by Fr. John Dear, SJ
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
A few weeks ago, I spent a lovely Saturday morning speaking on “Thomas Merton and the Wisdom of Peace and Nonviolence” at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in southern Illinois. We had a good conversation on the connection between Merton’s writings on contemplation, prayer and meditation; his thoughts on nonviolence, disarmament and peace; and what it all means for us today. Then we did something unusual. We went for a walk together in silence. We were trying to practice the resurrection life of peace.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist peacemaker and friend of Merton, has been teaching “mindfulness walking” for years, but we rarely hear of Christians who practice this simple exercise. More than 100 of us walked out of the conference center in pairs very slowly, trying to be conscious of our breath, our steps, our thoughts, our feelings and our surroundings. We walked for 30 minutes to a small garden with a large statue of Jesus in prayer at Gethsemane and then slowly back to the conference center.
The goal was simply to experience the ordinary holiness of prayerful peace. By walking slowly in silence with others, we inadvertently encourage one another to be fully aware of our breathing, our walking, our prayer, our peaceableness. Try it, and you’ll find how rewarding it is.
Mindfulness walking is a good exercise in the day-to-day practice of nonviolence. It forces us to slow down — literally — and to notice the trees, the bushes, the flowers, the sky and the birds, as well as to notice the resistance within us and how far short of “everyday peace” we fall…