The story on the front page of Wel-com this month is disturbing and depressing because it reminds us that in the place of Jesus’ birth the Roman occupation that so oppressed Jesus’ fellow Jews is still in place 2000 years later but this time the oppressors are the Israelis.
The other depressing fact is in the story on page 6—it is 60 years since the United Nations began with the Declaration of Human Rights recognising the dignity of all human beings and their right to exist together in peace and harmony. It is also 60 years since the partition of Palestine organised to bring peace to this troubled part of the world which has been wracked by violence ever since.
But American peace activist John Dear SJ reminds us that Advent is a time of great hope, a time when we can search in our hearts to find the peace that is God.
At this time we think of Mary, pregnant and puzzled but willing to be a ‘handmaid of the Lord’, with Joseph, shut out of Bethlehem and forced to doss down in a stable.
‘Mary is a contemplative, a person of quiet prayer, solitude, silence, attentive listening and steadfast waiting for God’s word of peace.’
This is how we begin our journey to peace, says John Dear, by following Mary and sitting daily in the silence and solitude of contemplative prayer, taking time to listen for God.
‘When we do, oddly enough, we notice once again the violence within us, whatever keeps us unpeaceful. The prayer of peace begins by noticing that inner violence and giving it all—all our anger, resentments, hurts, wounds, bitterness and hatred—to God, so that God will disarm our hearts and give us the gift of peace.
‘As we practise this contemplative nonviolence and let go of our violence, we become more and more peaceful like Mary. We make peace with ourselves so that we are at peace within ourselves and with all creation and ready for the coming of the God of peace.’
With prayer comes the compulsion to act. As New Zealanders we may feel there is not be much we can do for the situation in the Middle East although learning about it is always a good start. But there is a great deal we can do to ameliorate situations of violence in our own country, as witnessed by the people whose stories of setting up a community market in Newtown appear on pages 10 and 11.
It is well documented that family violence often comes from the frustration of not being able to make ends meet. The organisers of the Newtown community market decided to try to address the issue of rising food prices by obtaining fresh food at lower prices and bringing it to where it is most needed. What may be more important is that they provided a place where people could meet and discuss ways in which they could take more control of their own nutrition by growing their own vegetables. There was a great sense of hope in the Newtown parish hall that day because people were shown a way to take action for themselves against the grinding poverty that restricted them from being fully human and fully alive.
Wishing you a peaceful and joyful Christmas and God’s blessing for 2009.