Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What we need besides prayer

Contemplative nonviolence should be a key to prayer

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.

Years ago, while making a retreat at a contemplative monastery, I met the former abbot and struck up a friendly conversation. He knew of my work for peace and how I had co-authored the Pax Christi "Vow of Nonviolence" and proudly told me how he and three other monks had professed that vow of nonviolence at a liturgy in January 1991, just as the U.S. was embarking upon its first killing spree in Iraq. I was happy to hear this, but then I grew disturbed.

"Only four monks professed the vow of nonviolence?" I asked. "What about the rest of the community (some 30 other monks)?" He put his head down and whispered sadly, "The rest of them were all in favor of the war. They are die-hard, patriotic Americans, and fully supported the killing of Iraqis, and I don't know what to do about it."

These extreme examples highlight our common disconnect between prayer and the spiritual life and our support for war and killing. It's an age-old problem -- from the devout Pharisees who fasted and prayed and were hell-bent on killing those who didn't meet their standards to those pious Christians who burned women at the stake and held slaves to the priests who say Mass at the Pentagon or bless nuclear weapons at Los Alamos, N.M ...Each year before commencement, ROTC cadets gather at the Alumni Memorial Chapel at Loyola University in Baltimore to profess the U.S. military oath (in front of the Blessed Sacrament) in what I call a "Mass for War." midst of wolves," not "wolves sent into the midst of lambs."

There is something radically wrong if we are spending time in prayer, going to church on Sundays, reading the Bible, and at the same time hurting others, supporting war, even actively working for war and weapons manufacturers. Contemplative prayer, as Merton taught, leads us to the God of peace, which means it leads us out of the culture of war to the point that it starts to disarm the roots of war within our own broken hearts.

The contemplative life, therefore, is first and foremost a life of contemplative nonviolence. Contemplative prayer helps us see beyond the lies of the culture of war to recognize every human being on the planet as our sister and brother and to deepen that communion of peace that was given to us by the God of peace. Contemplatives, therefore, are by their very nature peacemakers, not war-makers.

(plz read the full piece if you have time -- I believe if you are a true peacemaker, you may not agree with all of this but in some way you will be comforted.)


  1. For another bit of strong yet hopeful encouragement, you may want to go to:

    One Heart for Peace blogsite --something wonderful just happened last night -- 'round midnight...

  2. Current News backs up the need for just what John Dear is challenging us to do...

    How do we do this in unison -- enough u -- still begs the question.

    Perhaps we need some really powerful, spiritually powerful peace leaders to lead the way across the religious, political divide...and SOON....

    2/5, Michael Isikoff, NBC News, EXCLUSIVE: Justice Department memo reveals legal case for drone strikes on Americans
    2/5, David Swanson, WarIsACrime.org, Justice Department Leaks Memo "Legalizing" Murdering Americans (But Not Some Americans Already Murdered)
    2/5, David Swanson, WarIsACrime.org, First City in U.S. Passes Resolution Against Drones
    2/4, Greg Miller, Washington Post, Senators demand secret memos on targeted killing
    2/4, Larry Neumeister and Eileen Sullivan, Associated Press, Lawyers: NYPD's Muslim spying violates 1985 pact
    2/4, Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times, CIA nominee John Brennan to face tough questions in Senate
    2/4, Alex Marthews, Warrantless, Security Theater on the T: Demonstration Condemns Random Bag Searches
    2/4, Michael Ratner, TheRealNews.com, Zero Dark Thirty, Manhunt and Obama Admin. Justify Use of Torture
    1/19, Rachel Lowry, Deseret (UT) Morning News, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signs declaration establishing Fred Korematsu Day
    To learn more about these and other current events and what you can do to make an impact, visit the People's Blog for the Constitution. There are many ways you can get involved.

    NOt posting the above news items to create more fear and powerlessness...just to take away excuses that YES, we do need to stop hiding our heads in the sand.

    I wish I had time to devote to peace actions of the kind Dear recommends right now...and I don't...but maybe some readers who come here may have some proposals for us all?