I love the word radical. The etymology of the Latin word radical is root. To be radical is simply to get to the root of things. To dig deeply. To search for the buried treasure of truth that is usually hidden far beneath the surface.
We live in a world that has little room for radicality. People may sometimes shift a little to the right and then a bit to the left, but rarely do they descend to the depths. To that deep, dark place of mystery and possibility where peace awaits our coming.
From the time I was a little girl, I have had little tolerance for cruelty or injustice of any kind and a heart inclined toward peace. With the birth of my first child, however, that instinct deepened to a remarkable extent as I got in touch with a protective ferocity within myself that burned like a bonfire.
On March 2, 1986, a 9 lb., 13 oz. baby came into this world and my life changed – utterly and irreversibly – as a result of the soul-shaking experience that occurred simultaneous to Sydney’s birth. It was a terrible grace that rocked my universe to its core. It was one of those spiritual demarcation lines that calls for deep prayer and a strong seat belt.
What occurred at that moment was both internal and visual which makes it hard to explain. What happened was that a very vivid and detailed procession of all the world’s children – past, present, future, including this new daughter of mine – appeared before me, an endless, eternity of beautiful children of all hues, shapes, and sizes.
As I took in their innocence and vulnerability, I was filled with the gut-level knowledge – a deep certitude – that I would lay down my life, if need be, to shield these little ones from the ravages of war and violence.
At the same time, I experienced a profound connection, a soulful solidarity, with mothers around the globe: Israeli mothers and Palestinian mothers, mothers huddling in shelters with arms wrapped tightly around traumatized children, mothers foraging for crumbs in a world that has money for bombs but not for bread. A world that invests in weapons while children cry for water.
When Sydney was born, something deep inside of me was born as well –a fierce nonviolent warrior spirit that is willing to go to the mat for a more just and peaceful world.
With the subsequent births of Molly, Hannah, and Patrick, that instinct only deepened.
Since that time, I have come to realize that our lives are really not our own and that it is good to acquiesce to our vocation once it is revealed to us. My own surrender to peacemaking was final and unequivocal.
This blessed work has taken me to schoolyards and street corners, to classrooms and court rooms, to churches and marches. I’ve traveled out West, up North, down South, around the state, and from Palestine to Port-au-Prince on behalf of peace.
The longest journey, however, has been the long sojourn into the depths of my own heart where I have had to face my own inner violence, my own egoism and insecurity, my own tendency to judge and dismiss those with whom I disagree. While not pretty to look at, it is a crucial part of the work. Work that is heartbreaking, joyful, frustrating, and life giving all at the same time.
And always deep – although often not appreciated.
After an arrest for a nonviolent protest against nuclear weapons, I carried a life-sized, stuffed body of a child into the courtroom to remind the judge that the babies who stand under the nuclear shadow are much more than “collateral damage.” Refusing to look deeply, the judge angrily shut off my microphone and sentenced me to five days in the county jail.
This refusal to look, to see, to get to the root of things is the problem.
Radical peacemaking means looking deeply in order to understand the roots of the violence that is choking our world. Some of the roots seem obvious, but unless we’re willing to do the digging, we may find ourselves parroting old, tired tropes: violence is inevitable, violence is necessary, violence is part of our makeup.
When we look deeply, we learn that perhaps the most stubborn root of violence is predicated on fear: the fear of losing face, the fear of losing control, the fear of losing what one already has, the fear of not getting what one desires.
Lift the veil of violence, and you will almost always uncover fear. When coupled with unbridled power, insatiable greed, and deadly weapons, fear has the potential to pull down the curtains on human life as we know it.
Another root of violence is an inattentiveness to beauty. I am convinced that if we looked deeply at the beauty in others, ourselves, a single sunflower or a solitary sparrow, we would be overcome by the breathtaking wonder and fragility of it all and simply find ourselves unable to harm other people or our battered planet.
Finally, one of violence’s most persistent roots is trauma. There is an acute need for deep healing at this moment in human history. From the West Bank of Palestine to the eastside of Detroit, people are suffering. These are harsh times characterized by brutal economic policies that are stripping the planet of its resources while stomping on the backs of the poor and squeezing the spirit out of the human family.
This deeply rooted systemic violence is the primary violence that gives rise to so much of the frustration and rage that people are feeling. Yet, it is seldom named. This primary violence has its roots in what Dr. King called the giant triplets of materialism, racism, and militarism. Like any system of domination, it does not allow for any kind of vulnerability or softness. It carries a big stick and never cries. It is abusive and it’s killing us.
Think of the days following 9-11 when the world fell silent and held its breath, waiting to see how the US would respond. I was heartbroken but not surprised when those in power chose guns over grief. Unwilling to hold the powerlessness and pain of the moment, this nation went to war.
I would argue that the work of peacemaking is fundamentally the work of healing, healing that cannot begin until the bandage of denial is ripped off in order to get a grip on the truth and severity of the wound. The wounds in our world at this time are deep-seated and acute.
From there, it involves looking deeply at the fallout from that violence in order to find ways to create communities where we can bind each other’s wounds. Recognizing that hurt people hurt people and healing people heal people, we are all called to the sacred work of loving ourselves and one another back to life.
It’s obvious that violence has deep roots, but so does peacemaking. One of the roots of peacemaking that I would like to lift up today is integration, the interplay of mind, body, and spirit. For me, peacemaking is a combination of education, contemplation, and agitation or, if you prefer, the synthesis of head, heart, and hands. This involves a delicate tightrope walk between stillness and action. Both are necessary and, in tandem, they serve as the yin and yang of deep, radical peacemaking. This is a healing way of being in a broken world.
If the word “radical” means getting to the root of things, it is fitting to end this reflection with a gardening metaphor. Any gardener knows that the real work takes place in cool, dark soil where anything can happen once seeds are sown and roots take hold. While we delight over the beauty of summer blooms, we often forget the hard, quiet work going on deep underground.
Peacemaking is much the same. The truth of the matter is, all of us are called to midwife peace into our world. To sow seeds without knowing the outcome. To get our hands dirty by entering fully into the messy fray of this ailing world of ours.
Let’s use mother as a verb rather than a noun so that all of us can claim this day. We are living in violent, perilous times on a suffering planet that needs all the mothering we can muster. We need to reach for our garden gloves and dive into the dirt with all the love in our hearts.
Our world is dying for mothering. Our children are dying for mothering.
Let’s get to the root of things. Let’s get radical. Let’s work for peace.
Women Walking Woodward for Peace Mother’s Day Reflection at 1st UU Church, Detroit