Thich Nhat Hanh: A Flower Opens

 

 

 

Late at night,
the candle gutters.
In some distant desert,
a flower opens.
(From “Disappearance” by Thich Nhat Hanh)

In 1966, Thomas Merton met Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, Zen Master, peace activist, and poet from Vietnam. He came to the U.S. as part of a reconciliation journey, to show Americans a face of Vietnam we were not getting in the news. Because of Nhat Hanh’s tireless work for peace and reconciliation between deadly enemies, he was exiled from Vietnam in 1966. He relocated to Plum Village, at a retreat center in southern France.

In 2014, Nhat Hanh suffered a massive stroke that has left him unable to speak or walk, but it does not seem to have hampered his spiritual path. In October 2018, he returned to his home country of Vietnam to “live his remaining days” at Tu Hieu Pagoda, a Buddhist temple in Vietnam, where he was ordained at age 16.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s health is “remarkably stable,” a representative from Plum Village told Lions Roar, a Canadian Buddhist publication. The 92-year-old beloved Buddhist teacher is receiving Eastern treatment and acupuncture and regularly goes out for strolls around the temple grounds in his wheelchair.

“When there’s a break in the rains,” wrote a Plum Village representative, [he] comes outside to enjoy visiting the Root Temple’s ponds and stupas, in his wheelchair, joined by his disciples. Many practitioners, lay and monastic, are coming to visit Tu Hieu, and there is a beautiful, light atmosphere of serenity and peace, as the community enjoys practicing together there in Thay’s presence.”

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most famous Buddhist teachers in the world and is credited with helping to popularize mindfulness in the West. Known for his anti-war activism, in 1967, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by his friend Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is important to remember our elders. To walk in the path of the saints, do not simply do what they did; instead, dream what they dreamed.

Pietro Ameglio: What Mexico Needs in the Time of AMLO

[With gratitude to Gandhian nonviolent strategist Pietro Ameglio for his reflection below. Pietro and I have worked together on the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.–Rose]

BY PIETRO AMEGLIO

(Cuernavaca, Mexico) — January 2019 marked 25 years since the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, an historic event of the greatest relevance in the contemporary global context, with roots that stretch back centuries and repercussions that will reach far into the future.

It is a truly original experience of building struggle and massive social organization that seeks to confront and slowly replace capitalist social and productive relations, burdened as they are with racism, plundering and exploitation, with others that are more egalitarian, communitarian and rooted in social justice.  

Zapatismo is a social construct that operates simultaneously in the short, medium and long term.  For millions of us in the world, the Zapatista process changed our lives. It helped us to think upside down, to not be so defenseless in the social order. We can’t help but feel gratitude toward these women and men, girls and boys, whose influence has been felt in many processes of humanization all over the planet. And the best tribute that we can offer them is to not give up our resistance efforts and to always maintain critical thinking.

We can start with reflection on ourselves and our allies, knowing that we all make mistakes. From there we can build a continuous process of reflection and action rooted in “proper disobedience to any inhuman order” (J.C. Marín), confronting any kind of blind obedience to authority, wherever it may come from.

In Mexico we are in the first months of the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who came to power promising deep change with a focus on the needs of the poor majority.

Currently we are engaged in a major debate regarding the astronomic levels of violence in the country and the new government’s “pacification” plans. Are they focused on peacebuilding, which gets at the root issues of truth, justice and reparations? Or are they more aimed at calming the waters – an urgent task! – but in such a way that the storm continues below?

In this regard, one element of López Obrador’s plans is troubling. In 2006, former President Felipe Calderon gave the task of fighting drug cartels to the armed forces. Since then, organized crime-related homicide rates in Mexico have skyrocketed, with the total number killed exceeding 150,000. Now AMLO has called for the creation of a National Guard to complement the armed forces in the fight against organized crime. But the new 50,000-strong force initially would be drawn from the ranks of the armed forces and federal police.

This has led to a heated debate about whether the creation of a National Guard signifies the increased militarization of the country (of course it does; why else was the December “National Conference on Peacebuilding and Security” held at the Colegio Militar, the primary military educational institution in Mexico?) and if it is simply inevitable, given the dimensions of the war we are experiencing.

In between his election and inauguration, AMLO convened a series of Listening Sessions on Pacification and National Reconciliation (Foros de Escucha para la Pacificación y la Reconciliación Nacional). Their supposed intent was to gather input for the shaping of the new government’s policy. But what good were they if the citizen input was ignored and we are told that there is no practical alternative to a militarized approach to the violence? So the forums appear to be just more political theater, when the decision had already been made, and not entirely by Mexico alone.

It may be that the new government could not adequately assess the full scope of the war we are facing before taking office, especially in terms of the corruption and weakness of state institutions. Nonetheless, pacification requires actions that show a true intention to get to the roots of the problem of violence: the deep-seated criminal associations among government functionaries at all levels, elected and appointed members of the three branches of government, businesspeople, criminal gangs, legal and illegal armed forces, and parts of civil society.

Given the evidence we see every day, it is imperative that all those involved in such collusion be deposed, arrested, and punished and that their money-laundering operations be cut off. When we start to see this kind of action, we can begin to think that a real process of pacification may be underway.

In addition to such action, we will also need to see government action that empowers and legitimizes the different kinds of community guards or police that are subordinate to the communities themselves and that actually have been able to control or even eliminate the manifestations of organized crime that were devastating them. These local or regional organizations, self-organized from below, are the only ones that can affirm that they have been able to confront organized crime with positive results, including greater humanization with regard to both the communities and the criminals, and to return peace to their territories. So they should be supported and held up as an example, especially in the regions of greatest violence. Or do we know other means of containing such massive violence and impunity?

When we begin to see  initiatives like these, in the quantity and quality that the war in Mexico requires, then we will be able to have a rigorous debate about militarized or justice-based  approaches to peacebuilding. That is the true reality check that the country urgently needs.

In the mean time, a significant portion of Mexico’s population has accepted the war, with its endless turf battles among criminal organizations for monopoly control of territory, as the norm and as their principle source of employment. In fact we are talking about a huge capitalist enterprise that creates many thousands of jobs. And with the global economic crisis, those dependent on organized crime for a job are not inclined or do not even know how to change their employment. So we can expect a continuing increase in the spiral of war, as the daily news shows.

In January and February, the Fourth National Search Brigade for Disappeared Persons is taking place in the state of Guerrero. The Mexican government’s own tally of the disappeared is more than 34,000, a phenomenal number.

In the face of recent governments’ demonstrable unwillingness to resolve those cases, family members of the disappeared and their allies have organized their own search efforts, uncovering hundreds of clandestine graves all over Mexico.

These brigades, born of desperation, are a practical response to a human catastrophe and also a moral challenge to society to not accept this situation as normal and to join them in demanding the historical truth, justice, and reparations for the victims and their families.

In this strategic nonviolent offensive, the family members are exercising their social, moral and autonomous power directly, without requesting permission while seeking as many civil society and official allies as possible. We hope that with the new government, there will be better conditions for them to reverse the abandonment they have suffered.

This direct action by the families of the disappeared, like the autonomous government model built by the Zapatistas with their Councils of Good Government, is based on the direct exercise of power by the people. It is also similar to the massive Yellow Vest protest movement that has swept France since November, where important decisions are made in communal assemblies and in direct vote referendums.

Enough of spurious and anti-popular liberal representations. These are clear examples of the urgent need to organize and demonstrate in the streets with relentless persistence.[]

Pietro Ameglio is a Professor of Peace and Nonviolence Culture at the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) and an activist in nonviolent struggles in Mexico. Translation from Spanish to English by Phil McManus.

 

My Lai Massacre in Vietnam: 50 Years Later

I was five years old when the people of a set of small villages in the My Lai region of Vietnam were massacred by U.S. soldiers. I don’t remember hearing about it or understanding what it meant until much later. However, I do remember driving with my parents to San Francisco to pick up my cousin who was returning from Vietnam where he served as a medic. He was not the same cousin I remembered from before. He was traumatized.

I am of the era where my older cousins and my high school teachers were veterans of the U.S. war in Vietnam. It colored everything they thought, did, felt. It set them apart from other Americans. In subdued desperation, all around us, the fought for their sanity and to make sense of hell. An impossible task.

Fifty years later, our U.S. wars are removed, sanitized. We don’t do “body counts.” We’ve outlawed frontline reporting. We have drones to kill for us. But the frontline soldiers still come back traumatized — and the killing of the innocent and guilty enemy is no less hellish.

I’m grateful to Ken Sehested for inviting me to submit a poem-prayer to this collection of worship resources produced for the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee to remember and repent what our war looked like on March 16, 1968. I invite you to use them in your personal Lenten reflections and with your community and Veteran’s groups.–Rose Berger

>>Those of us who worked on the My Lai Massacre 50th Anniversary resources share a belief that truth is found in many faith traditions. A list of relevant quotes from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity is included. What we believe we all share in common is the longing and struggle for a world characterized by mercy, in turn mediating the demands of justice and the prerequisites of peace.

Those who planned the sample liturgy are Christians, and we write from our own experience; we do not presume the ability to leap from our context to construct a service incorporating the insights from other spiritual traditions. We recognize that honest interfaith engagement does not include abandoning our own confessional expressions, though it does mean holding such convictions with humility. Among other things, humility requires listening, the most penitential posture when approaching God, who always—always—calls to us from beyond borders and boundaries.

We trust that those who gather with us from other traditions, or of no particular religious affiliation, will participate as fully as vision and conscience allow. Even more, we hope that you may find some useful material in these resources (from which you are free to borrow and edit or adapt as seems appropriate) to develop a “Penitential Opportunity” service appropriate to your own tradition.

Included in addition to the liturgy are several supplemental resources: suggestions for additional music, litanies, and other readings; a meditation on the meaning of penitence, a theme integral to many religious traditions; a brief collection of historical facts to help in understanding the context of the My Lai massacre; a collection of quotes to guide deeper reflection and seasoned conviction; and a testimony from a volunteer in My Lai.

We recognize the pastoral challenge of getting local communities of faith to devote focused attention on an episode of brutality, 50 years past, in a place thousands of miles away, where few U.S. citizens have ventured to visit. This is particularly true in a culture in which communicating God’s promise, purpose, and provision is often confused with a desire to accentuate the positive.

The writing and compiling of these liturgical resources was done in anticipation of the Christian season of Lent, when penitence is a key theme, culminating in Easter’s hopeful promise of a redemptive future. This year the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is April 4, only three days after the church’s buoyant proclamation of death’s coming annulment. We seek prayers from every quarter to assist us in knowing how to seek the Beloved Community he proclaimed, and to live animated by Resurrection’s promise, in the face of the world’s seemingly endless confidence in what theologian Walter Wink called “the myth of redemptive violence.”<<–Ken Sehested, author and editor of prayerandpolitiks.org and coordinator of these worship resources

Charles E. Jefferson: ‘Woe to you military experts, blind guides’

One hundred years ago today, on April 6, 1917, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to go to war against Germany and the U.S. officially entered World War I. This evening the U.S. president launched missile strikes from navy warships in the Mediterranean Sea on the airbases of the Syrian government in retaliation for the Syrian president using chemical weapons, likely using sarin gas, on civilians two days ago. Despite the Hague Declaration of 1899 and the Hague Convention of 1907, which forbade the use of “poison or poisoned weapons” in warfare, more than 124,000 tons of gas were produced by the end of World War I.

Below is an excerpt from What the War is Teaching, a collection of addresses given by Rev. Charles E. Jefferson at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1916:

“This then is the work of the Christian minister in the present world crisis. He must resist with every ounce of his strength the power of the military experts. Jesus met the hierarchy of his day without flinching. His followers must do the same. Let ministers and laymen all say:

‘Woe to you, military experts, blind guides. You bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne upon men’s shoulder’s, and you do not move them with one of your fingers.

‘Woe unto you, military experts, blind guides, you shut up the kingdom of God against nations, and you open up the empire of suspicion and fear and hate; nations are feeling after righteousness and peace and joy, and you block their way.

‘Woe unto you, military experts, blind guides, you devour widows’ houses and other women’s houses and men’s houses, you devour the proceeds of industry, and the resources of nations, you devour the money which might be spent on social uplift and for the fighting of the evils which sap the life of mankind.

‘Blind guides and fools, you work everlastingly on the outside of the cup and the platter and turn men’s attention away from that which lies within. You talk unceasingly about the material defenses, fortifications made of concrete and steel and neglect those interior and spiritual defenses without which a nation is doomed ….’”–Charles Edward Jefferson, What the War is Teaching (1916)

Charles Edward Jefferson was born in Cambridge, Ohio, on August 29, 1860. He attended Ohio Wesleyan University. He was ordained by the Congregational Council in Chelsea, MA, September 29, 1887. He found a home as pastor of the Broadway Tabernacle Church in New York City from 1898 to 1929, then was honorary pastor from 1929 until his death in 1937. His writings are archived at the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston.

Francis Stratmann: ‘The souls of the well-intentioned’

I had a wonderful Skype interview with Jim Forest this morning. It’s great to be able to see one another’s faces, laughter, tears, and even a pesky sleek feline who likes to sit on Jim’s lap.

In the course of our conversation he mentioned a German Catholic priest who was head of the German Catholic Peace Union in the 1930s and wrote a significant book, War and Christianity Today. His name was Francis Stratmann, OP.

In learning more about Stratmann, I came across an excerpt from a letter he wrote on April 10, 1933, to Cardinal Faulhaber. This was less than a month after the German Catholic bishops had accepted the legitimacy of the National Socialist government and rescinded their mandate that Catholics could not support National Socialism.

“The souls of the well-intentioned are deflated by the National Socialist seizure of power, and I speak nothing but the truth when I say that the bishops’ authority is weakened among countless Catholics and non-Catholics because of their quasi-approbation of the National Socialist movement.”–Francis Stratmann, OP, to Cardinal Faulhaber in Munich (April 10, 1933) [from Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany, by Robert Krieg]

Stratmann’s German Catholic Peace Union was banned in July 1931 when their offices were raided by 26 men and Stratmann and others had to flee the country. Gordon Zahn’s German Catholics and Hitler’s War tells this story well.

I was struck to my heart’s core at reading this. Our souls are indeed “deflated” by the current “seizure of power.”–Rose Berger

Thomas Merton on #StayWoke Christians

Thích Nh?t H?nh and Thomas Merton, 1966
Thích Nh?t H?nh and Thomas Merton, 1966

We must awaken Christians to their “grave responsibility to protest clearly and forcibly against trends that lead inevitably to crimes which the Church deplores and condemns.”–Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton on Peace with introduction by Gordon Zahn (1968, pxi)

Sadako’s Peace Crane Arrives at Pearl Harbor

sadako
This origami paper crane made by Sadako Sasaki will be donated. It is said that a candy wrapper was used. (Provided by Sadako Legacy)

On Sept. 21, 2013, a tiny paper crane made by Sadako Sasaki, the Hiroshima girl who had hoped to survive radiation-induced leukemia by folding 1,000 paper cranes, arrived at the Pearl Harbor museum.

The exhibit opened on the day more than 200 countries celebrate the UN’s International Day of Peace and Nonviolence. Sadako was 2 years old when the U.S. dropped a nuclear bomb less than a mile from her home.

Here’s a bit from the news article:

“An origami created by a girl who contracted leukemia and died as a result of Hiroshima’s atomic bombing will be displayed at the visitor center of a memorial for victims of the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. …

Sadako Sasaki folded hundreds of origami paper cranes while she battled leukemia. She died in 1955 at the age of 12.

The origami is one of three owned by the nonprofit organization Sadako Legacy headed by her elder brother, Masahiro Sasaki, 70.

It is said in Japan that a person’s wishes will come true if he or she folds 1,000 paper cranes.

“We hope the country that started war by attacking Pearl Harbor (in 1941) and the other that ended the war by dropping the atomic bombs (in 1945) will reach an end of the war from the heart, discarding their old grudges,” Sasaki said.

“We hope the origami will serve as a catalyst for that.”

Clifton Truman Daniel, the 55-year-old grandson of Harry Truman, the U.S. president who authorized the 1945 atomic bombings, worked as a go-between so the origami could go on display at the Visitor Center of the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu.”

Read more here.

They Might Be Giants: Remembering Jerry Berrigan

Jerry Berrigan, left, and his brother the Rev. Daniel Berrigan with Sister Elizabeth McAlister in 1972. (Credit: UPI)
Jerry Berrigan, left, and his brother the Rev. Daniel Berrigan with Sister Elizabeth McAlister in 1972. (Credit: UPI)

Catholic peace prophet Jerry Berrigan died last week at home in Syracuse, NY. His brother Dan Berrigan is now the last of the six Berrigan brothers that called America to account for its soul. Among them they raised generations peace prophets. Below are excerpts from Jerry’s obituary and a recent profile of him. Thank God for the Berrigans — and all their relations!

Jerry Berrigan, a Catholic peace activist who, like his better known brothers Philip and Daniel, was arrested frequently for protesting the Vietnam War and other conflicts, died on July 26, at his home in Syracuse. He was 95.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Carla Berrigan Pittarelli.

Mr. Berrigan was a quieter counterpart to his brothers, the former Josephite priest Philip and the Jesuit priest and author Daniel. The two of them became international antiwar figures after they participated in the burning of Selective Service draft records in Catonsville, Md., on May 17, 1968. The trial of the Catonsville Nine, as they were known, helped galvanize protesters across the country.

Though he was not among the Catonsville Nine, Mr. Berrigan joined his brothers in other protests, against nuclear proliferation, both wars in Iraq and other causes. He, Daniel and 58 others were arrested in 1973 for disrupting a White House tour by kneeling in prayer on the last day of United States bombing in Cambodia, and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for pouring blood on the floor of the Pentagon in 1979. …

New York Times (By Daniel E. Slotnik, AUG. 2, 2015)

And from the profile:

Jerry Berrigan can offer plenty of first-hand stories about giants.

Dorothy Day, one of the founders of the legendary Catholic Worker movement, was a friend. Day believed in “a revolution of the heart,” in the idea of hospitality and community for those who have the least.

When Day visited Jerry and his wife Carol in Syracuse, she spent a night at their home in the Valley.

Just over 50 years ago, Jerry traveled to Selma for the great march for voting rights, part of a contingent led by the Rev. Charles Brady of Syracuse. By sheer chance, they had an opportunity to meet Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

That was three years before King was shot to death by an assassin. Berrigan said his overwhelming reaction – in a place where he witnessed the essence of raw hatred – was a sense of just how willing King was to put himself at ultimate risk, for a higher cause.

Decades earlier, as a young American soldier during World War II, Jerry had served Mass for Padre Pio in Sicily. Pio was revered among Catholics for bearing the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, and he’d later be canonized as a Catholic saint.

‘Heart! Heart! Heart!’: Jerry Berrigan, at 95, on greatest moment in life of conscience by Sean Kirst (July 25, 2015)

Abbot Phillip: ‘Seek Peace and Pursue It or Play Host to Anger’

Abbot Phillip
Abbot Phillip

Abbot Phillip Lawrence, OSB, at Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico, offers these reflections on the paradoxical struggle for peace:

“The challenge for anyone who wants peace is to create peace within.  That is the first challenge. Saint Seraphim of Sarov said in one of his sayings that if we acquire a spirit of peace, and thousands of souls will be saved around us.  We don’t have to fight the world or to fight others. The first and really only battle is with ourselves. In much of the spiritual tradition, there is reference to the spiritual struggle, the spiritual battle, etc. That battle is always against ourselves so that we may have peace and love others without judging them.

In my own life I have gone through times when peace has been easy and has been a wonderful gift. At other times, though, I can feel my own reactions which are against peace. That is the point where there is a choice: seek peace and pursue it or play host to my bad feelings and angers and lusts and fears and let them push my life in all directions. Just because I try to choose to seek peace does not make it easy! Instead, part of growing in the spiritual life is learning to embrace such battles and not weary in pursuing peace. Most of us know when we have accepted anger or lust or fear or laziness.

It is when we become aware that we have accepted such realities in our lives that we have the chance to choose against them.  Sometimes these realities creep up on us and we are not aware of them. But in that moment that we become aware, we have the choice. If we are engaged in the spiritual battle regularly, we tend to make better choices, even if not always the best choices. So if I were to give advice to anyone about the spiritual life, it would be simple:  start now to try to do God’s will!  No matter how often you fail, keep on trying.  In time good things will begin to happen along with the necessary suffering that trying to do His will entails. … Stay with it! …

So often, when we seek the spiritual life, we are hoping to feel good.  An honest spiritual life sometimes has those moments of feeling good.  But it also has long stretches of not feeling much and sometimes periods of feeling awful about ourselves, about others and even about God.  Be prepared to suffer if you want a deep spiritual life.”–Abbot Philip, Christ in the Desert

Read Abbot Philip’s whole reflection.

Video: ‘Start Music, End War’ Say Young Syrians

Young Syrian musicians are performing on the streets of war-torn Damascus to engage passersby, despite the security crackdowns.

When people ask, What can be done against ISIS or in the midst of a civil war? Artists always have an answer. Whether it is Vedran Smailovic with his cello in Sarajevo during the 1992 siege or the Syrian youth flash performers, Meet Us On the Road (seen here), peace finds its way.

With a motto, “Start Music, End War,” the organization Meet Us On The Road (find them on FB), whose members appear unexpectedly on the street with their instruments to recite their “musical” prayers, only to disappear suddenly, sees art as the only way to motivate Syrians to put aside differences and pursue peace.

This is what protest looks like in the middle of war: reclaiming space from violence. This is what church should look like every day. This is the kind of evangelization that undercuts the brutal coercion practiced by ISIS and the others with a habit toward violence.–Rose Berger

Read more here.