What I believe
I believe that ‘peace’ lies at the centre of the life of Jesus and the Christian proclamation.
‘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 (followers of Jesus) can take a holistic approach to a living peace. I’m interested in how we ‘join the dots’ between head (theology); heart (prayer and reflection); and hands (practices of peace).
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 gives us an insight in showing us how human culture throughout history has made peace through violence. Girard observes that human beings are highly imitative (mimetic) creatures. We not only imitate each other’s behaviours. We also imitate each other’s desires (advertisers know this). This leads directly 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 restore peace is by finding a common enemy to blame, demonise or scapegoat (all united against one). 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 myths to justify why our violence is justified. 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 resurrection announces forgiveness and the defeat of the ‘powers’ of violence. We can really only see this clearly in the resurrection. It gives us a new position from which to read human history. We only see the problem in light of its solution.
Jesus-like peace requires a deep seated reordering of human desire. In Christian thought, this is a gift of the Holy Spirit and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a magnificent expression of the perfect self-giving, non-violent love which IS the heart of God and the promise of restored human relationships. As a former Archbishop of Canterbury said, ‘God is Christlike, in whom there is no un-Christlikeness at all’.
At a fundamental (ontological) level, humans bear the image of a nonviolent God who is perfect relational love. It seems to me that how we live into this reality is dynamic interrelationship between head, heart and hands. Depending on our circumstances, we may start in one of these domains and then gradually find our way into others, but all are necessary for sustained peace.
In my own experience I have learned that this is not just an individual choice but a communal journey. Through specific ‘practices of peace’ we learn to ‘act our way into new ways of thinking’. I would go so far as to say that learning how to meet in circles has been a life saver for me. That is why I am so passionate about sharing it with others.
The photographs on this web site were taken by Michael Wood at
Koora Retreat Centre, Western Australia ()