I've been reading the new collection, Thomas Merton: A Life in Letters, (Harper One, 2008) a gathering of his “essential” letters, to mark Dec. 10, the 40th anniversary of Merton’s death. On the tenth of this month, I offered the Dharma talk at Upaya Zen Monastery near Santa Fe, New Mexico. As Buddhist teachers do, I began the lecture by invoking one of my teachers, in this case, Merton, the peacemaking monk. I’m astonished that he continues to inspire and challenge me and so many others.
On the Road to Peace
Last week after speaking in Baltimore, I spent the night at Jonah House, the long time peace community that embodies the Gospel message of love and nonviolence. They live it out constantly in the form of nonviolent resistance to war and nuclear weapons. It was a blessing beyond measure to share stories with my friends there, to pray through the Advent readings, and to experience again their community of hope and peace. Jonah House remains for me one of the brightest beacons of hope in the country.
Advent begins this year in Mark's Gospel with Jesus' command to wake up, stand on guard, be on the look out, and keep watch. It's a strong reminder, perfect for such fearful times as these. As we begin this holy season of preparation, renewal, and prayer, we're urged to awake from the American nightmare, deepen our contemplative roots in Advent nonviolence, reclaim our souls, restart our search for the God of peace, get ready for Jesus and prepare for his Christmas gift of "peace on earth," with all its glorious social, economic and political implications.
Thousands of us gathered this weekend, Nov. 21-23, for the annual funeral procession at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., there to call for the closing of the notorious "School of Assassins," where the United States trains the Latin American death squads that, over the past few decades, have killed thousands. We gather there each year around Nov. 16 -- the anniversary of the massacre of the Jesuits in El Salvador. This year, the sole Jesuit at the University of Central America to have survived the attack, liberation theologian Jon Sobrino, was our guest of honor.
Last Tuesday, the U.S. bishops' conference gathered at the Marriott in Baltimore. There they were invited to a dinner hosted by U.S. military chaplains. This piqued my curiosity, so I called the U.S. bishops' conference in D.C. "Yes," I was told, "that was the annual dinner for the bishops; the military puts it on. If you want more information, call the Pentagon."
This weekend, Barack Obama just freshly elected, I joined 2,500 Catholics at the annual Call to Action conference in Milwaukee. A spirit of hope hovered in the air. And in the air, too, was a general agreement that, the election notwithstanding, our work must continue. We need to keep pushing for an end to the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. We still need to work to eradicate poverty, hunger, disease, corporate greed and environmental destruction. We still need to work for a more just society. Shortly put, we too have to be hopemakers, and carry on the hard work of making our hope -- a world of peace -- come true.
What a boost it was to spend All Saints' Day in Boston, just before the election, with hundreds of Pax Christi friends, all of us reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount. And what a privilege to speak about A Persistent Peace, my recent autobiography, at St Paul's on Harvard Square, to be introduced by one of Harvard's brightest stars, my old friend Dr. Paul Farmer, a doctor who reinvented international healthcare as a call to abolish poverty. Dr. Paul, a living saint.
As the election approaches, economies worsen, wars go on relentlessly, nukes are poised on alert, and hundreds of millions starve and die in poverty, it's clear what's at stake -- the material world is tottering. But there's far more at stake than that, I submit. Peril is rippling through the waters of our spiritual depths. We have long been beset by our own greed and violence. And now our world, our beautiful creation, our very souls are at stake.
Editor's note: A military lawyer who quit his post at the Guantánamo detention facility acted after he was advised to do so by pacifist priest and NCR columnist, Jesuit John Dear. He explains in his Oct. 21st column how he responded to an email from Lt. Col. Darrel Vandevelde, a Catholic, with a troubled conscience. The Dear column follows.
A few months ago, I received a surprising and moving e-mail from Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, a military lawyer who has been prosecuting detainees at Guantanamo for over a year. He had, he said, "grave misgivings" about what was happening at Guantanamo, the trials, and U.S. policy. What advice did I have to offer? I dashed off a reply to this effect: "Quit."
This week I spoke about A Persistent Peace, my just published autobiography, in Portland, Berkeley, Burlingame, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and Phoenix. And at each gathering folks lamented the economic crisis, the ongoing U.S. war in Iraq, and global warming. Fear and confusion hung on the air, but I discerned beneath the surface a great longing for God, and more than that -- a restless search, a search common to all of us: Who is this God who calls us to love and serve? Where is God in such times as these? Is this a God of peace? And this: how dare we hope for a peaceable God when the Hebrew Bible holds aloft a warrior god, a god who unsheathes swords, who releases divine fury and unleashes the Israelites headlong toward vengeance?