Our time visiting the colony was a great time to begin learning Plautdietsch and what colony life is like, but more than that it was a time for me to re-center my life and calling in Jesus. A lot of the reading I did during our colony stay was more reflective than I often choose. I read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas and Hope and Suffering by Desmond Tutu, all of which had at least some thoughts on peace and peacemaking in them. However, the one that really got me was one I substituted late in the game, The Road to Peace by Henri Nouwen.
So all these books were going through my head our last time at church in Chihuahua colony when the reading for the evening was from Romans. I can’t completely follow everything in Plautdietsch. So, I meditate on the Scripture, pray and catch a few words here and there. I was struck by Romans 5:1 as it was the culmination of these stirrings about peace during our colony stay.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…
Sometimes I’m so busy trying to create peace that I forget this simple fact. I already have peace. I “have” peace, not because I grasp it or own it, but because it has been given to me. For me this really hit home as I realized how important it is to operate out of a place of peace with ourselves, God and others. Nouwen said often that he refrained from being more outspoken and involved in peacemaking and activism because the people advocating for peace seemed just as angry, hateful and dysfunctional as the system they wanted to tear down.
When I lived at WHRI, Thomas Merton’s thoughts in Seeds of Contemplation on how the inner life of prayer and contemplation made it possible to love the world more helped ground my tendency to emphasize social justice and activism in a healthy inner life. Nouwen puts it this way,
The invitation to a life of prayer is the invitation to live in the midst of this world without being caught in the net of its wounds and needs. (14)
I don’t know about you, but I am pretty dysfunctional. I have a lot of problems and issues. It amazes me that anything I do makes sense or seems to accomplish much. The truth is we all need a lot of work on ourselves. The world has beaten us up and broken us sometimes in ways we barely notice. Even though I know and understand my identity in Christ, it is so subtle and easy to shift out of that understanding and into the narrative of the world.
Prayer is the basis of all peacemaking precisely because in prayer we come to the realization that we do not belong to the world in which conflict and wars take place, but to him who offers us his peace. (17)
This ability to step outside of the thinking, systems and influences of this world sounds impossible. I believe it is a gift of grace for us to be able to untangle ourselves momentarily from the “net of wounds and needs” in order to receive an offer of peace and grace. The life of prayer is one of continuously returning to that place in order to ground ourselves in another world, another possibility.
As someone who likes to look at the big picture, thinks in terms of systems, often emphasizes social justice and needs to be doing something, this quote struck at the core of my being. “Issues don’t save us, people do.” (Nouwen 167) How often do I neglect the real work of building relationships in order to “work on an issue”? As a news junkie I also needed to hear this question, “Do we pray more for our deeply wounded world since we know so much more about it?” (Nouwen 209) The incredible amount of information available to us now is overwhelming. Personally, it only serves to strengthen my tendency to focus on social justice and action while neglecting my own spiritual health and well-being. I don’t really have time to pray, work on my marriage, be a better father or friend, because there’s so many things wrong with the world. Nouwen unveils this kind of thinking as a lie. In many ways my own spiritual health and relationships are the only thing that really changes the world.
Nouwen spent his later years living in a L’Arche community. He made this statement in an interview that blew me away, “Sometimes I spend hours with one person, and we barely speak. Does that help people in Bosnia, does that help people in Northern Ireland, does it help people in Somalia? I don’t know, but I think it does.” (Nouwen 215) I did not expect his answer to that question. I am so trained to think about achievement, success and accomplishment in terms of quantifiable realities that I completely ignore the reality around me of people, relationships and opportunities to give and receive.
I was also struck by a couple of thoughts from Stanley Hauerwas,
Unless we learn to relinquish our presumption that we can ensure the significance of our lives, we are not capable of the peace of God’s kingdom. (Hauerwas 86)
How much of what I do and what motivates me is an attempt to make my life important and significant. It seems that in North American culture obscurity is the worst possible fate for many, myself included. I want to be recognized for my talents and accomplishments. Nouwen and Hauerwas both unmask this illusion as the foundation of much of our violence. As long as we continue to operate out of these wounds and needs and do not ground ourselves in the peace that goes beyond our own dysfunction, even as we work for peace and justice, we continue to perpetuate patterns of violence and domination in order to meet our needs and heal our wounds.
One more thought on what makes real peace.
When we say we want peace, we mean we want order. Our greatest illusion and deception, therefore, is that we are a peaceable people, nonviolent to the core. We are peaceable so long as no one disturbs our illusions. (Hauerwas 144)
The conversations I have with friends here and elsewhere on ideas that we seriously disagree about tests whether or not I am really a person of peace. Conversations that disturb my illusions or question my version of reality can be very unsettling. This is a big problem if my sense of peace comes primarily from creating an order out of the world around me that makes sense to me, instead of from the One who holds that reality lovingly in divine hands.
I’m continuing to process these thoughts and how best to live them out in my own life. This idea has implications for how we work for change in sustainable agriculture or any other area of life. When we approach the world from a place of prayer and peace, we have something more to offer than only ourselves and can carry more than our weary backs are able.
Holy Trinity image http://dlibrary.acu.edu.au/research/theology/ejournal/aejt_5/farid.htm via Mike Morrell
Thomas Merton image from http://thomasmerton.info/
Teresa of Avila image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_meditation
Prints of the image “Gangster Jesus with a gun” available for sale at http://jaredaubel.com/prints_sale.htm