Stories Seldom Heard
November 2018 Matthew 5: 9: Part II
“Blessed are they who strive for peace and justice; they shall be called the sons and daughters of God.”
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. I would especially like to welcome the parishioners of St Peter’s Parish, Memphis, Tennessee.
Return to the most human,
Nothing less will nourish the torn spirit,
The bewildered heart,
The angry mind:
And from the ultimate duress,
Pierced with the breath of anguish,
Speak of love.
Return, return to the deep sources,
Nothing less will teach the stiff hands a new way to serve,
To carve into our lives the forms of tenderness
And still that ancient necessary pain preserve.
Return to the most human,
Nothing less will teach the angry spirit,
The bewildered heart;
The torn mind,
To accept the whole of its duress,
And pierced with anguish…
At last, act for love.
~ May Sarton
Like you, this morning, I am grieving: grieving the deaths of the eleven victims who died during Saturday’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation, a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh.
During morning prayer, after we read each person’s name and age, we paused in silent prayer for them and their families. Naming each person helped us absorb the pain and tragedy more personally. We prayed for the many who were wounded in the attack, including first responders and police officers. We also prayed for the suspected murderer, his family, as well as all those who hold hatred and violence in their hearts and minds.
It is shocking to recognize how openly violent our country has become. Over the years many of us have learned a lot about striving to become more nonviolent in our words and actions. This nonviolent journey begins with rethinking some of the things we have been taught. Violence has many tentacles. Because of this, we might need to expand our definition of violence and become aware of the subtle way violence enters our daily lives. It’s hard to be a peacemaker if we use violent words and expressions. It’s hard to teach peace to our children, nieces and nephews when we make angry gestures when someone cuts in front of us on the freeway. It’s hard to have hearts growing in peace when we are prejudiced against a race or religion. It’s difficult to say that we are nonviolent and peace-loving people if we never raise our voices against injustice, violence or prejudice.
Most of us are not going to find ourselves at a nonviolent protest in front of the Federal Building when we hear of our government’s practice of torture. We might not be part of a vigil that stands against the death penalty on the night of an execution. But, we might choose to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper that offers a more informed and just perspective on issues that affect the quality of life and the environment. We might bring a peaceful presence to a heated discussion at the office or at home. We can be a fair judge on the playground or a reconciling voice in an argument. We can veer away from aggressive language and try to build understanding. Considering the escalation of racial and religious prejudice throughout the U. S., we could ask the pastor of our parish or the pastoral staff to be proactive and head off violent behavior. We could suggest some classes on the great religious traditions to increase our understanding of other faiths. We could ask to have some workshops on nonviolence training. Jesus blesses those who hear his words and act on what they hear.
Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace, but division” (Mt. 11:34). What a strange quote or maybe not so strange! It might be something we need to think about. What is the division that Jesus wants us to bring? Does he mean that we need to separate the truth from fiction? Does he mean that we cannot have peace without the truth? If this is what he means, how then, might we bring truth in a nonviolent manner? Can we bring the truth without being aggressive or defensive? Can we disagree without attacking the person with whom we disagree? Do we need to separate ourselves from the way the world often evaluates critical situations that affect the quality of other people’s lives? Do we need to view situations through the lens of gospel values: values that Jesus taught us, values based on love of God and love – that is justice – of our neighbor?
To begin this process of exploring the varied faces of violence, I offer the following definitions of violence, as well as some questions on which to reflect.
Some Working Definitions of Violence
Violence is emotional, verbal or physical behavior that dominates, diminishes or destroys our self, others or the environment.
Violence crosses boundaries without permission, disrupts authentic relationships and separates us from other beings.
Violence is often motivated by fear, unrestrained anger or greed that increases domination or power over others.
Violence can occur even when motivated by the desire for justice. Often those who perpetuate violence do so with the conviction that they are overcoming a prior violence or injustice. Longing to put things right, to overcome an imbalance of power, to end victimization or oppression a person sometimes uses violent means.
Violence can provoke new violence. This spiral of retaliatory violence is often propelled by social or personal scripts that are enacted in situations of conflict.
Violence is responding to a person as an object for self-gratification.
Violence is ignoring or forgetting that there is an infinity behind every human face.
Nonviolence is not an option. It is an obligation.
Some Personal Reflections on Violence/Nonviolence
Of what area of violence are you most aware?
- When did you first realize the diverse levels of violence: physical, domestic, verbal, structural, spiritual and personal violence etc.?
- What kind of violence most disturbs you? Why?
- To what kind of violence are you most prone?
- What kinds of violence have you personally experienced?
- What would be the next step of a nonviolent lifestyle for you?
- What focus or practice do you need to develop to accomplish this goal?
“… at last, act for love.”
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article. “Stories Seldom Heard” is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one’s personal and spiritual life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection.