Monday, April 26, 2010

Peacework: Prayer, Resistance, Community

By Henri Nouwen
Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Books, 2005

Week 17 Spiritual

Originally published in the early 1980s, Henri Nouwen wrote this book in response to rising threats of global nuclear war. He was a Jesuit priest and writer, and a reluctant activist. As he came to understand, resistance is more than an activist response to threats of violence; the work of peace is a force of life and involves far more than placards, arrests, and lying down in front of tanks. He begins to understand that peace activism involves prayer, resistance and community, and it is much deeper than protesting war or nuclear proliferation. And that’s what makes this book valuable today.

Peace work involves first of all prayer, then resistance and finally community. Nouwen believes that activism comes as a response to the vocation of peacemaking. We must truly be peacemakers in every aspect of our lives and surround ourselves with others in a peaceful community. He is establishing a spirituality for peacemakers.

One reviewer mentions that as he begins a Nouwen book, he always thinks Nouwen is simplistic and obvious, but as he gets into his books, he finds the profundity. I found that to be true as well. I thought, “What’s the deal? This guy is so na├»ve!” but as I read further, I began to want to underline nearly every sentence and memorize quotes. His profound knowledge about spiritual growth is overwhelming.

The point of activism is to help people find a place for themselves as children of God. People are searching for a home, and that by helping people find that home in Jesus, peace will come into their lives and into the life of the world.

I recently edited a dissertation written by a psychologist. The message of her dissertation was that pain extends beyond the generations, and that the pain of the holocaust goes on and on through generations that did not have personal experience with the war or the holocaust. This is the point that Nouwen is making. By eliminating fear and providing a peaceful world filled with Christ-like people, the purpose of Jesus will be fulfilled and the threat of nuclear proliferation will be eliminated.

I would not recommend this book as a first book to read by Henri Nouwen. Many people would recommend The Wounded Healer as a first book. I will remember that.

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