by Marie Dennis
Pax Christi International Co-President
“Even now says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning: Rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord, your God.” (Joel 2: 12)
Deep in many religious traditions, including in our own Christian faith, is a recognition of prayer and fasting as essential dimensions of spiritual practice. Particularly appropriate in the face of intractable evil or as an expression of repentance, fasting also carries social and political weight – all of which seem particularly important this year.
As Lent begins, we are intensely aware of the pervasive violence that Pope Francis calls “a third world war in installments”: hate speech, racism, Islamophobia, gang violence, anti-immigrant laws and practices, trafficking in humans and weapons, gender violence and sexual abuse, ill treatment of refugees, environmental and ecological destruction, militarism, war, apathy in the face of the tremendous human suffering we have seen in Aleppo, South Sudan and elsewhere, and on and on.
It is right and timely, then, that we proclaim a fast! Perhaps the most urgent need this year is to fast from violence — to join the vibrant, nonviolent resistance to these and so many other expressions of violence.
As we fast, can we in fact learn to “do” peace – not a peace synonymous with my feeling good or with any one nation’s security but something much deeper than that – an integral well-being that embraces all human beings and the rest of creation – a peace that preempts every inclination to violence and war – a new paradigm rooted in an unwavering commitment to nonviolence and to the value of every life?
A fast from violence might help us grapple with our own fear and insecurity, accepting a challenge to live with vulnerability in a world where a majority of people are always vulnerable. A fast from violence might help us reset our priorities from the accumulation of power, wealth and consumer goods to nurturing right relationships with other people and the rest of creation; move from individualism to emphasize community – ultimately the global community; learn to be present, to listen, to wait – to relinquish our need for instant gratification; and reexamine our symbols and myths to strip them of their ability to isolate and blind us.
A commitment to nonviolence is an act of hope. It requires careful theological reflection on the values of our faith tradition in specific situations of violent conflict and war. It requires presence, accompaniment and the nurturing of relationships across boundaries – boundaries between countries and cultures, even neighborhoods. It requires the creation and application of a moral framework and ethical tools for promoting peace in our daily encounters with violence. It requires vigorous spiritual exercises and creative liturgical expression.
Perhaps our fast in this holy season will move us to make or renew a vow of nonviolence:
Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God…You have learned how it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy’; but I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven.”
Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying 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 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;
- 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. (Pax Christi USA)