Thursday, December 22, 2005

Peace on Earth

Soon I will embark on holiday travels, and so I wanted to wish my readers Happy Holidays! Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year -- today the days begin to get longer again. The light slowly returns. Darkness does not last forever.

When I read through my students' final projects, I found myself feeling heartened. Despite all that is troublesome in the world, there is always new life, new creativity, new hope coming forth. It is a real privilege to be let in to glimpse the growth, development, and creativity of my students. I watch their clarity and confidence grow. And I feel hopeful for the future. My students care. They are searching, earnestly, for positive and helpful ways to engage the world and its problems. They are full of energy, ideas, and love.

There is hope.

So, my semester ends; I now face the holiday season glad to travel and reunite with family. But I also enter the holiday season in an attitude of continuing prayer, for all who feel taken hostage, for all who feel trapped, for all who struggle, for whatever reasons, to live freely the full loving truth of who they most truly are. I pray for the melting of whatever forces hold them captive. I pray for the release of their best selves into the true freedom of love.

I pray, as always, for peace on earth.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Continuing to Pray for the CPT Hostages

I have been continuing to pray for the Christian Peacemaker Team hostages. I have found it very interesting how hard it is to find information in the U.S. press about the situation. British and Canadian news sources have been more helpful. For this situation, I use the Free the Captives site as my starting point for the latest updates. The links from this site take one to many very interesting (and sometimes disturbing) places.

I pray both for the hostages and for their captors.

What does prayer mean? Does it really do anything? What exactly does it mean, to pray?

I find this almost too personal to write about, but I do feel that it might be helpful if I shared some of my own thoughts on prayer. I do have a very strong sense that prayer is very important, and can make a significant difference.

I also think that prayer cannot be too specific. When I find myself begging God for something really specific, I have to admit to myself that that doesn't really feel like true prayer. Prayer is not about our getting our way. Prayer is not about "convincing" God that we should get what we want. These kinds of moments don't actually feel very powerful -- they don't feel like true prayer.

The most powerful moments of prayer I've had have been very different. They feel more like I become a lens that gathers and focuses light and directs it to where I think it is most needed. I surround those I care about with this light. In that light, I myself seek, gently, and humbly. I seek to understand; I seek to feel what others feel; I look for what they most need, and then try to send light to what they need. I don't presume that I get it right -- but I still try. I look for their pain, their fear, their blocks. I send the light to melt away the fear and release healing, empowering, creative energy to where they most need it.

So, for example, I try to send the hostages strength, courage, a sense of their dignity and value, and creativity to help them keep trying to find effective ways to respond to their predicament from moment to moment. I don't really know what things are like for them, and so there are limits to how vividly I can focus my prayers. But still, I can envelop them in the light of love.

I pray for their captors too. Again, there are limits to how much I can understand them. Prayer is always humble. While I am tempted, here, to resort to a begging kind of prayer: "Let them go!" instead I discipline myself to try to think into the psychology of the captors: their concerns, their motivations, their anger. My prayer for them is that they move beyond their anger into a kind of openness that will allow them to see that of God in those they hold hostage, and come to realize how wrong it would be to kill them. In this, I envelop the captors too in light and love. In the love is a hope that they can be prevented from doing something awful that they might later regret; in the love is a hope that if they responded differently to this situation, they and everyone watching this situation could learn new and more effective ways to address the very real injustices in the world. They have staged a dramatic event. They have captured the attention of many concerned people around the world. They are in a position of power. In such power, there is enormous potential, both for great harm, and for great good. They must realize this. This may be why they pause.

In the suspense, there is great hope. This is the time to pray, and to keep praying. I do very much sense that prayer really can make a difference.

And so most of all my prayer is for everyone concerned to keep trying to discern the best way to proceed: trying to discern with openness and humility; listening carefully at every moment; looking for that of God; looking for the creative response that can release the powers of transformative goodness.

That, most of all, is my prayer.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Courage of Peacemaking

Like many others, I have been dismayed that members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams have been taken hostage in Iraq by a group called the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. Martin Kelley has compiled good web sources of information and commentary. There are two commentaries I would especially like to reflect on.

Johan Maurer on Can You Believe? in his entry "Define 'reckless'" notes:

A New York Times story (November 29) included the following assessment: "A human rights advocate in Baghdad, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Christian Peacemaker Teams have acted with reckless disregard for their own safety by moving unprotected through communities generally hostile to the foreign presence."

And Johan's response, in part, was:

Everything we have heard from participants in the Christian Peacemaker Teams demonstrates that their "disregard for their own safety" was anything but reckless. (If I understand correctly, "reck-less" means "without reckoning.") ... My interpretation of their reckoning: There is no true community and no true security outside the realm of love.

I very much appreciate Johan's response.

The whole notion of peacemakers having "reckless disregard for their own safety" reveals such a deep misunderstanding of what peacemaking is all about. What if a reporter was writing instead about more U.S. military deaths in Iraq, and added, "the U.S. soldiers acted with reckless disregard for their own safety"? It may be a true statement. It may be that war, by definition, is the most extreme form of acting "with reckless disregard for one's own safety." Yet if that sentence were published, imagine the outrage! "We can't blame the soldiers! We can't blame the U.S. military! Soldiers are brave! They are willing to risk their lives for service to their country! They are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice!" would likely be the predominant response from the U.S. public.

Soldiers, we know, are trained to courage. They know they face the risk of injury or death. And so we do not regard their facing danger as "reckless."

The question that has most haunted me about peacemaking is: "How is it possible to have the courage to be willing to walk straight into conflict unarmed?" Because of course peacemakers too know that they are taking a risk. Peacemakers have to have every bit as much courage as soldiers, if not more -- because, after all, peacemakers remain unarmed.

This relates now to the next posting I would like to respond to: Zach Alexander on A quaker anarchist wrote in Testimony to Peace about the courage required to engage in peacemaking work, and personally struggles with the challenge of this. He sees how necessary it is that some be willing to do this kind of work, take on this kind of risk. He sees the potential power of requiring young people to engage in such work. And yet, he wonders at the potential cost -- what he might sacrifice in terms of dreams about his own life, and what the world might lose if he got killed instead of going on to make a difference in some larger, more significant way.

These hugely important questions require careful discernment. I believe that each of us is called differently in life. Some are called to work actively (and at great personal risk) for peace. Others are called to contribute to the world in different ways. And callings may change throughout one's life.

But the question of courage is an especially important one, requiring special attention. Courage cannot simply be willed. Nor is it something that one either is born with or not. Courage requires cultivation. And the cultivation of the kind of courage required for effective peacemaking can take time.

The military knows this, and trains people in courage. I'm assuming that many peacemaking organizations do so as well (though differently from how the military does it!) Those that don't really need to do so.

And we as individuals can learn ways to cultivate our own courage, and can support each other in doing so. An important part of cultivating courage is to develop the habit of facing our fears fully, and thinking in advance about how we might respond if fearsome things happen to us. Fearsome events catch us by surprise and focus our attention very narrowly on self-protection. An important part of nonviolent courage is learning how to widen perception back out to some form of "caring" for "the enemy" as well, and looking for the creative response that would not only protect oneself, but protect the "enemy" from doing something terrible that they might later regret.

So, I pray for Tom Fox, Norman Kember, James Loney, and Harmeet Singh Sooden to find courage. I pray that they seek ways of responding to their predicament that would be disarmingly transformative. I pray that their captors come to realize what amazing people these are, and how tragic it would be if they killed them. I pray for some surprise outcome that ends up dramatically and positively furthering the cause of peace in the world.