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Peacework: Prayer Resistance Community Paperback – January 10, 2014
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In these difficult times of fear, anxiety, war, and terrorism, Henri's message of peace is needed more than ever. Though written twenty years ago, his description of 'the house of fear' remains an apt definition for the world today. In words that have taken on a new urgency he calls us to leave the house of fear and journey toward the house of love and peace... --John Dear, S.J. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From the Author
For more information on the life and works of Henri J.M. Nouwen, please visit HenriNouwen.org . --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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As a longtime Christian peace activist, I was delighted when John Dear edited Nouwen's manuscript on peace for Orbis (although it's taken me two years to finally get around to reading it!). True to form, my initial "This guy is too simplistic" response soon became admiration and gratitude.
What Nouwen has done here, as he says at book's end (p. 123) is "to develop a spirituality for peacemakers." In that regard, the book's title is a bit misleading, because it gives the impression that Nouwen is concerned with peace activism, and anyone who reads it with that presumption is going to be frustrated.
Nouwen says that peacemaking is central to being a Christian (p. 16), that Jesus' call to peacemaking is "unconditional, unlimited, and uncompromising" (p. 17). To prepare ourselves to honor this call, Christians must cultivate prayer, resistance, and community. Nouwen's discussion of them will not be unfamiliar to readers of his other books.
Prayer is the active listening to God's word that allows us to dwell in the house of God, where we are unconditionally loved and accepted, rather than in the house of fear, ambition, resentment, insecurity, and anxiety that our personal and collective wounds build (pp. 34-36). When we enter into God's presence in prayer, we know that we're already loved, thus having nothing to prove to ourselves or others, and that we have nothing to fear. As Thich Nhat Hanh might put it, we move from the bondage of ill-being to the freedom of well-being, and thereby prepare ourselves for the dangerous work of peacemaking.
Resistance is the refusal to be seduced by the power of death or infatuated by the titillating displays of death that permeate our culture. It's saying NO to the culture of death that surrounds us. At the same time, it's also refusing to make the harsh judgments of others that Nouwen sees as a form of moral killing (p. 60). But resistance is also a yea-saying, a trustful affirmation of humanity (including the humanity of our "enemies") and the gift of life. This yea-saying (which, in a culture of death, is an especially powerful form of resistance) is built on the spiritual gifts of humility, compassion, and joy.
Community, which isn't defined as merely a faith tradition or a denomination, much less a specific parish, is that place which, through prayer and gratitude, resists the increasing isolation of our lives. Isolated resistance leads to burn-out, because we quickly realize our powerlessness in relation to the culture of death. But in community, we reaffirm that vulnerability in fact is a source of great strength and grace (p. 110). Community is the place in which the risen Christ, the most vulnerable of all humans, is celebrated and experienced, which in turn encourages gratitude, a response that Nouwen sees as absolutely necessary for a peacemaker (p. 118).
Nouwen is especially strong in his chapters on prayer and resistance. His chapter on community, which seems in part to be inspired by Dan Berrigan's call for "communities of resistance," is rather limp by comparison. It was written before Nouwen found the community for which he'd been seeking at L'Arche, and I suspect it's more of the cry of a lonely heart than anything else.
Two final points that are worth pointing out. Nouwen insists that a spirituality of peacemaking is essential because without it, peacemakers too often tend to demonize those who disagree with them, or fall into the trap of resentment, burnout, and hatred. The second point is just as important. Christian peacemaking is about witnessing, not victory or success. The Christian peacemaker witnesses to God's love, and in so doing hopefully converts. But his or her task is to witness, not to succeed. Let God take care of the results. This is a point that Dorothy Day frequently made, and which people like Stanley Hauerwas in our day and time likewise affirm. It's well worth noting.