy without being human first. [4]

As a contemplative practice, I invite you to write your own psalm. Begin by thinking about the longing in your own heart to create a future reinvented in love. You don’t need to be a writer, just willing to write your heartfelt thoughts as you would in a journal, knowing that the psalmist’s role is simply to express themselves to God.

You might read several psalms before you get started or choose a common theme from the biblical psalms to focus on: Joy (11, 18, 23, 27), Love (33, 62, 99, 103), Thanksgiving (30, 32, 65, 75), Justice (26, 52, 114), Healing (22, 38, 41).

The practice is simple. Write a free-form psalm based on the deep feeling or longing of your heart. Read it aloud when it is complete. Offer your psalm to God.

[1] Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love (Orbis Books: 2013), 202-203.

[2] John Cassian, Conference, 10.10. See John Cassian: Conferences, trans. Colm Luibheid (Paulist Press: 1985), 133.

[3] Athanasius, Letter to Marcellinus, 12. See Athanasius: The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus, trans. Robert C. Gregg (Paulist Press: 1980), 111.

[4] Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (Riverhead Books: 1996), 92-94, 96.

This practice was inspired by Teresa A. Blythe, 50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times (Abingdon Press: 2006).

For Further Study:
Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press: 2011),

John Dear, The Nonviolent Life (Pace e Bene Press: 2013)

Choosing Peace: The Catholic Church Returns to Gospel Nonviolence, ed. Marie Dennis (Orbis Books: 2018)

Pace e Bene’s Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions, September 14-22, 2019,

Pax Christi International’s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative entitled “Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World: Biblical, Theological, Ethical, Pastoral and Strategic Dimensions of Nonviolence,”

Pope Francis, “Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace,” Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the Celebration of the Fiftieth World Day of Peace (January 1, 2017),

Richard Rohr, Healing Our Violence Through the Journey of Centering Prayer (Franciscan Media: 2002)CD

Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Augsburg Fortress: 2003)

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
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