More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


Creating a Culture of Peace

Sr. Chris Koellhoffer, IHM
IHM Center, Scranton, PA
March 14, 2001

The following reflection was offered at a Lenten evening prayer at the IHM Center. The gathering was one of a series of reflections centered on the needs of the world as articulated in the 2001 declaration of the International Union Superiors General.

"From these wounds, a new way"

Isaiah 11:1-4;9-10

I bring greetings of peace from the Metro NY area. Every day since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th, our daily papers have carried obituaries, details of memorial and funeral services, stories of recovery workers digging, day and night and sometimes with bare hands, to find the remains of one more loved one. Every day, the discussions of a suitable memorial and the dangers of the air we're breathing remind us that life is forever changed.

I've found myself sighing often these days, and sighing deeply.

It's a sigh that the Guatemalan poet Julia Esquivel described when she wrote:

"When it is necessary to drink so much pain,

When a river of anguish drowns us,

when we have wept many tears

and they flow like rivers from our sad eyes,

only then

does the deep, hidden sigh of our neighbor

become our own."

This sigh is a prayer for peace, a collective sigh, a sigh of solidarity. It's a reminder that we've unwillingly joined the sad company of so many of our sisters and brothers throughout the world who live with terrorism and violence as their everyday neighbors.

And I pray it every day when I look out my window in Jersey City and see that great raw scar on lower Manhattan, the deep wound that was once the World Trade Center. With every look, I sigh and pray, "From these wounds, a new way."

Pope John Paul II in his World Peace Day address this year looked at the wounds of our world and urged us to live from our hope–our hope that, by the grace of God, a world in which the power of evil seems once again to have taken the upper hand will in fact be transformed into a world in which true peace will prevail.

To imagine such a world is a challenge, isn't it, but then, imagination is the first act of peacemaking.

This is what the reading from Isaiah–that we traditionally hear in Advent–speaks about. "A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots."

Walter Brueggemann calls this "stump" any closed-off possibility, any place that has failed and collapsed and ended in despair. He says Isaiah imagines that God can and does raise up new life where none seemed possible. Every such raising up of a "stump" is a miracle, and it is this miracle that makes peacemaking possible.

The stump marks the spot where life has been cut off, where force has been used to destroy. It's a wound of sorts, isn't it? And I'd like to suggest that in creating a culture of peace, we use our woundedness, not as a rallying point for revenge and retaliation, but as an opening or occasion for a new vision. "God can create openings for peace where only obstacles and closures are apparent." (Pope John Paul II, World Day for Peace, 2002). From these wounds, a new way...

We can look at the wounds of our world and be paralyzed or overwhelmed. They're everywhere, and so many! So the question for us as peacemakers becomes, What can our wounds teach us? The challenge of peacemaking is to break out of the old patterns of response, to find a way where there is no way: to choose not to respond with vengeance; to speak out for forgiveness and reconciliation at the same time we call for justice; to refuse to let evil have the final word. In creating a culture of peace, we need to dream, and our wounds can help

Miriam Therese MacGillis says that "...the first and foremost task of the peacemaker is not to fight death, but to call forth, affirm and nurture the signs of life wherever they become manifest." This is the Reign of God at work, and I'd like to lift up some signs of God's reign unfolding in creating a culture of peace today.

From these wounds, a new way...

• And so, we pray:

We pray for peace, we open our hearts to the inroads of God's power to renew all things. We come together in prayer today to oppose and to create: to oppose the perpetuation of war and violence and the root causes of war. And to create–to lift up creative, alternative ways for making peace.

From these wounds, a new way...

• And so, we disarm:

Into a world as torn as ours came the Jesus of the gospels. He made his own wounded, broken body the way to liberation and new life. His response to the wounds of his world was the new way of nonviolence. He invites all who work for peace to embrace this new way, to make visible here and now God's response to death and violence.

Could there be anything more radical and countercultural than saying, "I refuse to let my life add to the violence already wounding our world. I reject violence in word, attitude, thought, action. I choose instead to disarm my heart–to lay down my weapons of hate, vengeance, dominance, greed"? In our bleeding world, wherever persons pledge their lives to this kind of disarmament, a culture of peace is being created.

From these wounds, a new way...

• And so, we forgive:

Amber Amundson is now a single parent because her husband, Craig, was killed in the attack on the Pentagon. She insists, though, that "our grief is not a cry for war." In an open letter to President Bush, she wrote, "I do not want anyone to use my husband's death to perpetuate violence...I do not want my children to grow up thinking that the reason so many people died following the Sept. 11 attacks was because of their father's death. I want to show them a world where we love and not hate, where we forgive and not seek out vengeance..."

From these wounds, a new way...

• And so, we legislate:

Months before the Sept. 11 attacks, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio introduced legislation to create a Department of Peace. He imagines a cabinet-level department dedicated to peacemaking and calling for alternative, nonviolent means to address global conflict. His proposal includes working with students in peaceful conflict resolution skills, and creating a Peace Academy to parallel our current military academies.

From these wounds, a new way...

• And so, we dedicate:

In 2001, the United Nations proclaimed the beginning of a decade for a culture of peace and nonviolence for the children of the world. The purpose of this decade, which comes to an end in 2010, is to make the children of the world more aware of the real, practical, and needed benefits of nonviolence in their daily lives.

From these wounds, a new way...

• And so, we dialogue:

After the attacks of Sept. 11th, the U.S. Catholic bishops issued a pastoral letter, "Living with faith and hope after Sept. 11th." In response to their invitation to dialogue about the appropriate response to the U.S. war on terrorism, hundreds of peacemakers–including our own IHM leadership team, many of our sisters, friends, and co-workers–signed on to the statement, "A Catholic community responds to the war living with faith and hope." This is a public witness to how seriously we take the Gospel challenge and seek, practice and pursue peace through just and nonviolent means.

From these wounds, a new way...

• And so, we are ready:

There's a legend that a Rabbi came upon Elijah the prophet and asked him,

"When will the Messiah come?"

Elijah replied, "Go and ask him yourself."

"Well, where is he?" asked the Rabbi.

"Sitting at the gates of the city."

"How shall I know him?"

Elijah answered, "The Messiah is sitting among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time, and then bind them all up again. But the Messiah unbinds his wounds one at a time, saying to himself:

'Perhaps I shall be needed. If so, I must always be ready.'"

Our God, the God of peace, is with us here and now, binding up the wounds of our world. As we struggle to dream peace in the midst of our brokenness, let us also be ready to act from these wounds into a new way.