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Theme:
Being Peaceful Change

Being Peaceful Change

Saturday, August 1, 2020
Summary: Sunday, July 26—Friday, July 31, 2020

Gandhi’s spirit of non-violence sprang from an inner realization of spiritual unity in himself. —Thomas Merton (Sunday)

Authentic spirituality is always first about you—about allowing your own heart and mind to be changed. (Monday)

Nonviolence is the greatest and most active force in the world. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might oversweep the world. —­Mohandas Gandhi (Tuesday)

When you understand, you love. And when you love, you naturally act in a way that can relieve the suffering of people. —Thich Nhat Hanh (Wednesday)

We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own—indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. —Wangari Maathai (Thursday)

Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives. —Martin Luther King, Jr. (Friday)

 

Practice: A Settled Body

Resmaa Menakem is a therapist and trauma specialist whose work focuses on how we carry our pain and fear in our bodies. We pass it along to those around us, and we pass it down from one generation to the next. We cannot hope to bring peace to the world if we are not at peace within ourselves. Menakem explains how we might begin the peacemaking process within our own bodies: 

Few skills are more essential than the ability to settle your body. If you can settle your body, you are more likely to be calm, alert, and fully present, no matter what is going on around you. A settled body enables you to harmonize and connect with other bodies around you, while encouraging those bodies to settle as well. Gather together a large group of unsettled bodies­—­or assemble a group of bodies and then unsettle them—and you get a mob or a riot. But bring a large group of settled bodies together and you have a potential movement—and a potential force for tremendous good in the world. A calm, settled body is the foundation for health, for healing, for helping others, and for changing the world. . . .

Over time, I learned to access a settledness that is always and already present. I usually call it the Infinite Source, but it doesn’t require a name, or an explanation, or a belief.

This settling of nervous systems, and this connection to a larger Source, is vital to healing. . . .

You’ll recognize some of these practices as things I’ve described my [Black] grandmother doing; as things many small children do intuitively; as things parents often do with their babies; as things enslaved people did as they worked together on plantations; and as practices from many religions. Almost all of them [such as belly breathing, slow rocking, humming, singing aloud, or rubbing your belly] have also been proven to work in controlled lab experiments.

Here, Resmaa Menakem offers a practice called “Breathe, Ground, and Resource,” which can be done standing, sitting, or lying down, with eyes open or closed.

Take a few deep breaths. Let your body relax as much as it wants to.

Think of a person, an animal, or a place that makes you feel safe and secure. Then imagine that, right now, this person or animal is beside you, or you are in that safe place.

Breathing naturally, simply let yourself experience that safety and security for one to two minutes.

Afterward, notice how and what you experience in your body.

Reference:
Adapted from Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies (Central Recovery Press: 2017), 141, 146, 151–152.

For Further Study:
Gandhi on Non-violence: Selected Texts from Mohandas K. Gandhi’s Non-violence in Peace and War, ed. Thomas Merton (New Directions: ©1964, 1965).

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, foreword by Coretta Scott King (Fortress Press: 2010, ©1981, ©1963).

Wangari Maathai, Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World (Doubleday: 2010).

Besi Brillian Muhonja, Radical Utu: Critical Ideas and Ideals of Wangari Muta Maathai (Ohio University Press: 2020).

Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace, ed. Rachel Neumann, rev. ed. (Parallax Press: 2005, ©1987).

Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018)

Richard Rohr and John Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount, (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1996)

Richard Rohr and Thomas Keating, Healing Our Violence through the Journey of Centering Prayer, (Franciscan Media: 2002)

Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014)

Image credit: Self-Portrait (detail), Malvin Gray Johnson, 1934, Smithsonian American Museum, Washington, DC, USA.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If you can settle your body, you are more likely to be calm, alert, and fully present, no matter what is going on around you. . . .  A calm, settled body is the foundation for health, for healing, for helping others, and for changing the world. — Resmaa Menakem
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Being Peaceful Change

Love at the Center
Friday, July 31, 2020

Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be recognized as children of God. —Matthew 5:9

Today many think we can achieve peace through violence. The myth that violence solves problems is part of the way we think and is in direct opposition to all great religious teachings. Our need for immediate control leads us to disconnect the consistency, connection, and unity between means and ends. We even named a missile created for the destruction of humanity a “peacekeeper.” But such peace is a false peace, the Pax Romana of mutually assured destruction (MAD). We must wait and work for the Pax Christi of mutually assured forgiveness.

The above verse from Matthew is the only time the word “peacemakers” is used in the whole Bible. A peacemaker literally is the “one who reconciles quarrels.” Jesus is clearly not on the side of the violent but on the side of the nonviolent. Jesus is saying there is no way to peace other than peacemaking itself.

Coretta Scott King reflects on her husband Martin Luther King, Jr.’s commitment to nonviolence with love at its center:

Noncooperation and nonviolent resistance were means of stirring and awakening moral truths in one’s opponents, of evoking the humanity which, Martin believed, existed in each of us. The means, therefore, had to be consistent with the ends. And the end, as Martin conceived it, was greater than any of its parts, greater than any single issue. “The end is redemption and reconciliation,” he believed. . . .

Even the most intractable evils of our world—the triple evils of poverty, racism, and war which Martin so eloquently challenged in his Nobel lecture—can only be eliminated by nonviolent means. And the wellspring for the eradication of even these most economically, politically, and socially entrenched evils is the moral imperative of love. In his 1967 address to the anti-war group Clergy and Laity Concerned, he said:

When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God” [1 John 4:7].

If love is the eternal religious principle, Martin Luther King, Jr. believed, then nonviolence is its external worldly counterpart. He wrote:

At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives. [1]

References:

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (Harper and Row: 1958), 103–104.

Coretta Scott King, foreword to Strength to Love, Martin Luther King, Jr. (Fortress Press: 2010, ©1981, ©1963), x-xi.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and John Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount, (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1996), 139.

Image credit: Self-Portrait (detail), Malvin Gray Johnson, 1934, Smithsonian American Museum, Washington, DC, USA.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If you can settle your body, you are more likely to be calm, alert, and fully present, no matter what is going on around you. . . .  A calm, settled body is the foundation for health, for healing, for helping others, and for changing the world. — Resmaa Menakem
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Being Peaceful Change

Holistic Peace
Thursday, July 30, 2020

Peaceful change starts within us and grows incrementally from where we are. Our social and physical location will influence the problems we see and the solutions we can imagine. We must “think globally and act locally” as did Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai (1940–2011).

Maathai devoted herself to environmental and democratic reform in her native Kenya.

As a young academic biologist at the University of Nairobi in the 1970s . . . Maathai grew concerned about the environmental devastation created in Nairobi by widespread deforestation. She recognized that a massive replanting program could both save the land and provide a source of income for Nairobi’s poor. So in 1977 she founded a small local organization that paid Nairobi women to plant trees. The organization soon grew into a nationwide and then pan-African one known as the Greenbelt Movement. Since its inception, the movement has planted upwards of forty million trees in Africa and provided sources of income for nearly one million women.

The genius of Maathai’s vision was its holistic awareness of the linkage between environmental sustainability and economic opportunity. . . . [1]

In her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Wangari Maathai said,

[The Green Belt Movement] participants discover that they must be part of the solutions. They realize their hidden potential and are empowered to overcome inertia and take action. They come to recognize that they are the primary custodians and beneficiaries of the environment that sustains them.

Entire communities also come to understand that while it is necessary to hold their governments accountable, it is equally important that in their own relationships with each other, they exemplify the leadership values they wish to see in their own leaders, namely justice, integrity and trust.

Although initially the Green Belt Movement’s tree planting activities did not address issues of democracy and peace, it soon became clear that responsible governance of the environment was impossible without democratic space. Therefore, the tree became a symbol for the democratic struggle in Kenya. Citizens were mobilized to challenge widespread abuses of power, corruption and environmental mismanagement. . . .

Through the Green Belt Movement, thousands of ordinary citizens were mobilized and empowered to take action and effect change. . . .  They learned to overcome fear and a sense of helplessness and moved to defend democratic rights.

In time, the tree also became a symbol for peace and conflict resolution. . . .

It is 30 years since we started this work. Activities that devastate the environment and societies continue unabated. Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own—indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process.

In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other.

That time is now. [2]

References:
[1] Kerry Walters and Robin Jarrell, Blessed Peacemakers: 365 Extraordinary People Who Changed the World (Cascade Books: 2013), 91.

[2] Wangari Maathai, Nobel Lecture, Oslo, Norway (December 10, 2004). Transcript available at https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2004/maathai/26050-wangari-maathai-nobel-lecture-2004/

Image credit: Self-Portrait (detail), Malvin Gray Johnson, 1934, Smithsonian American Museum, Washington, DC, USA.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If you can settle your body, you are more likely to be calm, alert, and fully present, no matter what is going on around you. . . .  A calm, settled body is the foundation for health, for healing, for helping others, and for changing the world. — Resmaa Menakem
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Being Peaceful Change

Look with the Eyes of Compassion
Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (born 1926) is one of the world’s most influential spiritual teachers. During the Vietnam War, his work for peace brought him into friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, and other Christians who shared his belief that peace must be who we are, not just something we demand. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches:

This capacity of waking up, of being aware of what is going on in your feelings, in your body, in your perceptions, in the world, is called Buddha nature, the capacity of understanding and loving. . . . It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.

Many of us worry about the world situation. We don’t know when the bombs will explode. We feel that we are on the edge of time. As individuals, we feel helpless, despairing. The situation is so dangerous, injustice is so widespread, the danger is so close. In this kind of situation, if we panic, things will only become worse. We need to remain calm, to see clearly. Meditation is to be aware, and to try to help.

I like to use the example of a small boat crossing the Gulf of Siam. In Vietnam, there are many people, called boat people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats can sink. But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, he or she can help the boat survive. His or her expression—face, voice—communicates clarity and calmness, and people have trust in that person. They will listen to what he or she says. One such person can save the lives of many.

Our world is something like a small boat. Compared with the cosmos, our planet is a very small boat. We are about to panic because our situation is no better than the situation of the small boat in the sea. . . . Humankind has become a very dangerous species. We need people who can sit still and be able to smile, who can walk peacefully. We need people like that in order to save us. Mahayana Buddhism says that you are that person. . . .

The root-word “budh” means to wake up, to know, to understand. A person who wakes up and understands is called a Buddha. It is as simple as that. The capacity to wake up, to understand, and to love is called Buddha nature. [Christians would call this Christ nature, the Christ self, or the mind of Christ.] . . .

When you understand, you cannot help but love. . . . To develop understanding, you have to practice looking at all living beings with the eyes of compassion. When you understand, you love. And when you love, you naturally act in a way that can relieve the suffering of people.

Reference:
Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace, ed. Rachel Neumann, rev. ed. (Parallax Press: 2005, ©1987), 18, 21–22, 23, 24.

Image credit: Self-Portrait (detail), Malvin Gray Johnson, 1934, Smithsonian American Museum, Washington, DC, USA.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If you can settle your body, you are more likely to be calm, alert, and fully present, no matter what is going on around you. . . .  A calm, settled body is the foundation for health, for healing, for helping others, and for changing the world. — Resmaa Menakem
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Being Peaceful Change

Nonviolence: A Spiritual Superpower
Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Be the change you wish to see in the world. —Gandhi

My good friend, John Dear, is a devoted student of Mohandas Gandhi and has dedicated his life to the promotion of nonviolence through his activism and writing. John writes:

In his search for God and truth, Mohandas Gandhi [1869–1948] concluded that he could never hurt or kill anyone, much less remain passive in the face of injustice, imperialism, and war. Instead, Gandhi dedicated himself to the practice and promotion of nonviolence. He concluded that nonviolence is not only the most powerful force there is; it is the spiritual practice most neglected and most needed throughout the world.

“Nonviolence means avoiding injury to anything on earth, in thought, word, or deed,” Gandhi told an interviewer in 1935. But for Gandhi, nonviolence meant not just refraining from physical violence interpersonally and nationally, but refraining from the inner violence of the heart as well. It meant the practice of active love toward one’s oppressors and enemies in the pursuit of justice, truth, and peace. “Nonviolence cannot be preached,” he insisted. “It has to be practiced.” For fifty years, Gandhi sought to practice nonviolence at every level in life, in his own heart, among his family and friends, and publicly in his struggle for equality in South Africa and freedom for India. It was the means by which he sought the ends of truth; in fact, he later concluded that the ends were in the means, or perhaps they were even the same. In other words, the practice of nonviolence is not just the way to peace; it is the way to God.

Gandhi’s nonviolence was a religious duty. It stood at the center of his spirituality, all his spiritual teachings, and his daily spiritual practice. Gandhi concluded that God is nonviolent, and that God’s reign is the reign of nonviolence. “Nonviolence assumes entire reliance upon God,” Gandhi taught. “When the practice of nonviolence becomes universal, God will reign on earth as God reigns in heaven.” After years of studying the various religions, Gandhi concluded too that nonviolence is at the heart of every religion. It is the common ground of all the world’s religions, the hidden ground of peace and love underlying every religion. . . .

Gandhi thought that the force of nonviolence was more powerful than all nuclear weapons combined and that if we all practiced perfect active nonviolence, we could unleash a spiritual explosion more powerful than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. “I am certain that if we want to bring about peace in the world,” Gandhi told a group of visitors a few months before his death, “there is no other way except that of nonviolence.”

“Nonviolence is the greatest and most active force in the world,” Gandhi wrote. . . . “My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop nonviolence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might oversweep the world.”

References:
Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings, ed. John Dear (Orbis Books: 2002), 94–95.

Epigraph: Gandhi as quoted by Arun Gandhi in The Gift of Anger: And Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi (Jeter Publishing: 2017), 9.

Image credit: Self-Portrait (detail), Malvin Gray Johnson, 1934, Smithsonian American Museum, Washington, DC, USA.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If you can settle your body, you are more likely to be calm, alert, and fully present, no matter what is going on around you. . . .  A calm, settled body is the foundation for health, for healing, for helping others, and for changing the world. — Resmaa Menakem
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Being Peaceful Change

Change Comes from the Inside
Monday, July 27, 2020

As we come to know our soul gift more clearly, we almost always have to let go of some other “gifts” so we can do our one or two things with integrity. Such letting go frees us from always being driven by what has been called the “tyranny of the urgent.” [1] Soon urgency is a way of life, and things are not done peacefully from within. What if we choose to simply do one or two things wholeheartedly in our lives? That is all God expects and all we can probably do well. Too much good work becomes a violence to ourselves and, finally, to those around us.

Let’s just use our different gifts to create a unity in the work of service (Ephesians 4:12–13), and back one another up, without criticism or competition. Only in our peaceful, mutual honoring do we show forth the glory of God.

The Gospel is not about being nice; it is about being honest and just, and the world doesn’t like those two things very much. Our job is to learn how to be honest, but with love and respect. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us that before we go out to witness for justice, we have to make sure that we can love and respect those with whom we disagree.

Imagine the surrender necessary for those who have been oppressed for hundreds of years to continue to work peacefully for justice. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone can do it without contemplation. How do we get to that deep place where we do not want to publicly expose, humiliate, or defeat our opponents, but rather work, as King said, for win-win situations? Seeking win-win solutions, not win-lose, takes a high level of spiritual development and demands spiritual conversion.

When we are hurt, we want to hurt back. When we are put down, we want to put down the opponent. This is our ego’s natural defense mechanism. We all move toward the ego, and we even solidify it as we get older if something doesn’t expose it for the lie that it is—not because it is bad, but because it thinks it is the whole and only thing! We change from inside—from the power position to the position of vulnerability and solidarity, which gradually changes everything.

True contemplation is the most subversive of activities because it undercuts the one thing that normally refuses to give way­­–our natural individualism and narcissism. Once we are freed from our narcissism that thinks we are the center of the world, or that our rights and dignity have to be defended before other people’s rights and dignity, we can finally live and act with justice and truth. People don’t really change by themselves. God changes us, if we can expose ourselves to God at a deep level.

References:
[1] Charles E. Hummel, Tyranny of the Urgent (InterVarsity Press: 1994, ©1967). Hummel offers ways to identify priorities in life, so that immediate demands don’t always crowd out key desires.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 85–87.

Image credit: Self-Portrait (detail), Malvin Gray Johnson, 1934, Smithsonian American Museum, Washington, DC, USA.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If you can settle your body, you are more likely to be calm, alert, and fully present, no matter what is going on around you. . . .  A calm, settled body is the foundation for health, for healing, for helping others, and for changing the world. — Resmaa Menakem
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Being Peaceful Change

Inner Unity
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. [1]

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. [2]

References:
[1] 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.

[2] 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.

Image credit: Self-Portrait (detail), Malvin Gray Johnson, 1934, Smithsonian American Museum, Washington, DC, USA.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If you can settle your body, you are more likely to be calm, alert, and fully present, no matter what is going on around you. . . .  A calm, settled body is the foundation for health, for healing, for helping others, and for changing the world. — Resmaa Menakem
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