|Made for the celebration of a friend's work; a friend|
who exemplifies open-hearted living
not of nature,
just the natural flow of human beings,
navigating a world of promise.
Nature's song, sung out of tune.
- from "Nature's Song," Edward D. Currelley
I am moved by the idea that a peacemaker never judges anybody - neither his neighbor close by nor his neighbor far away; neither her friend nor enemy. It helps me to think about peacemakers as persons whose hearts are so anchored in God that they do not need to evaluate, criticize, or weigh the importance of others.
- Henri Nouwen, Peacework
I began reading Peacework after it was used in prayer at work a few weeks ago. As I've been savoring the truth and the challenge Nouwen puts forth, I feel certain this is a book I will return to; this book will likely accompany me to Palestine in a few months.
Last week I was talking to a friend about the troubles of the world, of the violence happening in so many places and what needs to be done to quell it. As he was talking about large-scale solutions and the human instinct to defend, violently if necessary, our loved ones, my mind went to a story I'd recently heard from a friend who had recently returned from Nigeria. I don't remember all the details, but it went something like this:
In a village in an area where Boko Haram was active, villagers lived in fear of what might happen when Boko Haram arrived.
One day two men from Boko Haram entered the village and knocked on the church door. The pastor invited the men in for tea. They accepted, drank tea and talked, maybe for an hour, maybe a few. The conversation was, as far as I know, nothing special, just the kind of conversation anyone might have with guests coming to visit. After some time, the Boko Haram members left through the back door of the church, so that villagers wouldn't see them.
A few weeks later the pastor was travelling with his family and was stopped at a Boko Haram checkpoint. Being stopped like this meant almost certain death. The pastor got out of the car and awaited his fate. Bu t then -
The two soldiers with whom he had shared tea and conversation were working the checkpoint. They recognized him.
"He is a good man. Let him go."
The pastor got back into his car and drove off, his family reunited and safe.
They let him go. Boko Haram, known for brutal killings, inhumane acts, indiscriminate terrorizing, let him go.
They can see their neighbors - whether they are North Americans, Russians, Nicaraguans, Cubans, or South Africans - or members of terrorist groups - as fellow human beings...men and women who need to be listened to, looked at, and cared for with the love of God and who need to be given the space to recognize that they belong to the same human family as we do.
- Henri Nouwen, Peacework
The pastor saw not terrorists, but people. Though he may have been fearful, he did not act out of fear, but from a place of love. Love. He opened his mind and heart to the possibility that there was more to the men at his door than the inhumane acts they carried out. Operating from the depth of who he is, from the depth of who we all are at our core, from the place of ultimate and intimate connection, he invited them in to act like humans. And they did. I can only imagine that for them it was a relief. Who of us doesn't want to be seen for more than the worst of who we are? Who of us doesn't crave connection? And later in a circumstance of disconnection, a situation where fracture-rupture-pain-death were the modus operandi, those terrorists remembered the pastor's humanity - and their own - and acted accordingly.
...I am allowed to live without the heavy burden of judging others and can be free to listen, look, care, and fearlessly receive the gifts offered to me. And the more I become free from who the other "really" is, the more I feel part of the whole human family stretched out over our planet from east to west and from north to south. Indeed , saying "No" to the violence of judgments leads me into the nonviolence of peacemaking, which allows me to embrace all who share life with me as my brothers and sisters.
- Henri Nouwen, Peacework
This is how I aspire to live. I have quite a way to go. I have so many examples of when I have gotten it wrong, when my decisions have been grounded in fear or judgment, pride or resentment or self-righteousness, but I am learning. I am trying to become more aware of my patterns, so I can create new ones, more beautiful ones, that will ripple out into the world. I am learning to forgive myself when I stumble. I am trying to love better, starting with myself and extending well beyond.
There are times when practicing love - of self and others - comes naturally and times when it is a struggle. During the struggles, I am learning to tell myself that the pains are not fruitless, but rather growing pains, signs that I am stretching into a new embodiment of who I am, allowing the center of my being to expand, opening myself more freely - to sorrow and to joy, to giving and receiving, to filling and emptying. I am learning to live into the rhythms of life, anchoring myself in that which is True, that which is Infinite, that which is Love.
I am learning, ever so slowly, Nature's song, hoping that I might one day sing in tune.