Christianity can often be an abstraction. Something of God that is true and right and good is spoken of and promoted, often with a deficiency of personal reality and experience. Teachers, preachers, and theologians are common perpetrators, speaking of truths that are truth absent of an experience that would lead to authenticity, genuine authority, and humility. Church folk then follow the lead of their leaders, knowing what is good and yet not knowing what is good.
Within the context of the Anabaptist tradition, peace is one of those truths.
Pursued by Peace
It is a dangerous thing to pursue peace without first being pursued by peace. There is a spirituality to peace preceding the work of peace. Each of us must do the difficult work of confronting our inner violence before we speak or act to confront the violence of the world. If this inner violence is not first confronted, peacemakers will engage in peaceful work in ways not reflecting the Prince of Peace, with hearts ungoverned by the Spirit of peace.
Inner violence is something each person suffers at the hands of an aggressive and violent world. Inner violence can be described in many ways—as anger, frustration, angst, anxiety, worry, fear, rage, depression (latent anger). Perhaps a better way to describe it is by using the visual language of Genesis: it’s the “chaos of the deep,” a stirring of the waters. The description of language is hardly necessary because most of us know it in our gut.
And herein lies our challenge: many times we respond from that gut. We advocate for what is good and right from a place of chaos. We call this chaos “righteous anger” in order to justify responding in anger, and in the process end up wounding others and ourselves.
Before we do the work of peace, we must first do the work of confronting our inner violence, and this is done by entering into silence. The best speech and action come from silence. Henri Nouwen puts it this way:
Words can only create communion and thus new life when they embody the silence from which they emerge… Thus silence is the mystery of the future world. It keeps us pilgrims and prevents us from becoming entangled in the cares of this age. It guards the fire of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. It allows us to speak a word that participates in the creative and recreative power of God’s own Word (Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, p. 41).
Learning from Jesus
God’s own Word is Jesus. A number of years ago, in the midst of an intense time of conflict, I was drawn back to the gospel stories of Jesus before the Jewish and Roman powers at his crucifixion. When I went back to read these stories again (Matt. 27:11-14, Mark 14:55-62), I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. When the leaders spoke a word of truth about Jesus, he responded affirmatively, but Jesus remained silent during the flurry of accusations. No defense. No rebuttal. Just silence.
Where did this ability to be silent come from? How could Jesus engage with the powers in this way that “amazed” them?
Flip back a few pages in either gospel and you’ll find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, dealing with his own inner violence. That’s right, just like you and I, Jesus was dealing with his own inner violence. We do an injustice to the beauty of Jesus’s life when we exempt Jesus from his humanity. Listen to the way Matthew describes his “stirring of the waters” in the NRSV, which provides the most descriptive language:
“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. “Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matt. 26:36-39, bold for emphasis).
Do you notice the embodiment of the psalms in Jesus’s experience here? Jesus brings his grief and agitation to God, throwing himself down in prayer, resolving it with trust in his Abba.
The action of Jesus is instructive to those who want to pursue peace. Before standing before the powers and bearing witness, we must first present our own inner violence to God. One of the most beautiful things we see of the nature of God in Christ is the ability of God to absorb the violence of the world.
Bringing it Godward
Our inner violence must go somewhere, and God wants us to bring it Godward. If we do not do this, our inner violence will be transmitted—most likely heaped upon our enemy who we are called to pray for, love, and bless.
A spirituality of peace first faces one’s own inner violence. I leave you with a simple prayer practice to walk through as you notice and give your inner violence to God, preparing you to be a person of peace who works for peace. This practice has no timeframe, but its fruit is peace and a readiness to share the “gospel of peace.”
- Spend a few moments in silence and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the inner violence. Where are the “waters stirring?”
- Spend a few moments expressing these things to God, verbally through prayer or reading a psalm. Don’t hold back.
- Spend a few moments of silence picturing Jesus with you and hearing Jesus speak these words to you: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
- Close with the words of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” Amen.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of SHALOM! The Journal for the Practice of Reconciliation.