Recent events in the Middle East, especially in Egypt and elsewhere, have inspired and exhilarated the entire world. What an amazing and transformative outpouring of courage, tenacity and hope we have all witnessed on our TV, computer and cell phone screens! What an example of heroism, persistence, and patience. What a remarkable and incredibly peaceful revolution we’ve seen.
It reminded me a bit of the movements of peaceful resistance embraced and led by Mahatma Gandhi and later by Martin Luther King, Jr. In many ways of course it was not at all like Gandhi’s blueprint for peaceful resistance and revolution. The uprisings in the Middle East do not seem to be building on his understanding of non-violent resistance. Gandhi spoke of satyagraha, which involves much more than passive protest, and is based on a positive training in all forms of non-violence. Its underlying discipline in ahimsa “precludes not only the act of inflicting a physical injury, but also mental states like evil thoughts and hatred, unkind behavior such as harsh words, dishonesty and lying, all of which he (Gandhi) saw as manifestations of violence.”
To live in such a way is a tall order. To engage in civil resistance that conforms only to these principles is an even higher standard. Rare indeed are the souls who meet this measure!
And yet are not we as Christians called to live out of these principles of peace? Many would perhaps disagree, and yet Jesus himself went to his death peacefully, without any form of violent resistance. Among his last words were “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And among his first words are the beatitudes, the series of sayings in which he declares blessed those who the world normally scorns and derides: the meek, the powerless, the poor, the persecuted, the sorrowing, and very definitely, the peacemakers. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”
Children of God! Children usually inherit some of their parents’ characteristics, and here Jesus is letting us know that God is a peacemaker. In the long history of Christianity, and the even longer history of God, war after war after war has been fought in God’s name. Violence upon violence, atrocity upon atrocity has been perpetrated, and so often in God’s name. Yet Jesus tells us that God is a peacemaker, and we are called to be the same.
As Gandhi and King knew well, to be a peacemaker is a very hard thing. We know it too, when we try to make peace.
How hard it is, even to make peace within ourselves! As I write, I think of all the warring elements within my own life, and how hard it is to reconcile them. Then I think of my community, my family, my friends, my church, my country…the list goes on, in ever widening circles. All of us, in one way or another, are at war. All of us have tendencies to react violently when we are frustrated by others, crossed by others, antagonized by others, hurt by others. We may know better than to attempt the violence of actions, but we surely all know the violence of words. We lash out at hard words, and return them with interest. Or we sit in sullen silence. Columba Stewart, writing on the Benedictine virtue of restraint of speech notes, “Language is a gift that can be used thoughtfully or thoughtlessly, humbly or proudly. How very, very hard it is to speak with restraint, with love and compassion, with sensitivity and respect. Yet all of these are elements of peacemaking.
To be a peacemaker, I must first be at peace. How to undertake this challenging, lifelong task? Some partial, provisional answers come to mind.
To be a peacemaker, I must be able to let go, I must be willing to be detached from all my wants and wishes, large and small. Sooner or later, someone will want the opposite, or someone will thwart what I want. To respond with peace, I need to hold all things and all desires very, very lightly.
To be a peacemaker, I must work at trusting God in all things. Without an active, living trust in God, my horizon is too small, my life centered only in myself, and I focus only on my own needs and wants, not those of others, or of the greater good.
To be a peacemaker, I must try to be fair. Remember that famous slogan, “if you want peace, work for justice.” Peace arises naturally out of well ordered living, and well ordered living can only come into being if there is basic justice and fairness for all.
To be a peacemaker, I must strive to live with attentive awareness of God’s living presence in my life. Only this continual contact with the Spirit within can so guide my life that I am moved to act out of peacefulness of heart, and to discern what is right in each situation.
Finally, to be a peacemaker, I must try to live like Jesus, who himself lived and died true to his beliefs and true to his call from God. In this time of Lent, perhaps we are called not only to fast from sweets or chips or alcohol. Perhaps we are called to fast from violence, and to practice the loving attitudes of peacemaking.