Carolyn Merry 15 Dec 2023
A few days ago, I listened to a Pax Christ International online event “For a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine”, which spotlighted the work of the Parents Circle - Families Forum, recipients of the Pax Christi International Peace Award 2023. Started in 1995, this Forum is now made up of 600 Israeli and Palestinian Families who have lost loved ones in the long conflict and who spread a message promoting dialogue, peace and reconciliation through getting to know the ‘other’, hearing one another’s stories and getting to appreciate each other’s common humanity, pain, fears and hopes.
Listening to two of the fathers from the forum who have each lost a daughter respectively to the violence speak into these especially ‘dark times’ was a powerful reminder that no long term political solution will likely be successful without the ability of individuals to transform their fears and hatred and trauma through genuine and nonviolent encounters with those seen as enemies. Encounters that enable a crack to open, letting in the light of recognition that we are all human, profoundly connected and all beloved by God.
I have been privileged to have heard and seen this belief expressed, prayed for and lived by people of all different faiths and none in many places of mass violence and repression - people filled with grief, pain, fear, defiant hope and the courage to risk all to live another way … a way of nonviolence and mutual respect built on our interconnectedness that aims to end hatred, violence and fear.
Unarmed truth and unconditional love…
It seems too simple in our complex and traumatised world - doesn’t it? And in the face of people experiencing great threat or profound grief, it has never felt right for me to point individuals towards their enemies and yet my faith definitely calls me to continue living out such principles and a responsibility to work proactively to ensure that those who have power or influence choose nonviolent means as a path towards a world rooted in a just peace and mutual respect and dignity for all.
I write this two weeks before Christmas, when many of us will stop and gather with loved ones and extras (I am often gratefully an extra!) to honour the birth of a vulnerable baby born into an occupied land, who would become a refugee fleeing violence, and go on to be a teacher of radical compassion, peace and reconciliation. I wonder if God continues to remind us through the Christmas incarnation of the simple and yet profound transformation that can happen within and between people when we risk stepping out of our comfort zones (and for many in these times that means safety/survival zones) to genuinely encounter those who we fear as unknown, different, enemies. God could have come to earth in any myriad of ways…and yet chose the path of vulnerability, humility, a setting aside of violent power as he encountered people as individuals unarmed and with compassion. Foundational principles maybe for our own encounters with others, especially those we fear or hate or despise? The two fathers from the Parents Circle Families Forum now see their common enemy as the ongoing violence of the occupation, not each other - that view didn’t come cheaply or easily to either of them and continues to challenge them from many sources as they stand together and declare themselves brothers not enemies.
We live in dangerous and fearful times - not just because of the obscenity of violence overseas, but also closer to home with rising levels of poverty, division, fears and violence in our society, pushing us towards polarised positions in our communities and sometimes in our own churches and homes.
What gives me hope this Christmas? I must admit that this year has tested at times the levels of despair at the deteriorating state of the world I can hold in tension with the hope I find in the expansive love of God. I walked in Pilgrimage across Scotland in August as an expression of that tension … and came back to the simplest and yet most difficult thing we are called to do…
Ourselves, others (even our enemies), other parts of creation and God.
That’s what gives me hope - my small efforts may not change the world, but they hopefully add to tipping the balance and even if they didn’t I am called to love regardless. Our common enemy is violence (whether physical, structural or cultural) - anything that demeans, harms, or prevents others from flourishing. Living nonviolently - compassionately, proactively, courageously, and creatively - is for me the only way I can express my defiant hope.
And Christmas resonates that to me - God coming as a vulnerable baby born into an occupied land 2000 years ago - a light in the darkness, showing us a different way of being.
As a community of peacemakers who live and work for peace and reconciliation across this country and world, I wonder where you draw your hope from, especially in these dark times?
This Christmas, I pray that you and your loved ones experience the love, peace and hope that is inherent in this season and are able to take the time to nourish your roots and enjoy the love of family, friends and God.
And may peace indeed prevail for all in 2024.
Peace and Blessings
“As a community of peacemakers who live and work for peace and reconciliation across this country and world, I wonder where your draw your hope from, especially in these dark times?” —