Volume > Issue > Peace, a Gift We Receive in Prayer

Peace, a Gift We Receive in Prayer

A SPIRITUALITY OF PEACEMAKING — PART I

By Henri J.M. Nouwen | September 1985
The Rev. Prof. Henri J.M. Nouwen, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, teaches at Harvard University’s Divinity School during the spring semester of each year. During the remainder of the year he works on his writing and ministers in Latin America. This article is the first installment in a three-part series.

“Long enough have I been dwelling
with those who hate peace.
I am for peace, but when I speak,
they are for fighting.”

Psalm 120: 6-7

 

Must it remain this way? Must war drums con­stantly disturb us? Must we hear over and over that we need more and stronger weapons to safeguard our values and our lives? Must we listen to unsettl­ing speeches saying that 10,000 strategic and 22,000 tactical nuclear weapons, enough to de­stroy every major Soviet city 40 times over, are not enough? Must we let our minds be occupied with the destructive possibilities of intercontinental bal­listic missiles, B-52 bombers, and Trident subma­rines? And must we even discuss the acceptability of the death of 15 million people in a limited nu­clear war? Must we go on preparing for the greatest mass murder in history?

We have been dwelling with those who hate peace long enough. Long enough have we allowed ourselves to be impressed by “the rulers, the gov­ernors and the commanders, the rich people and the men of influence” (Rev. 6:15) who try to tell us that the political situation is too complex for us to have an opinion about the possibility of peace, and who try to convince us that the science of defense is too advanced for us really to understand. Long enough have we been kept silent about those who are for war and are eager to see the demonic products of their intelligence put to use. But when we cry out: “We are for peace, we are for peace,” our words sound so incompetent, simplistic, and naive. The sophisticated arguments of those who say the issues of war and peace are too complex for us to understand seduce us into feelings of uselessness.

The truth, however, may be simple after all. Maybe the difficult grammar of war-making, with terms such as fusion and fission, MAD, MIRV, and MX, is nothing but an elaborate screen hiding the face of Him who says: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind and your neighbors as yourself” (Lk. 10:27). A sim­ple but hard truth, requiring constant vigilance, res­olution, and practice. This difficult truth has to be spoken and lived — directly, courageously, intelli­gently, gently, lovingly, and repeatedly. The truth of peace is what this series of article is about.

It is far from easy to write on this subject. For a long time I have sensed within me a strong hesitation to speak or write about peace. I have been dwelling for so long in the houses of those who look at protest and peace movements as ex­pressions of youthful rebellion or Russian-inspired anti-patriotism, that I feel embarrassed to say open­ly, “I am for peace.” Much of this hesitation goes back to my time spent in the Dutch army. Al­though the seminary had kept me out of military service, I felt that a seminarian should not be ex­empt from the experience other Dutch men share: two years of uniformed service for their country. So I volunteered to become an army chaplain, took some basic training, and worked as a priest-psy­chologist on a military mental health team. I have very fond memories of those days. I enjoyed the “team spirit,” came to know people I never would have met otherwise, learned a lot about psycholo­gy, felt very useful, and made closer friends than during my six years in seminary.

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