To study the theological basis for Gospel nonviolence, there's no better place to start than the groundbreaking works of my friend Jim Douglass -- The Nonviolent Cross, Resistance and Contemplation, Lightning East to West, and The Nonviolent Coming of God.
On the Road to Peace
The prophet Isaiah wrote long ago that the nations of the world must one day climb the mountain of God. There, on the mountaintop, God will instruct them in God's ways. They will learn what God wants them to do. Then, they will proceed back down the mountain, where they will immediately dismantle their weapons, share their resources with one another and live in peace one another and all creation (Isaiah 2:2-5).
Before Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, she spent 20 years teaching well-to-do secluded high school girls as a Sister of Loreto in India. Then one day, while riding the train to Darjeeling to make her annual retreat, in a moment of "intimate prayer with Jesus," as she later described it, she heard a voice tell her to leave the order and serve "the poorest of the poor." She obeyed, and for the rest of her life, she lived with that intimate prayer, served the poorest of the poor and walked with Jesus. As all the world knows, she helped tens of thousands of dying people, missioned thousands more into the life of loving discipleship and inspired millions around the globe.
When I first met Daniel Berrigan, I wanted his advice about the life that lay ahead for me, but I didn't know exactly what to say. "What's the point of all this?" I finally asked him.
Dan took my awkward question seriously. "All we have to do is make our lives fit into the story of Jesus," he said. "We have to get our lives to make sense in light of the Gospel."
Hundreds of thousands of people opposing the war took to the streets last week in Washington and many other places. I was in Los Angeles at the time and joined a march there. Destination: the L.A. Federal Building. There we were addressed by Cindy Sheehan and Ron Kovic, inspiring speakers both.
In 1991, as the U.S. bombed Baghdad, the phone rang at the Jesuit community house in Oakland where I was living. It was an English professor at Stanford. Would I speak about peacemaking to her classes? she asked. Of course, I answered. In particular, she asked that I might speak against the war on Iraq, and help them launch a chapter of Pax Christi. Fine, I said. We spoke for several minutes more before I asked her name. "Denise Levertov," she answered.
I think we've entered well into Orwell's nightmare of a post-modern, post-Christian era of permanent war. We have a war president, a Congress that writes blank checks for war, an enthralled media that trumpets war, a sheepish citizenry that lets itself get fleeced for war, churches that confer their blessings on war, and courts that legalize weapons and imprison those who say no to war. Our war isn't only permanent, but universal -- we make war on the poor, on children, on the earth, on humanity, on God.
over the years, in my search for clues as to the ways of the God of peace, I've inquired of a great many people about their experience of God. Jesuits, religious, monks, prisoners, street people, and on occasion or two, spiritual leaders such as Dom Helder Camara, Mother Theresa, Cesar Chavez, and Phil and Dan Berrigan. I've spent countless hours with books -- Gandhi's books, Dorothy Day's, Oscar Romero's -- the questions always before my eyes: How do the great ones experience God? What of the marginalized ones? What more can I learn of this God who calls us to make peace?
Just before Christmas, Daniel Berrigan and I spent an evening with Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr at the new Catholic Worker house in Albuquerque, N.M. A blizzard swirled outside, and the conversation inside swirled nearly as briskly. Dan and I had spent the day touring Los Alamos. And we came away shocked by business as usual, an entire culture, a worldview, a way of being, built around the Bomb.
New Year's weekend brought three and a half feet of snow to the mesa high in the New Mexico desert where I live. So I've been sitting by a fire, trying to keep warm, reading and reflecting, enjoying the silence and solitude. The beginning of a new year is a good time for resolutions, but I think, given the world, we need more than resolutions, even good intentions -- we need solemn, religious vows, a whole new commitment to God's way of peace and love.