Discerning Peace and the Holy

May 5, 2013 | Field Notes

I was in Ontario the last few weeks where I assisted with the annual Catholic School Chaplains of Ontario Annual Conference and afterwards visited with family and friends. It was good to meet a few colleagues who I had the pleasure to work with while I served as a school chaplain. It reaffirmed for me the need to connect with ‘kindred spirits’ as we journey through life. Likewise it was good to see members of my family. The entire family was able to gather for an evening for the first time since my mother died over four years ago. Being with family again is simply good for my soul. Finally, there were a number of visits with friends who have been so supportive over the years and it was pure gift to catch up on each other’s lives.

The theme of the Chaplains’ Conference was Holy Mischief and we were blessed to have John Dear, SJ, a well-known peace activist from the United States, give the keynote. He is an inspirational speaker, passionate and committed to creating a culture of peace to counteract the addiction to violence and war that permeates our global village. Rooted in the Gospel of Jesus, shaped by the teachings of Gandhi and King, and mentored by many notable peacemakers, like the Berrigan Brothers, John Dear argues that it is not enough to be in favor of peace. One must actively resist war nonviolently through public witness.

I came away from the Conference wondering what more I could do to create a world of peace. Like many I’ve marched against war, protested Canada’s participation in the weapons trade, withheld taxes, and advocated the need for diplomacy and ‘root cause’ analysis of conflicts and so on. I’ve even, picking up on the Dalai Lama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, argued that we ought to create neutral zones on every continent where people are trained in peacemaking, diplomats are trained to serve the world, international conflicts are resolved in neutral zone courts rather than through battle, and where the production and trade of armaments are outlawed. I know that this is a dream. But, dreams drive action. And so, John Dear challenges me to continue to connect with others who wish to build a culture of peace to counteract the culture of war.

During the Conference I spoke about the need to pay attention to the experiences of the holy, those experiences where the ‘more’, the divine, breaks into our lives and turns us on. It is the experience of the holy that led Moses and Jesus to lead people to liberation. In our day and age, as Dag Hammarskjold said, the road to holiness passes through the door of action. As a result, we need to let the experiences of the holy inform our actions in the world. This will likely lead us to cause mischief as we challenge the powers and principalities and the conventional of our world. It will likely lead us to live differently and to act differently, even in our places of work. There is often a cost to this living and acting differently. But, this is a way that many have followed long before us and it is a path that helps to build a better world. I take solace in knowing that others, like John Dear, an activist for peace, are traveling this path to holiness.

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