26 June 2009

Peacemaking Begins Within

In Admonition 15, we read the following:
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God. The true peacemakers are those who preserve peace of mind and body for love of our Lord Jesus Christ, despite what they suffer in the world.
What would it be like if we responded to suffering by preserving "peace of mind and body"? Our response seems to be to let it overwhelm us or to make our suffering the excuse to let everything revolve around our personal drama. Hence the cult of victimhood.

As a priest, it is often my role to invite others to take responsibility for their suffering, rather than confirming them in it. We ought to be compassionate, but some forms of kindness can kill. How do we challenge in a spirit of humble love?

There are forms of suffering that are truly overwhelming. Here we can only suffer with the other. This is the wisdom of Nouwen's Wounded Healer, which too often has been abused to support clerical narcissism and poor personal boundaries around self disclosure. To much empathy and identification robs the other of his or her grief. Here too we need to preserve peace of mind and body. The other needs to lean upon our strength. Strength may be made perfect in weakness and vulnerability, but it is still strength, not being overcome by the suffering of the other, which is truly a form of self-centeredness. We need a strong sense of self to give ourself to the other, without blurring the distinctions between us. Appropriate tears, shed for the other, can still come from a place of strength. Appropriate self disclosure, with discretion, can be empowering. We must ever be on guard, lest we reduce the other to an extension of our self.

The nonanxious presence comes from a place of deep peace before God and rootedness in Christ. The self-differentiation of which Friedman speaks demands spiritual growth through a life of prayer and discipline (ascesis). True pastoral care depends on an active spiritual life, one that involves both profound self-acceptance and docility to the sanctifying work and leadings of the Spirit. No one is equal to this task. By grace, we see it in fragmentary ways. Even a slight improvements in our interior state can have a ripple effect throughout the communities we are called to serve.

I also think that this quote from the Admonitions points us to a truth that activists often forget, one that both Martin Luther King and Gandhi new quite well. Self-purification is the precondition for nonviolent struggle. There's a Pelagian way of reading that principle. I want no part of it. It might be better to say that inner peace through the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit is the precondition for nonviolent struggle. True peacemaking begins within, and the Holy Spirit is the bond of peace.

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