I was a pacifist long before I could articulate my beliefs about peace. I think it all began when I was a curious child of eight or ten. My parents had a set of encyclopedias that I liked to page through now and then. One day I took into my lap the book that contained topics under the alphabet letter of “W” and came to a part about the World Wars. There were sections honoring the soldiers who fought the battles and their leaders as well as the presidents who served during these times. As I turned one page over another, I came across disturbing pictures of mangled bodies, naked, thin to the point of showing their bones below the skin, faces staring open-eyed into some emptiness. I knew that something was terribly wrong. I was able to read enough to realize that these human beings piled like garbage were Jews even though I wasn’t really clear what a Jew was. How is it possible that people can do such things to people? The pictures were branded into my psyche.
When I was in my twenties and thirties, I went through a period of time when I had an insatiable thirst for knowledge about Jewish history, philosophy and religion. I remember reading The Source by Michener and several books by Abraham Heshel. I developed a passion for the Old Testament and for Jewish rituals and traditions. When I got into the study of the New Testament the Jewish Jesus was always the one I could see most clearly.
The Holocaust was for me a symbol of the worst in man, the absolute depravity of those so distant from their Source that they can do nothing but reap death. The only response I could muster was to throw myself into the opposite extreme. In the beginning, I didn’t have the psychology or the politics of war and killing. I was a pacifist by intuition. I didn’t have words to speak, I only knew what I knew.
Simultaneous with this outward searching which in time went beyond the Jewish story to that of other oppressed and abuse peoples, there was an inner search going on. So what I was learning about oppression, struggle and freedom became a kind of explanation for me of what I was experiencing in my own soul. Life “out there” helped me to understand life “in here”. But also, life “in here” helped me to understand life “out there”. This exchange between two worlds continues. It is my spiritual path.
You might say I was molded by God to be pacifist. I have found many heroes of peace over the years and studied these. I read the words and actions of Jesus only through the lens of peace and it is only this and love that I am open to receiving. Mahatma Gandhi and Peace Pilgrim I have read extensively and so many others, some from ages past, some living among us today.
It is hard to believe in peace when you observe the behaviors of persons, institutions, and nations. But I do believe in peace. This is the basis for my hope…when I see people forgive one another who have hated one another for years…when I see people come together to help others in need…when I meet compassionate healers and teachers of peace…when I watch parents loving their children unconditionally…when I see nations do the work of reconciliation after horrific wars.
I believe peace can only come into the world through individual hearts of human beings who have found peace within themselves and in the real relationships in their lives.
Today is the International Day of Peace. I want to share with you some quotes from heroes of peace: