The Practice of Peace
I believe that ‘peace’ lies at the centre of the life of Jesus and the Christian message.
‘peace I leave you, my peace I give to you; I give to you not as the world gives’ (John 14:27).
In my vocation as an Anglican Priest, I work across church and ‘secular’ worlds. A foundational question which has shaped much of my vocation has been how we can take a holistic approach to living peacefully.
Practicing peace is clearly not unique to Christians, and I do much of my work in a secular world that does not necessarily share my Christian faith. But I do believe that, for followers of Jesus, ‘practicing peace’ is a theological imperative. What does Jesus mean when he says, ‘I give to you [my peace] not as the world gives’?
The French American thinker Rene Girard observed that human beings are highly imitative (mimetic). We not only imitate each other’s behaviours, we also imitate each other’s desires (advertisers know this). This leads to competition, rivalry, escalating anxiety and violence. Left unrestrained, this is an existential threat to societies and communities need mechanisms to deal with it.
Girard proposed that one of the primary ways societies throughout history have restored peace is by finding a common enemy to blame, demonise or scapegoat when we are experiencing conflict. We might not agree on everything but we can sure agree that the ‘other’ is a problem. Naturally we do this unconsciously and we develop self-justifying stories (myths) to rationalise our violence. This is precisely the violent dynamic of 'peace-making' that gets Jesus crucified. The remarkable thing about Jesus, however, is that he does not return violence with violence.
The 'peace which the world cannot give' is ultimately a gift of grace. But we can respond and cooperate in certain ways, through a creative interplay of 'inner work' and 'outer work'.
The inner work is a deep reordering of human desire. Christians believe that this is a gift of the Holy Spirit who leads us into reconciled relationship with God, each other and the earth, through Jesus. At a fundamental (ontological) level, humans bear the image of a nonviolent God who is perfect love. As a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, said, ‘God is Christlike, in whom there is no un-Christlikeness at all’. There are further reflections on this, with a focus on the practice of contemplative prayer, at www.contemplatioaustralia.org
The outer work includes specific ‘practices of peace’. The circle processes outlined in this website are practical ways of creating conditions in which peace becomes more possible, not by excluding conflict but by bringing different voices into creative dialogic engagement with each other.
The photographs on this web site were taken by Michael Wood at
Koora Retreat Centre, Western Australia ()