Yesterday, I went to the ocean to mix my own salty tears with that of the sea, to be surrounded by Life and forget for a moment my small one. If I lived near a forest, I would have lain down under the tallest trees. If by the mountains, next to a granite face, soaring high above me. If on a prairie, I would have gazed up at the vast blue sky and watched the clouds race from one end of my vision to the other.
I felt a need to be connected to a grandeur and beauty that remains unaffected by the crazy, painful shit we humans do to each other. It reminds me that there is something larger at work, something that does, in fact, want us to be well, not sick – not the violent, unmerciful people we so often are.
I call that something God; I also call it Love and I was grateful to the Center for Action and Contemplation for their post.
In September, Richard Rohr spent a week teaching about non-violence. Perhaps it was prescience, or coincidence, but perhaps it just seemed practical to remind his readers that we cannot give to others what we don’t have ourselves. As much as we may want peace in our world, we ultimately have to do the even more difficult work of creating peace within – first, or at least at the same time. Otherwise, we’re just brokering a cheap truce, too easily broken when boundaries are crossed.
I’m going to offer a few highlights of his teaching here that I copied into my journal.
September 22, 2017
The reflections from Richard Rohr have been so powerful this week – deeply convicting about how nonviolence must be something that comes from our heart, an awareness of Your presence within us, God. We cannot live and behave however we want in our everyday lives and then go participate in the non-violent healing of the world. It just doesn’t work that way.
If we want make peace, we have to be peace. Our lives are our message.
How can we make nonviolence a way of life?
[First] Practicing nonviolence means claiming our fundamental identity as the beloved sons and daughters of the God of peace… The problem is: we don’t know who we are. . . . The challenge then is to remember who we are, and therefore be nonviolent to ourselves and others.
This alone, God, challenges me. Nonviolence has to begin in my own heart, in how I treat myself in moments of weakness, or shame, when I have not met expectations, my own, or those of others. The voice of the inner critic is rarely gentle. It yields a sharp sword and knows all my weak spots. Even this has to change?
To create peaceful change, we must begin by remembering who we are in God.
Gandhi believed the core of our being is union with God… [and] that experiencing God’s loving presence within is central to nonviolence. This was his motivation and sustenance: “We have one thousand names to denote God, and if I did not feel the presence of God within me, I see so much of misery and disappointment every day that I would be a raving maniac.”
[Second] Nonviolence, on the other hand, comes from an awareness that I am also the enemy and my response is part of the whole moral equation. I cannot destroy the other without destroying myself. I must embrace my enemy just as much as I must welcome my own shadow. Both acts take real and lasting courage.
Practicing loving presence must become our entire way of life, or it seldom works as an occasional tactic.
From this awareness, nonviolence must flow naturally and consistently:
Non-violence is not 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. . . . If love or non-violence be not the law of our being, the whole of my argument falls to pieces. . . . Belief in non-violence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love. . . . If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken.
Living a nonviolent life is no easy task; it is not simply pacifism. It requires courageous love, drawn from the very source of our being.
As Mark Kurlansky explains, “Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than nonviolence, which is dangerous. When Jesus said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence.”
One year, RR invited his staff to take this vow of nonviolence. I don’t know how many of them accepted the challenge. I only know I couldn’t, as much as I wanted to. I read and reread the vows, but my heart shied away from them.
What does it mean to take a vow you are sure to break?
I think I will print the vows out and put them on my nightstand. If I read them over and over again, perhaps I will move one step closer to living into them with some integrity. From RR:
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.
This last line is the key, isn’t it God?
In days like these, while the world grieves so many acts of violence –
from the hands of our fellow humans,
by the forces of nature,
in the war of words we constantly engage in,
and our slow but sure death from complacency and indifference,
do I trust in Your sustaining Love and Grace?
Most days, I say, “Yes,” with my whole heart and the entire force of my being. I believe, I trust, I want to participate in the Love and Grace that sustain the world.
This week? Not so much.
My yes is a whisper, a longing more than a reality, but I don’t want it to stay there. So I’ll head back to the sea; I’ll look up at the sky; I’ll walk in a canyon; I’ll find my center and breathe and trust that the truth of Love will rise again.
In the meantime, I am grateful for the helpers, the people who are actively participating in the Loving and healing and peacemaking that is going on today – in Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Mexico City, Houston and around the world. I am grateful for their resounding “Yes” in the midst of tragedy.
If you’d like to read the reflections from the teachings on non-violence, you can find them here. There’s a lot to explore on the page!