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Center for Action and Contemplation
The Spiral of Violence
The Spiral of Violence

Violence Begins with the Personal

Friday, May 6, 2022

The basic I-You can be spoken only with one’s whole being. . . . I require a You to become; becoming I, I say You. All actual life is encounter. —Martin Buber, I and Thou

Theologian Pamela Cooper-White has thought deeply about gender and sexual violence, and believes that at its heart, violence is a failure to see the other person as a person.

Violence against women is connected to all other forms of violence, just as all living beings are, in reality and in spite of our forgetfulness or callous indifference, interconnected. We are confronted daily with the many forms of violence in our world. We often end up feeling that our powers are fragmented, as one worthy cause after another is lifted up. . . . What is needed is a way for understanding how, from a personal and holistic perspective, all violence is one.

All violence begins with the personal, with the I, and with a point of decision, a crossing of a line, where each of us chooses momentarily to view another living being as an It rather than a Thou. The ultimate purpose of each act of violence, each reduction of another person from a Thou to an It, is to control the other. . . . Our choices matter, even on what seems like a small scale. They have resonance in the universe. When we truly see another person or living being as a Thou, we cannot dominate or control them. We then must enter into a different kind of covenant, where power is shared. This is the “universal reciprocity” that Buber recognized as mysterious, connected with the divine. . . .

The I-Thou relationship is not simply an attitude of love toward others—although it is that—but also actions of making connections and actively working for justice. . . . The gospel message that is the great ethic of our faith is that we do reach out across borders and across cultures, both within the United States and abroad, and we honor the millions of Thous of every race and creed whom we recognize as our brothers and sisters throughout our neighborhoods and throughout the world. [1]

For Father Richard, Jesus becomes a person so that we, too, can receive and pass on the divine gaze of love: 

The intimacy of what Martin Buber called an “I-Thou” relationship is a deep and loving “yes” to God, to others, and to the life that is inherent within each of us. When the face of the other (especially the suffering face) is received and empathized with, it leads to transformation of our whole being. It creates a moral demand on our heart that is far more compelling than laws. Just giving people commandments doesn’t change the heart. It may steel the will, but it doesn’t soften the heart like an I-Thou encounter can. Many of the Christian mystics talk about seeing the divine face or falling in love with the face of Jesus. Love is the gaze that does us in! [2]

[1] Pamela Cooper-White, The Cry of Tamar: Violence against Women and the Church’s Response, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2012), 42–43, 45.

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2012). Available as CD and MP3 download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Frank J. Aleksandrowicz, Clark Avenue and Clark Avenue Bridge (detail), 1973, photograph, Ohio, public domain, National Archives. Chaokun Wang, 轮胎 tyre (detail), 2021, photograph, Pingyao, creative commons. John Messina, Drainage of Marsh Leaves (detail), 1970, photograph, Louisiana, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: War, bitterness, consumed and discarded goods. Why are we sustaining the spiral of violence? Do we not see that we are part of the creation we are destroying?

Story from Our Community:

Jesus told us to love our enemies, even those who cling to the goal of power for themselves at the expense of others. We see that played out on a daily basis within our own borders. Violence is never the answer to bringing about truth, peace, and justice. Following Jesus’s own example is the only way to transform the narrative that keeps us transmitting the same old problems back and forth.
—David S.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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