On April 28, 2018 Jim Forest delivered a 2-part lecture called “Becoming a Peacemaker” at Voices for Peace, an ecumenical conference held in Toronto and sponsored by the Anglican Church of the Redeemer, the Henri Nouwen Society, Citizens for Public Justice, and the Basilian Centre for Peace and Justice. In the promotion for the conference Mr. Forest was described as preparing to “speak on the spirituality of peacemaking and the framework for non-violent resistance to evil.” The present brief reflection is a snippet from his lecture.
At the absolute core of Christ’s teaching is the commandment to love God and to love our neighbor, not one or the other but both, with the understanding that our neighbor is whoever is standing in front of us. This sometimes turns out to be our enemy—someone we would rather avoid, maybe someone we even wish were dead.
All the people who have helped me see the way ahead in my own life put great stress on love, with a special emphasis on love of enemies.
The key word is love. Peacemaking is the work of love, Henri Nouwen put it very simply.
To understand love of others, including love of irritating neighbors and dangerous adversaries and intellectual opponents and politicians who make our blood boil, you first need to unsentimentalize the word. You have to understand love in its biblical meaning. For Jesus, love is not a feeling. Love is not an inebriating emotional high, or rejoicing in an intense romantic relationship. Love is how you relate to others, no matter how you happen to be feeling at a particular moment. You don’t stop caring for others—that is, doing what you can to help keep them alive—because you’re tired or don’t feel like it or are having a bad day.
Think of an exhausted parent awoken at three in the morning by a crying infant who, even after being held and fed, its diaper changed, carried and stroked and rocked and sung to, refuses to stop crying. It’s not a time when one feels grateful for the child or glad to be a parent. Ignoring irritated feelings, you do what is needed and do it gently and patiently. This is an image of actual love.
If you want to work at being a Christian and taking up Christ’s commandment to love, for starters it means not killing anyone, enemies included, even if in your heart of hearts you wish they were dead.
Jesus was not a romantic. He didn’t live in a Christmas card world. He did not look at the world through rose-colored glasses. He did not lead an insulated life. He was no stranger to enmity. Probably there was no Jew in those days who hadn’t seen a naked man nailed to a cross and slowly dying. From His birth onward, Jesus lived a life of daily proximity to mortal enemies, yet He never threatened or endangered anyone’s life. But that doesn’t mean He was passive.
For example, He once chased moneychangers out of the Temple in Jerusalem, but the only person’s life He put at risk in doing so was His own. If you see Christ as giving clues regarding the sort of person you would like to become, then not only will you not kill anyone but you will seriously try to love them and even be prepared to die for them. One of Daniel Berrigan’s most striking declarations was: If you want to be a Christian, you had better look good on wood.
Love doesn’t exclude outrage. Love and outrage are sometimes as woven together as a strand of DNA. Daniel Berrigan’s many acts of civil disobedience were animated by, as he put it “outraged love.” “Outraged” is an adjective here; the key word is “love.” Love opens the way for conversion. But outrage without love is a blind alley.
We live in a time when there is far more outrage than love. So many zones in social media are sewers of outrage. But love clears the air.
“Our job,” Merton wrote, “is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy, if anything can.”
Jim Forest has devoted many decades of his life to the cause of peace. He serves currently as the international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and has authored and edited books on the subject of world peace. These include his recent At Play in the Lions’ Den: A Biography and Memoir of Daniel Berrigan; The Root of War is Fear: Thomas Merton’s Advice to Peacemakers, which won the International Thomas Merton Society‘s Louie Award; Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment; and Ladder of the Beatitudes. He is a reader at St. Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam. He writes regularly for Orthodoxy in Dialogue.
Photo Credits: Cassidy Hall
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Christus is opgestaan! Hij is waarlijk opgestaan!