Dec 24, 2006
The Vow of Nonviolence
BY JOHN DEAR
New Year's weekend brought three and a half feet of snow to the mesa high in the New Mexico desert where I live. So I've been sitting by a fire, trying to keep warm, reading and reflecting, enjoying the silence and solitude. New Year's is a good time for resolutions, but I think, given the world, we need more than resolutions, even good intentions--we need solemn, religious vows, a whole new commitment to God's way of peace and love.
Twenty five years ago, some friends and I professed a vow of nonviolence, as Gandhi did a hundred years ago. Not long afterwards, Pax Christi asked Eileen Egan and me to draft a vow, which they offered to Pax Christi members as a way to dedicate our lives to the Gospel path of nonviolence. Since then, tens of thousands have professed it.
Thinking about the world's violence, poverty, wars, and weapons, and enjoying the glorious snow covered desert scenery and distant mountains, I give thanks for that vow of nonviolence and the journey it opened up for me. I certainly am not perfectly nonviolent, but I have kept at the journey, and the older I get, the more I discover that the spiritual journey itself may be what counts most for it holds the greatest blessings.
I think Gandhi was right: the only solution to our personal, national and global violence is creative loving nonviolence. The greatest challenge facing us as individuals and as a race is to become people of creative nonviolence, which means from now on, we need to be nonviolent to our spouses, children, parents, relatives, neighbors, and everyone we meet, as well as nonviolent to ourselves, nonviolent in our work, nonviolent in our language, nonviolent in our politics and policies and attitudes toward humanity and creation itself.
This commitment requires daily meditation, ongoing study, Gospel-reading, community building, periodic training, and public action. Somehow, it means placing the God of peace at the center of our lives, as the goal of our common life journey, as the measure of all we do. If we can surrender ourselves completely, over and over again to the God of peace, we may find ourselves walking the path of nonviolence and becoming instruments of peace. Nonviolence, then, becomes a way of life, a journey of peace to the God of peace.
My friend Gerard Vanderhaar, a long time Pax Christi activist, completed an excellent new book just before his death in 2005. "Personal Nonviolence: A Practice Spirituality for Peacemakers," (published by www.paxchristiusa.org) helps me to see where I am on the journey of nonviolence, and how I can move from violence to nonviolence. His reflections on such every day topics as stress, anger, resentment, language, attitude, listening, leadership, driving, and bearing public witness for peace offer concrete ways toward growth and help me become a better person, more nonviolent.
As we begin a new year and start again the work to abolish war, poverty, and nuclear weapons, I thought I'd offer the original Pax Christi Vow of Nonviolence as a way to recommit ourselves to the nonviolent Jesus and his life of love and peace. It fits well within our long tradition of solemn, religious vows, and can be pronounced privately, in a local peace community, or at a parish liturgy. You can share it with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and parishioners. Some people read it every morning as a way to remind themselves that they are invited to walk a path of nonviolence.
If taken seriously, this vow can set us on a new course which will bring immeasurable blessings, perhaps even a lifetime commitment to peace, forgiveness, compassion and suffering love, a true, lifelong fidelity to the nonviolent Jesus.
"Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount--
'Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called the sons and daughters of God.. You have heard that it was said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons and daughters of your God in heaven."
Before God the Creator and the Holy Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus
--by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;
--by accepting suffering in the struggle for justice rather than inflicting it;
--by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;
--by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;
--by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live or harm creation;
--by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.
God, I trust in your sustaining love and believe that just as you gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so you will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it."