The title for my blog is borrowed from a book that Henri Nouwen wrote in the 1980’s against the backdrop of escalating Cold War tensions. The book which is entitled, “Peacework: Prayer, Resistance, Community” was published posthumously in 2005, and I first encountered the book during my mentoring project at Truett Seminary.
My mentoring project was entitled, “Prayer and Peacemaking in the Local Congregation.” The project didn’t necessarily need a title, but I found it helpful to give it one, and establish some sort of framework for myself as I went about my work. As the title indicates, my purpose was to explore the relationships between prayer and peacemaking in religious life, particularly monastic life, and to consider how those relationships might manifest themselves in the life of the local church as well.
My project began with a trip to visit the Taize Community in Taize, France, and ended with a Youth Mission Trip to Baton Rouge, LA whose rhythm was oriented around the sacred liturgy of prayer and work (ora et labora). All along the way, I read books on non-violence and contemplative prayer and discussed the connections with a Camoldolese Oblate and psychologist, Dr. Rod Hetzel, and one of my Truett professors, Dr. Terry York.
Early on in the project, I began to entertain what I found to be an interesting question about the ultimate relationship between non-violence and peace. While I was at Taize, I was reading one of my favorite books by John Howard Yoder, “The Original Revolution,” and found myself becoming deeply impassioned about the church’s necessity to actively maintain a non-violent position in this violent world.
Apart from the deep quiet of a snowshoe hike up a mountain in Colorado, or the serenity of the frozen river that winds its ways through the canyon walls that the brothers of Christ in the Desert Monastery call home, the strange little village of Taize is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been in my life. The place exudes peace. The simple chants of the Taize community resonate through the souls of its residents and pilgrims alike. The birds, the plants, the hosts and their guests all dwell together in a harmony, simplicity, and joy that seems to be orchestrated by the simple songs that the community sings in prayer.
As I read Yoder amidst the peace of the Taize community, I became aware that the passion growing inside of me was really not a passion for peace at all, but a channeled inner anger. Amidst the peace embodied in Taize, it became obvious that my non-violent position was essentially a violent posture towards a culture whose existence is dependent upon the constant presence of war. I noted to myself then, that it is quite easy for me to be a “non-violent person,” but it is quite difficult for me to truly become a “person of peace.”
I became aware that “peace” and “non-violence” are two very different things. “Non-violence” is the name for one competitive force in opposition to another competitive force, namely violence, and ultimately it depends upon violence for its very existence as a category or a position at all.
Peace is something entirely different. Peace is the absence of competition, force, and opposition. Peace is the name for the wholeness that exists within the Trinitarian God’s relationship with Godself. Peace is the name for the wholeness that God, in God’s wholeness shares with the world. Peace flows, like a river, from God towards humankind and all of the created order. Only by entering fully into the river of God’s peace can we become people of peace through whom the river continues to flow out into the world.
One of the core tenants of the Catholic Worker Movement is non-violence, but the more time that I spend as a member of the Catholic Worker community in Denver, the more and more aware I become of my desire to ascend to a greater call—the call to become a person of peace.
It’s easy to be non-violent. It’s easy to rant and rage against violence, oppression, and injustice. But becoming a person of peace takes work, and Nouwen’s book illumined this reality for me. It requires a great amount of inner work to enter into the peace of God and therein to begin the difficult work of coming to peace with and within oneself. But from that place, one may emerge to share God’s abundant peace with a world so desperately in need. I trip up daily, but it is my hope that over time, this work is beginning to take place within me.