The book I am reading is A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer. It is a book about inner peace and creating a community of support for the soul. I am reading the last chapter which, like many books of this type, reflects on the relationship between our inner work and the work of creating a more peaceful world.
He makes two statements that reflect my belief about this inner/outer dance that we do as peacemakers:
* We can be peacemakers in our small part of the world only when we are at peace within ourselves.
* Violence of every shape and form has its roots in the divided life, in that fault line within us that cracks open and becomes a divide between us.
The first statement I have read over and over again in books about inner peace. It suggests that when we find inner peace, we bring that peace into the world and make changes that we may never realize. The second suggests that the same is true of our brokenness. Whether we speak our anger and our fears, by living in them, we alter the world in some way we that we cannot see.
Palmer also talks in this final chapter about the tension of a true pacifist. The usual response to fear, he suggest is “fight or flight”. He suggests waiting for the “third way” to emerger, which may not at first be obvious. This is a value of the Quaker community, where Palmer finds his spiritual sustainance.
I think this morning about Syria and the suffering of its people. It feels horrible to watch the nations of the world refrain from charging in with weapons to save the people. Yet this choice to respond to violence with more violence seems only to perpetuate the horror. It is the way we, the United States especially, have always responded. But where has it gotten us? Where has it gotten the world? Standing by and watching the massachre of the people feels awful, too. It feels like we are contributing to the horror by doing nothing.
I don’t know if we are doing nothing. World leaders, including the president, say we aren’t. But this morning, I am thinking about what Parker Palmer is suggesting. He talks about a “tragic gap – a gap between the way things are and the way we know they might be.” He says, “If we want to live nonvilent lives, we must learn to live in the tragic gap, faithfully holding the tension between reality and possibility in hopes of being opened to a third way.”
Palmer comments on the difficulty of such a position: “We often find the tension too hard to hold – so we let go of one pole and collapse into the other. Sometimes we resign ourselves to things as they are and sink into cynical disengagement. Sometimes we cling to escape fantasies and float above the fray.”
He suggests that we are “profoundly impatient with tension of any sort and we want to resolve every one of them as quickly as possible.” Nevertheless, he suggests waiting for this third way to emerge.
It feels painful, like labor, to me. But birth only comes with labor. It is a metaphor that holds me up this morning and feeds my hope.