Being Peaceful Change
Sunday, July 26, 2020
Before you speak of peace, you must first have it in your heart. —Francis of Assisi
Generations of Christians seem to have forgotten Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence. We’ve relegated visions of a peaceful kingdom to a far distant heaven. We hardly believed Jesus could have meant for us to turn the other cheek here and now. It took Gandhi, a Hindu, to help us apply Jesus’ peace-making in very practical ways. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), drawing from Gandhi’s writings and example, brought nonviolence to the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
The nonviolence of Gandhi, like that of the civil rights activists, affirmed a unity of peaceful ends and means. Thomas Merton, reflecting on Gandhi’s nonviolence, wrote:
Non-violence was not simply a political tactic which was supremely useful and efficacious in liberating his people from foreign rule . . . the spirit of non-violence sprang from an inner realization of spiritual unity in himself. The whole Gandhian concept of non-violent action . . . is incomprehensible if it is thought to be a means of achieving unity rather than as the fruit of inner unity already achieved. 
Training in nonviolence helps us admit that our secret inner attitudes are often cruel, attacking, judgmental, and harsh. The ego seems to find its energy precisely by having something to oppose, fix, or change. When the mind can judge something to be inferior, we feel superior. We must recognize our constant tendency toward negating reality, resisting it, opposing it, and attacking it on the level of our mind. This is the universal addiction.
Authentic spirituality is always first about you—about allowing your own heart and mind to be changed. It’s about getting your own who right. Who is it that is doing the perceiving? Is it your illusory, separate, false self; or is it your True Self, who you are in God?
As Thomas Keating said:
We’re all like localized vibrations of the infinite goodness of God’s presence. So love is our very nature. Love is our first, middle, and last name. Love is all; not [love as] sentimentality, but love that is self-forgetful and free of self-interest.
This is also marvelously exemplified in Gandhi’s life and work. He never tried to win anything. He just tried to show love; and that’s what ahimsa [the Hindu principle of nonviolence out of respect for all living things] really means. It’s not just a negative. Nonviolence doesn’t capture its meaning. It means to show love tirelessly, no matter what happens. That’s the meaning of turning the other cheek [Matthew 5:39]. Once in a while you have to defend somebody, but it means you’re always willing to suffer first for the cause—that is to say, for communion with your enemies. If you overcome your enemies [through force and violence], you’ve failed. If you make your enemies your partners, God has succeeded. 
 Thomas Merton, “Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant,” introduction to Gandhi on Non-violence: Selected Texts from Mohandas K. Gandhi’s Non-violence in Peace and War (New Directions: ©1964, 1965), 6.
 Thomas Keating, Healing Our Violence through the Journey of Centering Prayer, disc 5 (Franciscan Media: 2002), CD.
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 125-126.
Epigraph: Paraphrase of Francis’ words to the first friars, “The Legend of the Three Companions,” chapter 14. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2 (New City Press: 2000), 102.