by Fr. John Dear, S.J.
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Long ago, Daniel Berrigan told me a tragic story about being invited to speak to a packed church of cloistered nuns somewhere on the East Coast in 1965. They wanted him to read from his latest book of poetry. He did, but then began to quietly denounce the growing U.S. war in Vietnam. The congregation exploded. “How dare you attack our country?” they shouted. “If we don’t kill those communists, they’ll invade and take over,” they said.
Dan was shocked. Here were holy contemplative women who spent seven hours a day in prayer and liturgy advocating death in another land by our country. How could this be? he thought. How is it that prayerful women can support the worst violence of our most violent men? Why do we compartmentalize our private spiritual life, even our communal prayer life, from our public work in the world and the evil that nations do? Shouldn’t these North American contemplatives be the first to see the children of Vietnam as our sisters and brothers?
For decades now, Dan Berrigan and I have reflected on the shocking disconnect between prayer and peacemaking. We see it every day everywhere we turn, among every one of us, especially our religious leaders. I, too, could tell many stories about devout religious people who are gung-ho with the latest round of killing our nation’s enemies. I’ll share one other story…
One thought on “REFLECTION: Contemplative nonviolence should be a key to prayer”
‘Spiritual life’ is not about the imposition of ideals on reality, even such a noble one as ‘nonviolence’. We are healed and made whole by our surrender to the ‘energy’ of Love, and the incarnation of that energy into our reality personally and collectively. The ability to surrender to Love depends on growth; and how individuals and communities respond will depend on where they are in that growth process. Even Gandhi said that evil should be opposed violently, if people are not strong enough for ‘nonviolence’. There are times when violence is ‘needed’. Look for example at St Joan of Arc; clearly her visions told her to support war against the English. Look at World War II; the Nazi tyranny ceased to be active because of war. But it needs to be recognized that war did not end the evil; violence never does. Only loving does- being in right relationship. Rather than ‘nonviolence’, we need to recognize when things become idols- nationalism, material progress, sensory pleasure, and political power all can become idols- and cease to support them. We need to put the emphasis growing individually and collectively, on living the gospel and loving, loving in and through ‘what is’, and not striving for an ideal of ‘nonviolence’. To BE loving, not to ‘do’ ‘nonviolence’.