Saturday, December 18, 2010

Looking for the Prince of Peace

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

And I can't think of that verse without hearing this chorus from Handel's Messiah in my head.

This week one of my friends was missing from the Christmas Eve choir rehearsal because he believes in the Prince of Peace. Jim is a veteran and he was in Washington, D. C. with Veterans for Peace. On Thursday we got an email from our pastor that Jim had been arrested in front of the White House for civil disobedience. He was among 131 people arrested, including Daniel Ellsburg, who released the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War.

When I did a Google search on: Veterans for Peace arrest December 16, 2010, I got a number of internet blog entries, led by postings on the Veterans for Peace website, but there were no immediate hits from any major newspaper. Peace protests and 131 arrests are not news? When I searched on the Washington Post website, there was no mention of the arrests. Nor was there anything in the New York Times, except for this individual comment following an editorial about President Obama's remarks about Afghanistan. In the Boston area, there was only this article in the Merrimack Valley newspaper, but nothing in the Boston Globe.

On Veterans Day this year I started reading Shelly Rambo's book, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining. Rambo speaks of three aspects of the "lens of trauma," "alterations in time, body and word" (p. 18-21). Trauma takes a person to an in between space, a liminal place, out of time, where at any time the person may re-experience the traumatic event—the past does not stay in the past. Trauma becomes part of body memory, bypassing conscious control by the brain over memories, so at any time body memory can be evoked by a sound, a smell, or a sight. In that way, trauma also bypasses human ability to put words to the event, because the suffering is imbedded directly in the body, and this isolates the sufferers because they can't access language to interpret their experiences. Rambo talks about the usefulness of theological language about and acts of witness as one way we can begin to be pastors and healers to those suffering from trauma. I have to confess that her book is one that I have needed to digest in small doses, but I was glad that I had read what I had about trauma when we heard from some of the veterans we were honoring after church the Sunday after Veterans Day.

The most memorable witness for me that day was the slender, even slight, young woman who was a Marine heavy diesel mechanic who, when she found out that she as a gung-ho Marine, couldn't get to Iraq using her mechanic's skills, volunteered for "mortuary affairs." It is clear that she really didn't know what she was volunteering for, and that perhaps there was no way in a two week training that she could have been prepared for what she would face. She shared a powerful witness to her time there: opening the body bags where every person was dressed like you, had the same kind of boots, dog tags, watch and wallet (because that's what the PX sold), and wondering which person you might find, and in what condition you might find this person's "remains." She now is studying to be a counselor, because she knows that veterans will need to talk to someone who understands. She is someone who speaks for peace, because she knows the cost of war.

For unto us a child is born…

I too have a yearning for peace. I want to stop grinding my teeth and tightening my muscles because I am stressed about budget cuts and increasing bureaucratic regulations at work that negatively impact thousands of elders, who are poor, sick, isolated and lonely people, because I am worried about friends and loved ones with chronic disease and pain, and because I have been confronted with the visible signs of incivility toward one another in this season in too many ways.

So today, instead, I want to celebrate and bear witness to the generosity of my colleagues who gave a thousand dollars so that we could buy grocery store gift cards for elders who don't have enough food to eat, and to understand that caring for people is an act of peace. I want to make my year-end donations to organizations that make a difference in my life and in the lives of the hungry in body and spirit, and in that act of giving know that our generosity and giving is a movement toward peace and healing and community. I want to applaud my friend Jim who has the courage to stand for peace and be arrested for his witness, and to shout out that ending war is a first step toward peace. Professor Valerie Dixon started each class session of "The Ethics of Peacemaking" with a time of meditation and prayer because she believed that we have to have peace inside, to know peace ourselves, in order to work for peace. We must know peace in order to do the work of the Prince of Peace.

My prayer today is that we each take the time to know or find a moment of peace within ourselves. Then may we share that peace with others and may we each be a witness for peace and healing, the holy wholeness that is shalom, in the world.

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