Working for Peace, Peacefully

An attender at Reno Friends Meeting asked me a thought-provoking question the other day. “How do you work for peace, peacefully?” I understood what she meant. With so much anxiety in our political culture today it’s easy to get swept up by the frenzy of showing up for protests, writing letters to Congress, and circulating online petitions. This work feels important because it is, yet it can leave us feeling worried and angry. So how do we rally our strength and composure to work for peace with peace in our hearts?        

The Quaker columnist Parker Palmer recently wrote an article titled “What’s an Angry Quaker to Do?” In the piece, he admits to feeling deep wells of anger over current affairs, and asks whether anger should have a role in our response. As Quakers, he says, we are led to live by the values articulated in our testimonies: community, equality, simplicity, non-violence and peace. So do our testimonies mean we should ignore or deny the understandable anger we feel in our hearts? Should we forgive and tolerate everything?

As a wise psychologist once told me, anger is a sign that something is amiss, something that needs care and attention. Ignoring or repressing anger rarely helps, and it runs contrary to the Integrity testimony, which reminds us to be true in our words, including to ourselves. And yet, anger expressed can also corrode our best intentions, and anger directed at others rarely accomplishes anything good.

One answer to this dilemma is our Peace Testimony, which describes peace as the work of “sustaining relationships of mutual human regard, of seeing and speaking to that of God in everyone, of seeking peace within ourselves, the family, the community and the world.” This, I think, is the key to managing our anger in the face of injustice: to work for peace with peace in our hearts, we must connect to that of God and the hope for peace in the hearts of others.

The British Yearly Meeting has a helpful query: “Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

As author and Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote, “One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.”

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting