Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” In a world wracked with war and violence, who is making peace? Who are the peacemakers?
As Christians, we often neglect our call to peacemaking. We say foolish things like “war is inevitable” and “peace is a dream.” Being rooted in Christ should suggest to us otherwise; it should tell us not only that peace is a possibility but also that it is a reality. Death has been overcome by life. And it is our responsibility to reflect and protect life, in all its forms.
Are we, as Christians, committed to peace, regardless of our various opinions? To gain some insights on peacemaking, we would be wise to hear the voices of Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton. Both men agreed that being a Christian means being a peacemaker. They maintained that it’s not optional—you cannot flock to Christ and ignore or resist His work of peace. Eventually, you will have to break down and allow the seed of peace to take root in your heart. That, or you can leave Him and hang on to a pale illusion of what you perceive to be Christ.
[PART 1: THE WOUNDED HEALER]
Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest and respected intellectual, having taught at the Universiy of Notre Dame, Harvard and Yale. His writings on peace give us a good, biblically based framework for what it means to be a peacemaker.
Nouwen emphasized that prayer is the beginning of all peacemaking. “Prayer is the beginning and the end, the source and the fruit, the core and the content, the basis and the goal for all peacemaking.” Because true and pure peace is found in God alone, Nouwen pointed out that it only makes sense to enter into communion with the Source of that peace.
Often, we fail to recognize this truth. In our desire to prevent needless death, our first response is often to do something—protesting a war, writing letters to politicians or trying to get the people around us to see things the way we see them. A knee-jerk reaction takes place, and we instantly become “activists.” Unfortunately, our activism often means picking up stones and lashing out. We use fear mongering. We become frantic. We forget the One who is peace.
Nouwen pointed out that the use of fear is the most tempting force in peacemaking; however, panic, fear and anxiety are not part of peacemaking because peacemaking is the work of love. The Christian activism begins not by getting out and doing something, but by doing nothing—by being still and allowing the love and peace of God to bring light to the dark corners of our hearts.
Resisting the forces of death is also important. Writing in the middle of the Cold War, Nouwen said that he had no choice but to say “no” to the forces of death manifested in the arms race—an arms race that “causes millions of people to spend their lives in the service of destructive weapons and other millions to suffer starvation.”
Finally, Nouwen said that we must always, no matter what, celebrate life in all its forms. It is so easy to pick up a newspaper and get depressed or angry at what is going on in the world. When we do this, we become victims of death because we give death the attention it wants. We allow it to control us. Nouwen writes, “Only a loving heart, a heart that continues to affirm life at all times and places, can say ‘No’ to death without being corrupted by it.”
Above all, we need to celebrate the Life of God that surrounds us and is within us. Nouwen writes, “The first and foremost task of the peacemaker is not to fight death but to call forth, affirm, and nurture the signs of life whenever they become manifest.”
[PART 2: GOD’S SILENT LOUDSPEAKER]
“There is one winner, only one winner, in war. That winner is not justice, not liberty, not Christian truth. The winner is war itself.”
Thomas Merton penned these words from a Trappist monastery in Kentucky where he, having taken the monastic vows, felt the need to speak out on a wide range of political, social and spiritual issues.
Merton’s works on peace were written during both the Cold War and the Vietnam War. Although the external circumstances have changed somewhat, the biblical principles that Merton explored are as relevant for us today as ever.
Many Christians hold the belief that God is peace, but war is inevitable; therefore, we can’t really do anything about it but offer up a few wishy-washy prayers to God and live like we’ve always lived. To this kind of thinking (or lack of thinking altogether), Merton presented a challenge: “It does not even seem to enter our minds that there might be some incongruity in praying to the God of peace, the God Who told us to love one another as He had loved us, Who warned us that they who took the sword would perish by it, and at the same time planning to annihilate not thousands but millions … It may make sense for a sick man to pray for health and then take medicine, but I fail to see any sense at all in his praying for health and then drinking poison.”
While Merton, like Nouwen, emphasized the need for prayer in peacemaking, he despised the insincere prayer for peace. He called it “mocking God”—praying for “peace” and then spending billions of dollars on instruments of destruction. Merton even went as far as to say that if men sincerely wanted peace, God would give it to them. “But why should He give the world a peace which it does not really desire?” Merton asked.
Finding a sense of solidarity with other dissidents of his day, Merton praised the work of Noam Chomsky and others for critically examining the actions and motives of Western governments. Merton recognized clearly the moral hypocrisy of the West. As Chomsky has repeatedly pointed out, it is an elementary moral principle that we must apply the standard we apply to others to ourselves as well, and vice versa. We tend to neglect this and resort to fictional thinking about the terrible “badness” of the bad guy and the contrasting “goodness” of us, the good guy.
Merton suggested that there is a truth that will help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: “that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggressivity and hypocrisy.”
A prayer written by Thomas Merton was read in the House of Representatives on April 12, 1962. A short portion reveals Merton’s faith in God and his passion for peace:
Grant us prudence in proportion to our power,
Wisdom in proportion to our science,
Humaneness in proportion to our wealth and might.
And bless our earnest will to help all races and peoples to travel, in friendship with us, along the road to justice, liberty and lasting peace.
[Jeremy Klaszus is a 20-year-old journalism student from Calgary, Canada. He currently works on a landscaping crew sweating in the sun and thanking God for the beautiful gift He has given the world in nature.]
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