Henri Nouwen "Peacemaking & Community" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the executive director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a very special episode of Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Our goal at the Henri Nouwen Society is to extend the rich spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. We invite you to share the daily meditations and these podcasts with your friends and family. Through them, we can continue to introduce new audiences to the writings and the teachings of Henri Nouwen, and we can remind each listener that they’re a beloved child of God.
In this podcast, we have a special treat for you: a recording of Henri Nouwen himself. Forty years ago, Henri Nouwen gave a series of talks to a group of Christian educators in the United States. He’d just returned from a short sabbatical in Switzerland, where he wrestled with what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Today you’re going to hear the last in this series of talks. I’ve found this whole series so challenging and inspiring. Henri Nouwen is on fire with this message.
In this talk, Henri insists that our prayer and resistance as peacemakers must be embedded in community. This is the one way that our peacemaking efforts can be more God-serving than self-serving.
If you missed any of the first three parts in this series, you’ll find links in our show notes. I’m sure you’re going to find this next message inspiring. Enjoy!
Henri Nouwen: Prayer and resistance can only be expressions of Christian peacemaking when they are embedded in community. Without the context of community, prayer and resistance easily degenerate into forms of individual heroism. Thus, they become part of the arrogance of those who are for fighting. When Paul speaks to Timothy about the last days, he warns him: People will be self-centered, arrogant and rude. They will keep up the outward appearance of religion, but will have rejected the inner power of it. Now, we may be quite prayerful and we may be involved in all sorts of resistance, but in a society with so many enemies of everything that is good, as Paul says, even our most religious behavior can become an experience of arrogance that allows us to satisfy our inner cravings under the illusion that we please God. We, too, can easily become, as Paul says, treacherous and reckless and demented with pride, preferring our pleasure to God. Precisely when we are threatened by nuclear extinction, the danger of being deceived by sensation-seekers is so great that peacemaking easily turns into its opposite. Therefore, the house of God’s peace, the divine dwelling-place, has to be visible in a new human community. Only when we belong to a supportive as well as critical community is there a chance that our peacemaking efforts are more God serving than self-serving.
Community, however, is not only the protective context of peacemaking through prayer and resistance. It is also the first realization of the new Heaven and the new Earth. It is not just a means to accomplish peace, it is the place where the peace we search for receives its first form. So, I would like to explore how and when this community of peace emerges, and in which way it gives to resistance and prayer its truly spiritual quality. First, I’m going to talk a little bit about how it emerges, where, what community really is. And secondly, I’m going to show how that community becomes the basis of resistance. And finally, how that community then also becomes the deepest expression of the life of the kingdom, right now.
By the way, I might warn you a little bit in this presentation, because when I read it last night again, I suddenly realized that it’s a presentation that sort of leaves, sometimes, the earth. So, it has visionary moments on it. Suddenly, you don’t know if I’m talking about here or later or ever. It all gets sort of lifted up. At first, I thought that’s bad, but then I realized that Jesus was speaking about the end of Jerusalem and suddenly he was talking about something beyond that. And that’s part of the quality, that somehow, I start thinking that maybe if you think about community, we are in some mysterious way involved in some spiritual visionary thing. So, I’ll just tell you that as a literary warning.
When you walk through the streets and avenues of New York City – maybe also Atlanta, I don’t know – travel on its subways or buses or wait in railroad stations or airports, it hits you how isolated we human beings have become. No words of greetings, no gestures of mutual recognition, not even a smile. People move quickly to some unknown destination. They hide themselves behind a book or a paper. They eat standing alone behind little, one-person tables. They don’t speak much. It seems as if they live in an invisible cage that protects them from their surroundings. Their bodies are tense, their eyes fearful, their whole being suspicious. Streets, subways, buses: They all have become dangerous places where you can be attacked, robbed, raped, knifed and shot, and the air is full of warnings. Be careful. Watch your purse. Hold on tight to your briefcase. Put your money in your socks. Lock your car. Chain your bike and don’t wear real jewelry.
And gradually, we lose trust in our fellow human beings and live our daily lives as if we are in an enemy territory surrounded by people only interested in our destruction. Now, what has happened to our world? It seems that the sovereignties and powers who, as Paul says, originated darkness in this world, the spiritual army of evil, as he says, has invaded our society in such a pervasive way that all of us against our own will have become its victims. We do not want to be afraid of people on the streets, but we are. We do not want to lock our car, bike and house over and over again, but we do. We do not like to warn our parents, our children, our friends, not to go out on the streets alone, but we do. We do not believe that everyone around us is an enemy, but we behave as if they are.
And suddenly, we realize that we have become strangers in our own land, fearful, isolated and very powerless. Instead of self-confident and free, we feel anxious and somehow paralyzed. Instead of hopeful and joyful, we feel an inner emptiness and sadness. The enemy whom we want to keep away with intercontinental ballistic missiles, B-52 bombers, and Trident submarines has already conquered our hearts and minds, and has already been able to divide us among ourselves. And we start to sense that a nuclear arms race is somehow a sign of the tragic death integration of our own society. The higher we build our walls, the more we hide the misery behind them. Our common enemy helps us to avoid facing the fact that there is no longer peace among ourselves. The greatest tragedy of our time is our isolation. Young children feel lonely and unable to find friends, often. And the less ones band together to have some sense of belonging.
Young families don’t know their neighbors. Men and women work in offices with neon lights and metal desks, drink instant coffee in paper cups, eat their lunch out of a plastic bag and often wonder if they make any contribution to life at all. Retired people often feel useless and rejected. Elderly quite often are discarded in nursing homes with an occasional visit as the only consolation. And many who die alone have become the silent witnesses of the all-pervasive isolation that keeps our world in its claws. Many people asked Mother Teresa, should they come to Calcutta? She said, “There’s so much for you to do at home,” she said.
How can we still deny the power of evil? How can we laugh at those who warn that the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour? Now, this is the world in which Jesus Christ entered to bring peace. This is the world in which we are challenged to make the divine peace manifest. If we want to do it alone on our own initiative with our own resources, we only deepen the isolation in which we are caught. Jesus himself did not suggest that we would go out in this world as heroes fighting the demons alone. No. He sent us his Spirit, the divine Spirit which brings us together into one body, a body of very different people, united by the same promise and set free for the same work of peace.
That new body is Christ’s own body, present at all times and at all places. That is the mystery of the Christian community. It is the living Christ bringing his peace to those who want to be free from the isolation, mutual suspicion and fear. Paul expresses the depths of this mystery. Listen to this. He says: The saints – that’s the Christians – together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ. In this way, Paul says, we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the son of God, until we become perfect human beings, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself. Then we shall not be children any longer or tossed one way or another and carried along by every wind of doctrine, at the mercy of all the tricks people play and the cleverness in practicing deceit. If we live by the truth and in love, we shall grow in all ways into Christ, who is the head by whom the whole body is fitted and joined together – every joint adding to its own strengths for each separate part to work according to its function, so that the whole body grows until it has built itself up in love. That’s Paul’s vision of the church, the community.
Now, it is this living body of the Christian community that is able to oppose the powers and principalities that roam around the world. Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourners’ Community, writes: “Forming a community has been the social strategy of the Spirit ever since Pentecost.” And I don’t think he says how it is possible for Christians to confront the things they must confront without community. When peacemakers are not part of community, they are not part of the living Christ and then their peace is a false peace. The emperor Augustus built in Rome what they called the Ara Pacis, the altar of peace, but his peace was the result of the power by which other nations had been subjugated under the rule of the Roman empire. Peace in the Roman empire meant order established with the sword. But that is not the peace of Christ; it is the peace of the powers and principalities. The tragedy is that we Christians often are more familiar with Augustus’s peace than with Christ’s peace. Not seldom do we show with our concrete behavior that we trust the powers of this world much more than the community of faith about which Paul writes.
And Jim Wallis makes this very clear when he says:
“I will ask you the question,” he says. “What is the most social reality of your life? What place or group of people do you feel most dependent upon for your survival? What is your home? Where do you put your weight down? Who are the people? What institution is it for you? And very seldom,” he says, “do people respond by pointing to their community of faith. The answer usually is a political institution that is associated with livelihood, personal advancement or career. And this is most disconcerting, because if Christians are more rooted in the principalities of this world than they are in their community of faith, it’s no wonder we have such a trouble. Clearly, the social reality in which we feel rooted will be the one that determines our values, our priorities. It will most shape and form the way we live. It’s not enough to talk about Christian fellowship while our security is elsewhere. So, we will continue to conform to the values and assumptions of the leading principalities of our society as long as our searching is grounded in them.”
So, that’s what Jim Wallis says. If, then, Christian community is so essential for peacemaking, what then makes us part of such a community?
Now, it’s necessary to remove all associations with places, organizations, denominations. As long as we associate community with the high church club and the parachurch club and <inaudible>, we move away from the real core of community. Christian community is a life of mutual confession and forgiveness in the name of Jesus. Christian community is the faithful fellowship of the weak in which, through a repeated confession and forgiveness of sins, the strength of Jesus Christ is revealed and celebrated. Christian community is the spiritual place where people come together to recognize that Christ is loyal, a recognition which is only possible by willingness to live and share vulnerability. A Christian community is a being gathered of people who manifest the peace of Christ by disclaiming their ability to make peace on their own. It is strength revealed in weakness. It is faith revealed in the recognition of repeated disbelief. It is hope revealed by the honest realization of moments of despair. It is love revealed among the reality of jealousy, suspicion, and distrust. It is joy revealed while sadness is always there, and it is peace revealed with the humble awareness of violence, conflict, and war in our own midst.
Christian community, indeed, is Jesus Christ revealed among us, sinful men and women. And confession and forgiveness therefore stand in the center of Jesus’s mission. John the Baptist points to Jesus as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, and the whole of Jesus’s ministry is the proclamation of God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is the great, divine gift offered to us by Jesus. It’s not a human possibility to forgive sins. “Who can forgive sins but God alone,” Jesus can rightly say, and wherever Jesus goes, he offers this divine forgiveness. He even offers this to them who kill him. It is for the forgiveness of sins that he pours out his blood on the cross and that he sends his disciples into the world. The mission of peace is a mission of ongoing forgiveness of sin. That’s the mission by which fear is overcome and a new order is inaugurated. And this becomes very clear in one of Jesus’s last appearances: When the disciples were gathered together behind closed doors for fear of the Jews, Jesus enters and says, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” And then he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those who sins you forgive, they are forgiven. For those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”
To fulfill this mission, the disciples went out to the whole world, to fulfill this mission of forgiveness. And the forgiveness of sins through Jesus belongs to the core of their message. And Paul even burst out with enthusiasm and he said, “My brothers and sisters, I want you to realize that it’s through Jesus that forgiveness of pure sins is proclaimed.” Something’s happening.
Now this forgiveness of sin also becomes the mark of the Christian community. The willingness to forgive each other is the sign of God’s forgiveness. This is what Jesus himself has made clear. If you forgive others their failings, your heavenly father will forgive you yours, and it is a forgiveness that is not simply a one-time event. No, it’s a never-ending forgiveness, a forgiveness that characterizes the daily life of Christians together. And Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” Jesus says, “No, not seven, I tell you, 70 times seven.”
Now, what then is required to obtain forgiveness? And the answer is repentance. But repentance – and I think it’s important for me to say that here, because sometimes we don’t know what that means. It sounds sort of nice, but it’s not always very helpful. I think repentance means completely the humble confession of our brokenness and sinfulness to one another. That is repentance.
All through the New Testament, we hear the word “repent.” The first words we hear Jesus say, “I repent. I believe in the good news.” And his last words recorded by Luke are: “It is written that Christ would suffer and on the third day arise from the dead, and that in his name repentance for the forgiveness of sin will be preached to all the nations.” So, confession of sins is the concrete form of repentance. Jesus requires, first and foremost, that we start recognizing at least our need for forgiveness.
See, the point is very simple, in a way. You can only receive God’s forgiveness if some way or another you are willing to recognize that you cannot do it on your own. With irony, Jesus says, “I did not come to call the virtuous but the sinners.” Only those who are willing to see themselves as sinners can be open to receive the divine gift of forgiveness. And John says it even more directly. He says, “If we say we have no sins in us, we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth. But if we acknowledge our sins, then God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and purify us from everything that is wrong. And the person who Jesus holds up as an example for his followers is the tax collector who did not boast of his good deeds as the Pharisees did, but beat his heart and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Okay, that is clear that mutual confession and forgiveness are the mark of our life together as Christians, because precisely in this continuous process of confession and forgiveness, we break out of our isolation and reveal the possibility of a new, disarmed way of living. Christians are peacemakers not when they apply some special skill to reconcile people with each other, but when, through the confession of their brokenness, they form a community through which God’s unlimited forgiveness is made visible to this world. And therefore, community emerges wherever and whenever we dare to overcome our fears and confess to each other how much we still belong to the world in which our wounds and our needs pull us back into the darkness of violence and war. Because there and then, in this confession, the light of God’s forgiveness can shine brightly, and true peace can appear.
Sometimes this takes place among friends or among spouses. Sometimes we see it in religious houses. Sometimes it happens between denominations and churches, between people and countries. And then the dividing lines dissolve and the longstanding differences no longer prevent fellowship. And then religious and ethnic background, sex or race, no longer are causes for friction, conflict or war. And every time this happens, community happens and peace happens. And therefore, when the question is asked, “To which community do you belong,” we should be challenged to ask ourselves, “To whom have I confessed my darkness, and who has shared the darkness with me? To whom have I offered forgiveness, and from whom have I received forgiveness?” And these challenging questions will reveal to us where we take peacemaking seriously and where the rigid places are, where we have grown stubborn and very arrogant.
There is no better way to test our commitment to peacemaking than by locating our real community. And maybe we will find that we are not living in community at all. And then we have reason to wonder about the quality of our prayer and our resistance, too. But wherever we find community, we will find a disarmed, non-violent way of being together. The way of life in which the sting of death, as Paul says, is constantly removed and new forces of life made visible. Confession and forgiveness are the spiritual pillars on which the Christian community rests. They are the God-given way to break through the many boundaries of fear that keep us separated from each other and isolate us into our self-protective cocoons.
Every time we have the guts to say, “Brother, sister, I have sinned against God and against you by loving the darkness more than the light, and I ask for forgiveness,” we choose for reconciliation instead of self-defense and we set our feet into the way of peace. It’s not an easy way, since our fears and our sadnesses keep whispering, “Don’t make a fool of yourself. Don’t give the other a chance to get ahead of you. Don’t be so naive to show you weak spot. Be realistic. Keep to yourself and be always ready to defend yourself.”
But this is not the voice of him who emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave. It is the voice that comes out of our darkness and wants to seduce us to build more walls, buy more weapons and to prevent a war by starting one. But still, every time we choose the way of confession and forgiveness, we catch a glimpse of the place that the Lord has prepared for us. Now, there might be small choices: a letter written to restore a broken friendship; a gentle word to an angry friend; an offer to take the last place; a note of praise to a competitor; an invitation to talk; the willingness to make the first move.
It’s very interesting today, you know; Who’s going to make the first move, Andropov or Regan? This is always the first move: a handshake, an embrace, a kiss. There are many other choices that call forth the community of love, and not just between individuals but between people and nations as well. And they are more than goodwill signals. They are the first realization of the new heaven and the new earth we are waiting for.
And now I’d like to discuss how community is the place where the full spiritual significance of resistance and prayer can be seen. You still with me or are you getting tired? I’m getting into this but I hope you are, too. I haven’t wrapped this in the same way, so I hope you’re still with me, okay? Try to. Try to. Don’t fall asleep. I know it’s 2:30.
Okay. Belonging to a community of confession and forgiveness radically changes our lives as resisters, because living in community not only takes away our sense of isolation, but also offers us a new courage and a new confidence. Now, this is what I’d now like to discuss. When we read the daily papers with their grim stories about the world situation, we may come to wonder why our world still exists. Every day, new and more destructive arms are being built, and every day, the increase in national deficits, unemployment and inflation offer new excuses to use them. The news about conflicts and battles in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Poland, Central America, Ireland, Iran, and many African countries, and the horrifying stories about contemporary slavery, execution, mass murders, torture and widespread exploitation of men, women and children, and the many reports about hunger, malnutrition, homelessness of millions of people make us doubt if there is anyone who can avoid a holocaust that puts an end to our human history.
And we are so inundated with bad news day in, day out, and week in, week out, that we easily surrender to a mood of defeatism, resignation, and despair. What we hear, see, and read on radio, on television, and in newspapers is so discouraging that we are constantly tempted to throw our arms up in the air and say the world is running fast to the edge of the cliff, and who can stop it? It’s just a question of years, and then it will be all over. If we won’t see the end, our children will. Why do anything at all, if those who tried, failed? Who are we to think that we can do better?
But defeatism, resignation, and despair are contrary to everything Jesus came for. He came to offer hope. He did not offer optimism based on statistics, political analysis, balance of power, returns, or first-strike capability, but hope based on the promise of God’s forgiveness to all people. And this hope becomes visible in the community of those who believe in God’s power to forgive. This is something quite different from sort of a general expectation that things will work out well, eventually. No, no. It’s the concrete living-out of a faith in the living God. A faith stronger than violence, oppression, hunger, war, or mutually assured destruction.
It is people coming together to work for the new kingdom and to announce the light that darkness could not overpower, as John says. This community is able to resist the powers of death and evil, because this community is the living Christ himself, present in the world. And that is not symbolism. It’s not symbolism to say we are the body of Christ, but the real body was 2,000 years ago. If you believe in the Christian community, you have to believe that as a Christian community, you are the living body of Christ in time and history, now. And therefore, if you believe that Christ overcame the world and that we together are the living Christ, then there is a reason of hope. If not, it has nothing to do with, “Let us do it together, but if we had 20 or 100 or 10,000 together, we can do more.” It has nothing to do with sort of the logic of the world: If you have a lot of people together, we can finally get them, because we are stronger. Nothing of that.
The Christian community is the living representation of the risen Lord. It is a sign of hope precisely since it represents the light that cannot be extinguished and the life that cannot be killed. Belonging to the Christian community is belonging to the risen Christ and thus being free from the powers that rule the world. And thus, the Christian community is really the true source of all resistance. It resists evil by being what it is, not by doing so in particular, but first of all, by being what it is: being Christ. The Christian community is not a group of people who have come together to unify their forces and thus make victory more likely. No. It is the expression of an already won victory. You’ve got to get it in your head, because that’s really important: “I have overcome the world.” Be brave.
Paul says. “Death is swallowed up in victory.” And John tells his disciples, “Anyone who has been begotten by God has already overcome the world.” And it’s the victory already won, of which the Christian community is a witness. It’s not like the Christian community is a bunch of people who are going to do something that needs to be done and hasn’t been done yet. In a deep sense, the Christian community is a living witness of what has all already taken place – that is, the victory over death and over evil.
“Be brave. I have overcome the world.” That’s who you are, the body of the Christ who is risen. The standpoint of the Christian community is not an anxious standpoint, from: “How are we going to do this?” It’s: “How are we going to live out what has already has been accomplished?” That’s a whole . . . as long as you don’t see that, you slip back into anxiety, anguish, darkness in a whole [inaudible]. It is the victory already won of which the Christian community is witness, and the hope of those who belong to the living Christ is the hope rooted in what has already taken place, even if the total fullness of this event has not yet been revealed.
And the Christian community, wherever it emerges, is the emergence of a new world in the midst of the old, of light in the midst of darkness, of life in the midst of death. It is precisely this victorious quality of the Christian community that makes it a true community of resistance. Only as members of that community can our resistance have a real spiritual significance. Otherwise, it’s sort of a fight on the level of those who are for fighting.
Now, how does a community of resistance look like today? Do you have any models? All through history, we have seen how new Christian communities emerged in the response to problems of the time. In the sixth century, the new community of St. Benedict responded to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and offered a new way of thinking and living that would give shape and form to the Europe of the Middle Ages. In the 13th century, we see the Franciscan community develop and set a new tone in response to the wealth and the decadence of the medieval church. And how could we ever understand the issues and problems of our days without the profound influence of the many Christian communities inspired by the reformers and the counter-reformers of the 16th century? Confession and forgiveness may have had different contents during these different periods of history, yet they always led to a new affirmation of the risen Lord, as the Lord of history will conquer the forces of death. That’s the same, always.
Now, how would we respond today? Never before have we been confronted with the power that can end history itself. Never before have we been asked to respond as Christians to a threat of collective suicide. Never before have we been challenged to affirm the risen Lord when the world he overcame is bent on self-destruction. When we are faced with the human ability to extinguish all that is human, what context does there remain? Think about faith, hope, love, and life everlasting. God has revealed himself as a loving father guiding his children through history. But what if history no longer can be counted on as the framework of our understanding of God’s love? Jesus is the son of God who became flesh for our sake and dwelt among us. But what if we are contemplating ways to burn all human flesh in a world-engulfing holocaust? The spirit is the spirit of the living God who transforms the old earth into a new earth and makes everything new. But what if there’s nothing left to be transformed or made new? The church is the people of God on pilgrimage towards the day of fulfillment. But what if all the roads on which our bodies and minds can travel have vanished?
Can we really think about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit if all relationships that gave shape to the human family are threatened? Can we really speak about birth, death, and resurrection when fecundity itself is in question? Can we talk about heaven and hell when we can no longer be sure that earth is going to exist much longer? The final question is, can we direct our eyes in faith and hope towards God when we are shaken in our basic trust in the humanity of people? Until this century, all religious thought took place in the context of a certainty that there is a thinker in a world in which thoughts could be solved. But that no longer can be sort of taken for granted when we do not close our eyes for the fact that millions of people are spending their time, minds, and resources to create instruments that are able to unmake all that has been made. So, we are faced with a threat qualitatively different from all other previous threats. And therefore, we do not have a fitting model for a response, like, “Let’s do like the Benedictines or the Franciscans or the Huguenots or the Lutherans did, or the Methodists in England,” or whatever. We don’t really have a model for Christian community in that sense.
A new order? A new rule? A new Reformation? A new spiritual leader? None of these solutions seem to have the power to give us the hope we seek. As humanity, we have entered into a period in which our faith has been stripped from all support systems and defense mechanisms; but it is precisely with the naked faith that we are called to build a community of hope that is able to resist the darkness of our age. And when I think of this community, in our time, I think about people from all over the world reaching out to each other in total vulnerability. And you know, by total vulnerability I also mean we don’t even know anymore what to say, often.
And in my mind’s eye, I see a worldwide network of men and women so totally disarmed that they not only have given up the power of weapons, but also of religious concepts, symbols, and institutions sometimes. I see them moving over this world, visiting each other, binding each other’s wounds, confessing their brokenness to each other and forgiving each other with a simple word, an embrace, a touch, or just a smile. I see them walking alone or together in the most simple clothes, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, comforting the lonely, and waiting quietly with the dying. I see them in apartment buildings, farm houses, schools and universities, hospitals, and office buildings as quiet witnesses of God’s presence. Wherever they are, they bring peace. Not as much by they what they are saying or doing, but mostly maybe a connectedness with those others with whom they form a new community of hope.
I see a young man sitting alone behind his desk, trying to write something. For many hours he’s working with great concentration, all alone, but he’s not lonely or isolated. He knows that he is a forgiven person, part of a new community. And he knows that the little task he’s doing is part of a great resistance. I see a woman visiting old, fearful people hidden behind the locked doors of their city flats. She goes from place to place, day in, day out. She’s not depressed or dejected. She knows that there are others who hold her in their prayers, encourage her with their letters, phone calls, and visits, and give her strength with their faithful friendship. She feels in the depth of her heart that she is part of the community of resistance and shares already in its peace.
I see a father and mother working in demanding jobs, trying to earn enough to give their children food, clothes, books, attention, time to pray, and rest. They do not feel victims of a dull routine that will wear them out until they die. They know that there are others who belong to that large network of peacemakers and who continue to assure them that their small lives are living in the same dwelling place of God.
I see many men and women demonstrating in front of a nuclear warhead factory being laughed at by passersby, but they do not feel ridiculous and silly, with their peace signs and leaflets. They know they belong to a worldwide network of Christians who resist with them, in many different ways, the powers of death. They know that with many others they belong to the Lord of Light, even at places of darkness.
I see prisoners held behind bars because of their unwillingness to cooperate with those who are for fighting, but they do not feel isolated or cut off from their community, because they know that there are no bars to God’s words, and that prison is a new place in which the community of peace can make its witness. They consider themselves as the monks of the nuclear age.
And all these people are in the world but do no longer belong to it. They need each other to remain faithful to their vocation as peacemakers. They need each other to make their lives in an unceasing prayer to God. They need each other for inspiration, material, and moral support. They need each other to remain joyful and grateful. But most of all, they need each other to form together the living body of Christ in the midst of this nuclear world. And every time they come together, they pray. Whenever possible, they visit each other and write each other. In times of crisis, they consult each other and ask each other advice and try to find the right response.
Sometimes they act together, but not always. Occasionally they will become very visible and outspoken, but more often they live like contemplatives. They are held together by a rule, a rule of faith, hope, and love, rooted in the gospel of Jesus. They are accountable to each other, always open for criticism and new directions. Their main concern is to do the will of God and not their own. And thus, they spend much time and energy to carefully discern to what type of life or action they are called. They are clusters of peacemakers in different parts of the world, but they’re also individual members of the community of resistance who live alone or far from the center of action. The presence of the community is hardly known to the news media. Once in a while they attract attention, because of publications, demonstrations, or maybe an act of civil disobedience. But usually, they merge with the larger society.
They are quiet, prayerful, and gentle people. They are not panicky, restless, angry, or hostile – at least they try not to be. As often as possible, they come together for days of study, reflection, and prayer. Sometimes these days are used to prepare for a concrete action or peace witness. But mostly, they are there to strengthen the bonds of love and peace with your Lord and with each other. Outsiders think of them as members of a new order, but they are different from all the other orders. They are men and women, celibates and married people, young and old. They come from different churches and denominations and they live in very different places. However, they are all peacemakers, sons and daughters of God, united in their deep commitment to bring the peace of Christ to this world. Together, they say “no” to evil and to death. And together, they affirm life at all times and at all places they can.
And in this worldwide community of resistance emerging in the face of a nuclear threat, the old message becomes new again. Words that had lost their meaning receive new strength. Old symbols reveal their power to communicate. Ideas that were no longer taken seriously gradually are used again to say what needs to be said. Meanwhile, new words, new symbols, and new ideas are developing and being tested. And there is [inaudible], that a new house is being built, a house of peace, a dwelling place for God, a temple to the Most High. And the stones are the people of God. Stones shining brightly in the sun. And as this temple is being noticed far and wide, more and more people leave the war-making world behind and go up to the new temple. And on their way up, they take their helmets off and let their weapons fall by the side of the road, and their tense eyes relax and start looking around. Their mouths lose their sharp edges and start forming smiles. Their hands no longer grasp, but touch gently the hands of others.
And gradually, as they go up to the house of the Lord, their shouting becomes singing and their voices unite with other voices. And then the world hears what it has not heard for a long time: How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord God of hosts. My soul is longing and yearning. It’s yearning for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my soul ring out with joy to God, the living God. The sparrow herself finds a home and the swallow a nest for her brood. She lays her young by your altars, Lord of hosts, my king and my God. They are happy who dwell in your house forever singing your praise. They are happy whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the roads to Zion. One day within your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. The threshold of the house of God I prefer to the dwellings of the wicked, for the Lord God is a rampart, a shield. He will give us his favor and glory. The Lord will not refuse any good to those who walk without blame. Lord God of hosts, happy are those who trust in you.
And thus, a new earth is being fashioned and the community of resistance becomes a community of praise and thanksgiving. Thank you.
Karen Pascal: Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed Henri Nouwen’s message about the community of resistance becoming the community of praise and thanksgiving. This message was shared with audiences 40 years ago, yet it has a challenge within it that is so current for all of us right around the world. We must ask, “What does it mean to be a peacemaker today?” Ultimately, Henri Nouwen sees the way of Jesus as the greatest force of nonviolence in the world. Henri Nouwen continued to develop this theme and eventually it formed the basis of the book, Peacework. You’ll find a link to this book and a special discount code if you wish to purchase the book from Orbis Press. For more resources related to today’s talk, click on the links on the podcast page of our website.
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