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Theme:
Peacemakers

Peacemakers

Summary: Sunday, September 15—Friday, September 20, 2019

Much of Christianity seems to have forgotten Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence. We’ve relegated visions of a peaceful kingdom to a far distant heaven, hardly believing Jesus could have meant we should turn the other cheek here and now. (Sunday)

Nonviolence is not ineffective, passive, weak, utopian, naïve, unpatriotic, marginal, simplistic, or impractical, but it recognizes evil in the world and responds to it with good. —Ken Butigan (Monday)

Gandhi spoke of making himself zero but seemed to have become instead a kind of cosmic conduit, a channel for some tremendous universal power, an “instrument of peace.” —Eknath Easwaran (Tuesday)

It is urgent to understand Gandhi’s message that nonviolence is a way of thinking, a way of life, not a tactic, but a way of putting love to work in resolving problems, healing relationships, and generally raising the quality of our lives. —Eknath Easwaran (Wednesday)

I saw that the Sermon on the Mount was the whole of Christianity for those who wanted to live a Christian life. It is that Sermon which has endeared Jesus to me. —Mahatma Gandhi (Thursday)

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. — Shared by Lilla Watson (Friday)

 

Practice: Vow of Nonviolence

Years ago, the Center for Action and Contemplation staff, volunteers, and friends were invited to say this vow together. Today I renew my commitment to nonviolence and invite you to make this vow your own as well.

Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. . . . You have learned how it was said, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy”; but I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven (Matthew 5:9, 43-45).

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus

  • by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;
  • by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;
  • by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;
  • by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;
  • by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;
  • by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it. [1]

Reference:
[1] Eileen Egan and John Dear, “The Vow of Nonviolence,” Pax Christi USA, paxchristiusa.org/resources/vow-of-nonviolence/.

For Further Study:
Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions, September 14-22, 2019, paceebene.org/action-week

John Dear, The Beatitudes of Peace: Meditations on the Beatitudes, Peacemaking and the Spiritual Life (Twenty-Third Publications: 2016)

Eknath Easwaran, Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World (Nilgiri Press: 1972, 2011)

Mahatma Gandhi, Discourses on the Gita, trans. Valji Govindji Desai (Navajivan Publishing House: 2006, ©1960)

Gandhi on Christianity, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 1991)

Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd edition (Fortress Press: 2017)

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

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9
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Peacemakers

Working Together
Friday, September 20, 2019

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. — Shared by Lilla Watson [1]

In our Living School, we emphasize contemplative solidarity with those who are marginalized or oppressed. Authentic solidarity involves a pilgrimage of voluntary displacement from our position(s) of privilege—whether that be class, race, gender, physical ability, nationality, religion—and appreciation for traits that our culture deems not “normal” or valuable. Only through relationships can I discern what kind of service is really needed, if I’m the one to offer it, and whose needs I am meeting. It’s not about “I’m helping you” but “We’re walking and learning together.”

We must avoid the temptation to play “savior” because we think we know best. Movements like Campaign Nonviolence and Poor People’s Campaign address intersecting forms of oppression like poverty, racism, environmental destruction, and militarism. [2] Their work is guided by deep connections with those who are suffering and centers the margins.

Some of our nonviolent heroes were far from perfect. While living in apartheid South Africa, Gandhi experienced discrimination because of his skin color and Indian heritage, yet it took years for him to have the same concern for black South Africans as he did for his people. As a young man, Gandhi actually supported empire and colonialism. He learned and grew by making mistakes and by being in relationship.

One of our Living School teachers, Barbara Holmes, points out that ways of fighting for justice have necessarily evolved. While the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) and the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLMM) “both resist oppression with contemplative practices and activism, they use different strategies and leadership models and seek different goals.” [3] Holmes continues:

During the CRM, the blindness of dominant culture to the plight of the African American community meant that the message had to be delivered by one voice in language that white Americans could understand and support. Lives were at stake, and [Martin Luther] King’s biblical and patriotic references combined with his soaring oratory ignited the nation and inspired the movement.

Now, fifty plus years after the CRM, another approach is needed, and the BLMM like the LGBTQIA justice movements are updating the art of contemplative confrontation and noncompliance with the status quo . . . oppression and violence against black bodies. Today, the most respectable image that young protesters can offer is their authenticity, resolute voices, and pride in community and culture. . . . The BLMM uses disruption for transformation rather than the predictable politeness and political compromises that were part of the ordinary negotiations of social activists. [4]

In response to the violence, the BLMM disrupts everyday life. They block traffic and refuse to allow “business as usual.” The response is not riot or violence, it is the twenty-first-century version of the sit-in. CRM activists got parade permits and stayed along the side of the road so as not to interfere with traffic. BLM activists “shut it down” with song, putting their bodies on the line. [5]

I, Richard, know such teaching is very threatening to most of white and middle-class America. But we must ask ourselves what suffering “business as usual” has caused many humans. Recall a schema I often use: order —> disorder —> reorder. Much of our “order” has been founded on injust social structures and is not the order of God. Human laws are superseded by divine commandments, but then of course we must pay the price of fines, imprisonment, loss of friendships, etc. Exactly what Jesus promised!

References:
[1] Lilla Watson, “Recognition of Indigenous Terms of Reference,” Keynote Address at “A Contribution to Change: Cooperation Out of Conflict Conference: Celebrating Difference, Embracing Equality,” Hobart, Tasmania (September 21-24, 2004). She identifies this slogan as a collective statement from activists working in Brisbane in the 1970s.

[2] Learn more about Campaign Nonviolence at paceebene.org/action-week and Poor People’s Campaign at poorpeoplescampaign.org.

[3] Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd edition (Fortress Press: 2017), 146.

[4] Ibid., 147-148, 154.

[5] Ibid., 150.

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9
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Peacemakers

Meditating on the Sermon on the Mount
Thursday, September 19, 2019

You have heard it said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” —Matthew 5:43-44

In addition to the Bhagavad Gita, Mahatma Gandhi considered the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) some of the greatest writing on nonviolence. John Dear, a friend and an organizer for this week’s Campaign Nonviolence, writes:

Gandhi . . . read from the Sermon on the Mount nearly every morning and evening for over forty years. Although he wasn’t a Christian, he decided early on to live his life according to Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. As he wrote in his autobiography, the first time he read them, probably in the 1890s in Durban, South Africa, they went “straight to my heart.” Such teachings as “Offer no violent resistance to evil; turn the other cheek; and if [anyone] takes away your coat, give [them] your cloak as well,” he wrote, “delighted me beyond measure.” [1]

“When I came to the New Testament and the Sermon on the Mount, I began to understand the Christian teaching,” he wrote. “The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount echoed something I had learnt in childhood and something which seemed to be part of my being and which I felt was being acted [out] in the daily life around me.” [2] “I saw that the Sermon on the Mount was the whole of Christianity for [those] who wanted to live a Christian life. It is that Sermon which has endeared Jesus to me.” [3] “The gentle figure of Christ, so patient, so kind, so loving, so full of forgiveness that he taught His followers not to retaliate when abused or struck, but to turn the other cheek—I thought it was a beautiful example of the perfect [human being].” [4] . . .

From a Gandhian perspective, Jesus is the epitome of nonviolence. . . . He forms his community of disciples to practice his way of nonviolence, and he sends them out as “sheep into the midst of wolves” [Matthew 10:16] to announce God’s reign of peace. When Jesus’ own grassroots campaign of nonviolence reaches Jerusalem, he engages in nonviolent civil disobedience in the Temple, is arrested, tortured, and executed, and yet remains perfectly nonviolent unto his last breath. Even in his resurrection, Jesus practices nonviolence. He does not utter a word of revenge, anger, or retaliation. Instead, he makes breakfast for those who once abandoned him [John 21:9] and gives them his resurrection gift of peace. . . .

Gandhi disciplined himself to read daily from the Sermon on the Mount, and live according to those teachings. Because of this commitment, he helped liberate both South Africa and India from systemic violence and showed the world the power of active nonviolence. In the process, Gandhi, a Hindu, became a Christ-like figure, “the greatest Christian of modern times,” according to Martin Luther King Jr.

References:
[1] Mahatma Gandhi, An Autobiography, or The Story of My Experiments with Truth, trans. Mahadev Desai (Navajivan Publishing House: 1996, ©1927), 58. See Gandhi on Christianity, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 1991), 5.

[2] Mahatma Gandhi, “The Jesus I Love,” Young India, vol. 13, no. 53 (December 31, 1931), 429. See Ellsberg, 21.

[3] Ibid. See Ellsberg, 22.

[4] Millie Graham Polak, Mr. Gandhi: The Man (George Allen & Unwin Ltd.: 1931), 40. See Ellsberg, 12.

John Dear, The Beatitudes of Peace: Meditations on the Beatitudes, Peacemaking and the Spiritual Life (Twenty-Third Publications: 2016), 10-12. Learn more about Campaign Nonviolence at paceebene.org/action-week.

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9
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Peacemakers

Cultivating Nonviolence
Wednesday, September 18, 2019

If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, first go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. —Matthew 5:23-24

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount describes unconditional love in action. Tomorrow we’ll explore Mahatma Gandhi’s appreciation for the Sermon on the Mount. Today Eknath Easwaran continues reflecting on how nonviolence flows from our state of being:

Gandhi’s mission was not really the liberation of India. That was a tremendous achievement, but India was essentially a showcase, a stage for the world to see what nonviolence can accomplish in the highly imperfect world of real life. . . .

In today’s language, Gandhi gave us the basis for a technology of peace. He gave us tools for resolving conflicts of all kinds, which anyone can learn to use. But it is urgent to understand his message that nonviolence is a way of thinking, a way of life, not a tactic, but a way of putting love to work in resolving problems, healing relationships, and generally raising the quality of our lives. We don’t begin on the grand stage he acted on; he did not begin that way himself. He began with his personal relationships, aware that he could not expect to put out the fires of anger and hatred elsewhere if the same fires smoldered in his own home and heart. His nonviolence is not a political weapon or a technique for social change so much as it is an essential art—perhaps the essential art—of civilization.

In other words, nonviolence is a skill, just like learning to read. Love is a skill. The transformation of anger is a skill. All these can be learned. We cannot say we aren’t capable of nonviolence; all we can say is we are not willing to do what is necessary to learn.

Finally, for spiritual seekers of all persuasions, Gandhi showed us that the spiritual life need not mean retiring to a monastery or cave. It can be pursued in the midst of family, community, and a career of selfless service. Even without reference to spirituality, if we look upon the overriding purpose of life as making a lasting contribution to our family and society, Gandhi gave us a higher image for ourselves, a glorification of the innate goodness in the human being, whose joy lies in living for the welfare of all. This is Gandhi’s ultimate message for us, and no sentence of his is more significant than when he says—and remember, this is a man who never let even a word stand if he did not know it to be true from his own experience—“I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.” [1]

References:
[1] Mahatma Gandhi, “Heading for Promiscuity,” Harijan, vol. 4, no. 34 (October 3, 1936), 269.

Eknath Easwaran, Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World (Nilgiri Press: 1972, 2011), 22-23.

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9
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Peacemakers

Embodying Nonviolence
Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948) used to say that every world religion knows that Jesus taught nonviolence, lived nonviolently, and died a nonviolent death except one: Christianity! Gandhi took the Gospel and his own Hindu texts seriously. He believed our core identity is union with God and that the fruit of this union is nonviolence. As he wrote, “Non-violence is not like a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.” [1] More than just talking about these beliefs, Gandhi embodied them. Eknath Easwaran (1910–1999), whom I introduced a few weeks ago, described his first encounter with Gandhi:

When the cottage door opened, out popped a lithe brown figure of about seventy with the springy step and mischievous eyes of a teenager, laughing and joking with those around him. He was striding off for his evening walk and motioned us to come along. After a while most of the crowd fell away. He didn’t simply walk fast; he seemed to fly. With his white shawl flapping and his gawky bare legs he looked like a crane about to take off. I have always been a walker, but I had to keep breaking into a jog to keep up with him.

My list of questions was growing. This was a man in his seventies—the twilight of life by Indian standards of those days—burdened daily with responsibility for four hundred million people. He must have lived under intense pressure. . . . Why didn’t he get burned out? . . . What was the source of his apparently endless vitality and good humor?

After the walk it was time for Gandhi’s prayer meeting. . . . A Japanese monk opened with a Buddhist chant and then a British lady began one of Gandhi’s favorite hymns, John Henry Newman’s “Lead, Kindly Light.” Gandhi had closed his eyes in deep concentration, as if absorbed in the words.

Then his secretary, Mahadev Desai, began to recite from the Bhagavad Gita, India’s best-known scripture, which is set on a battlefield which Gandhi said represents the human heart. [2] In the verses being recited, a warrior prince named Arjuna, who represents you and me, asks Sri Krishna, the Lord within, how one can recognize a person who is aware of God every moment of his life. And Sri Krishna replies. . . .

They live in wisdom who see themselves in all and all in them, whose love for the Lord of love has consumed every selfish desire and sense craving tormenting the heart. Not agitated by grief or hankering after pleasure, they live free from lust and fear and anger. Fettered no more by selfish attachments, they are not elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. Such are the seers. [3]

[Gandhi] had become those words. . . . “Free from selfish desires” didn’t mean indifference; it meant not trying to get anything for yourself, giving your best whatever comes without depending on anything except the Lord within. . . . [Gandhi] spoke of making himself zero but seemed to have become instead a kind of cosmic conduit, a channel for some tremendous universal power, an “instrument of peace.”

These verses from the Gita are the key to Gandhi’s life. . . . They tell us not what to do with our lives but what to be. And they are universal. We see essentially the same portrait in all scriptures, reflected in the lives of spiritual aspirants everywhere.

References:
[1] Mahatma Gandhi, “Has Non-Violence Limits?” Young India, vol. 8, no. 32 (August 12, 1926), 286. See M. K. Gandhi, Non-Violence in Peace and War (Navajivan Publishing House: 1944), 71.

[2] Mahatma Gandhi, Discourses on the Gita, trans. Valji Govindji Desai (Navajivan Publishing House: 2006, ©1960), 12.

[3] Bhagavad Gita, 2:54-57 (Easwaran’s paraphrase).

Eknath Easwaran, Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World (Nilgiri Press: 1972, 2011), 17-18, 20.

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9
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Peacemakers

Learning Nonviolence
Monday, September 16, 2019

This week I’ll share a couple reflections from Ken Butigan and John Dear, two leaders of Campaign Nonviolence, a grassroots movement organized by Pace e Bene. Nonviolent actions are taking place all over the United States and world this week! [1] In the face of gun violence, racism, climate change, poverty, and other injustices, courageous people are turning toward peaceful solutions. Ken Butigan recalls the beginnings of his education in nonviolence at the University of San Diego:

I learned that Jesus was a maker of peace, an agent of restorative justice, and a proponent of what we might call “responsibility to protect nonviolently,” as in the case of the woman accused of adultery who was about to be executed when Jesus intervened, neither with justified violence or hand-wringing passivity, but instead, at great risk to himself, with a creative and thought-provoking nonviolent action that saved the woman’s life and saved the men from carrying the burden and terror of the guilt of homicide [John 8:3-11]. . . .

In his time of foreign occupation and oppression, Jesus proclaimed a new, nonviolent order rooted in the unconditional love of God. . . . I [heard], as if for the first time, Jesus’ command for us to love our enemies [Matthew 5:44] and for us to offer no violent resistance to one who does evil [Matthew 5:39], and I was forced to reflect deeply on the actions Jesus took to dramatize this call, including urging [his disciple Peter] to put down his sword as the soldiers were arresting him in the garden of Gethsemane [Matthew 26:52]. . . .

Jesus is the revelation and embodiment of our Nonviolent God, whose sun shines on the good and the evil alike [Matthew 5:45]. I would come to learn therefore that nonviolence was ontological, at the heart of God, the God who created the universe and said that it was good [Genesis 1]. . . . Nonviolence is not ineffective, passive, weak, utopian, naïve, unpatriotic, marginal, simplistic, or impractical, but it recognizes evil in the world and responds to it with good.

I would come to learn that that nonviolence is actively confronting violence without violence; creatively engaging conflict; and nurturing just, peaceful, and sustainable alternatives. . . .

In the 1980s, that included taking nonviolent action to build people-power to support an end to the arms race between the US and the Soviet Union, including public support for arms control agreements and a global Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In the 1980s and 1990s, that meant building people-power to resist and end US policies stoking war in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Later in the 1990s, that meant being part of a local campaign to build people-power to end policies attacking and harassing homeless people. And in the 21st century, that has included building movements using nonviolent action to urge a comprehensive just peace in Iraq and end the official policy of torture.

Considering Butigan’s reflection, consider these questions: What does love in action look like for you? How are you following Jesus as a peace-maker? May nonviolence begin in our hearts and flow through our whole beings.

References:
[1] Learn more about Campaign Nonviolence at paceebene.org/action-week.

Ken Butigan, “Personal Narrative: The Journey to Nonviolence,” presented at the University of San Diego (October 7, 2017).

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9
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Peacemakers

Love Is Our Nature
Sunday, September 15, 2019

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9

Before you speak of peace, you must first have it in your heart. —St. Francis of Assisi [1]

Much of Christianity seems to have forgotten Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence. We’ve relegated visions of a peaceful kingdom to a far distant heaven, hardly believing Jesus could have meant we should turn the other cheek here and now (Matthew 5:39). It took Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), a Hindu, to help us apply Jesus’ peace-making in very practical ways. As Gandhi said, “It is a first-class human tragedy that peoples of the earth who claim to believe in the message of Jesus whom they describe as the Prince of Peace show little of that belief in actual practice.” [2] It took Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), drawing from Gandhi’s work, to bring nonviolence to the forefront of American consciousness in the 1960s.

Nonviolence training has understandably emphasized largely external methods or ways of acting and resisting. These are important and necessary, but we must go even deeper. Unless those methods finally reflect inner attitudes, they will not make a lasting difference. We all have to admit that our secret thoughts 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 in our minds. 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?

Thomas Keating (1923–2018) wrote:

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 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. 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, you’ve failed. If you make your enemies your partners, God has succeeded. [3]

References:
[1] “The Legend of the Three Companions,” chapter 14 (my paraphrase). See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2 (New City Press: 2000), 102.

[2] Mahatma Gandhi, “Weekly Letter,” Harijan, vol. 6, no. 19 (June 18, 1938), 153. See Mahatma Gandhi, Truth is God, ed. R. K. Prabhu (Navajivan Publishing House: 1955), 145.

[3] 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, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 125-126.

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9
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