It needs no power to kill

The following poem was written by Thomas Merton to commemorate the beautiful act of Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl, who, when she was dying as a consequence of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, spent her final days making hundreds of paper cranes, symbols of healing and peace.

Paper Cranes

Sadako (Paper Cranes)

How can we tell a paper bird
Is stronger than a hawk
When it has no metal for talons?
It needs no power to kill
Because it is not hungry.

Wilder and wiser than eagles
It ranges around the world
Without enemies
And free of cravings.

The child’s hand
Folding these wings
Wins no wars and ends them all.

Thoughts of a child’s heart
Without care, without weapons!
So the child’s eye
Gives life to what it loves
Kind as the innocent sun
And lovelier than all dragons!

From: The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton

Lovers as artists – and the inner landscape of beauty

Here are some passages from Krista Tippett’s book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, passages that struck, inspired, challenged me.

Krista Tippett, Becoming WiseIn connection with the Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue, she mentions his belief in ‘the possibility of creating our own inner landscapes of beauty, to keep us vital in the midst of bleak and dangerous surroundings and experiences’, a need that, as many of us know only too well, may arise at any time.

Talking about the work of philosopher and L’Arche founder Jean Vanier, she quotes his vitally important vision ‘to educate people to relate, to listen, to help people to become themselves’ rather than, as is so often the case, to subject them to a preconceived agenda, whatever that may be.

And she quotes john a. powell, Professor of Law and Professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies, who notes that:

people are looking for community, right now, though we don’t have confidence in love. We have much more confidence in anger and hate. We believe anger is powerful. We believe hate is powerful. And we believe love is wimpy. And so if we’re engaged in the world, we believe it’s much better to sort of organize around anger and hate.

Lovers, by contrast, as Tippett herself points out are artists who are ‘reaching out to enemies, embracing complexity, creativity, and risk’.

Lastly, here are some words from geophysicist Xavier Le Pichon, also taken from Tippett’s book, words whose truth I have come to know in my own experience:

once you enter into this way of, I would call it companionship, walking with the suffering person who has come into your life and whom you have not rejected, your heart progressively gets educated by them. They teach you a new way of being.

We have to be educated by the other. My heart cannot be educated by myself. It can only come out of a relationship with others. And if we accept being educated by others, to let them explain to us what happens to them, and to let yourself be immersed in their world so that they can get into our world, then you begin to share something very deep.

If I kill my enemy

Peaceableness toward enemies is an idea that will, of course, continue to be denounced as impractical. It has been too little tried by individuals, much less by nations. It will not readily or easily serve those who are greedy for power. It cannot be effectively used for bad ends. It could not be used as the basis of an empire. It does not afford opportunities for profit. It involves danger to practitioners. It requires sacrifice. And yet it seems to me that it is practical, for it offers the only escape from the logic of retribution.

… The logic of retribution implies no end and no hope. If I kill my enemy, and his brother kills me, and my brother kills his brother, and so on and on, we may all have strong motives and even good reasons; the world may be better off without all of us. And yet this is a form of behavior that we have wisely outlawed. We have outlawed it, that is, in private life. In our national life, it remains the established and honored procedure.

… Peaceableness is not … passive. It is the ability to act to resolve conflict without violence. If it is not a practical and a practicable method, it is nothing. … In the face of conflict, the peaceable person may find several solutions, the violent person only one.

Wendell Berry, ‘Peaceableness toward Enemies’, in Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community

An idea so far not accepted

‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.’ … It is an idea given to our civilization but so far not accepted.

Wendell Berry, ‘Peaceableness toward Enemies’, in Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community

I have no enemies

Some thoughts on love, fear and violence from Living without Enemies: Being Present in the Midst of Violence, a book that I am enjoying more and more:

Living beyond fear … means hearing God say, ‘Love, just love. Find your way to love that person, find your way to love that forest, find your way to love all things, especially the things you find so unlovable and so frightening.’

The book is about a community’s journey to overcome powerlessness and fear in the face of gun violence. It is co-authored by Samuel Wells, at the time of writing Research Professor of Christian Ethics at Duke Divinity School, and Marcia A. Owen, Executive Director of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham. It also tells the story of Owen’s own transformation, which came about as a result of being involved in this struggle to end gun violence.

Marcia felt a gift being given to her – the awareness that we are a profound unity; we are of equal value and worth. […] It allowed her to love. She could feel her soul grow. It didn’t change her personality – it didn’t erase all the hurts and the fears and the anxieties she had. But it let her love. And it gave her peace.

The authors quote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s apt contention that ‘if we could see the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility’. And they ask:

What makes a person lash out and make someone an enemy? It comes from a feeling of profound powerlessness and fear that says, ‘I’m not big enough for this.’ Living without enemies is radical acceptance. … You lead with your soul by taking a moment to say, ‘I accept all that is, all the suffering I’ve caused, all the suffering I’ve endured. I just accept it. There are no enemies.’ Then you can begin to see the glorious nature of each one of us.

They talk about ‘the most empowering gift in ministry’, which is ‘hearing God whispering, “I have no enemies.”‘ And they note that ‘fear is at the heart of violence’, and so ‘the final response to violence is learning to live without fear’.

When we begin to honestly feel that we are all part of the same community … then we will begin to find the grief and pain and loss caused by violence to be truly unacceptable, and we will join together to finally say, Enough is enough.

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