Friday, August 1, 2014

The Cosmic Effect of Violence (and Peace)

by Rebekah Mays

A photo of a man holding a limp child lit up my computer screen as I clicked on the Twitter link. The boy was one of four Palestinian children playing on a beach, killed by an Israeli airstrike. One look at the man’s face was enough to feel a share of his sorrow and powerlessness.

But perhaps since I was separated by space, by culture, by relative safety, the sorrow I felt was still quite small. This man's reality is not my reality, I couldn't help think.

But powerlessness – that I can relate to. Because as we educate ourselves about the many injustices in the world, as we read about the centuries of violence between groups of people and we see how little has changed for the better, we feel helpless. We know all too well that our material resources are limited. We feel we can do little more than raise awareness, or give money to someone who may or may not know how best to use it.

As people of faith, the other option we have is prayer. "Pray without ceasing," we're told again and again. But if we're honest with ourselves, many of us feel we are throwing our wishes for world peace to the sky. Our prayers must have gotten stuck somewhere, and we think they're never going to come back down.

But here's my question: what if we did have the power to change the world?

We say we want peace, but if we had the power to institute it globally, would we use it?

Whether we believe it or not, our power is infinitely greater than we realize. World peace actually begins with us, as naïve as it sounds.

In the first place, it is because violence is found much closer than we like to think. It’s not only in the Middle East, or in Central Europe, or on the border. It’s not just being perpetrated by people who are less "civilized" or who have a different skin color than we do. The same seeds of violence reside in our own hearts, if we allow them to remain there.

The inner violence of American society can so easily be observed online. The current dialogue about any hotly debated political topic right now reveals how obsessed we are with being right, and how little we actually care about justice and truth. Even (especially) in Christian circles, we see pride oozing from the arguments of both liberals and conservatives, along with assumptions, hyperbole, and lies for the sake of attention and reaction. We see accusations, defensiveness, and escalations of outrage until the Internet is one big glowing ball of anger and malice.

Indeed, there is a very tangible difference between verbal violence and the kind that’s going on right now in Gaza. But Jesus preached that, with regard to the perpetrator, there is no distinction between violent thoughts and actions. “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer,” he said.

We cannot say that the violence is far away, and that we are therefore unaffected by it. And we have to accept our own responsibility in perpetuating it.

But if violence produces more violence, so too does goodness.

In The Science of Being and the Art of Living, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi wrote that every single thing we do has some influence on the universe, whether for better or worse. Studies have shown that talking to a plant, especially in a positive way, will help it grow much faster. Similarly, he writes, “a good, sweet, loving expression to a child produces a loving and life-supporting influence in the whole of the cosmos."

Maharishi’s wisdom parallels that of Christianity. In addition to teaching that thoughts and actions are intimately connected, Jesus preached that we should not only love our friends and families, but our enemies as well. And to make it even more ridiculous, he called us to “pray for those who persecute [us].” Why?

Because somehow, our acts of kindness have an enormous, even cosmic effect. The "mere" act of praying for others creates a set of ripples -- ripples that begin with love instead of hatred. When we see our actions this way, with everything we do contributing to a chain reaction of either goodness or violence, we realize the importance and the potential of every single moment. As soon as we shift our perspective, it becomes easier to choose kindness over anger.

The great instigators of peace in our world – Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, countless others -- weren’t afraid to look inward to find this peace. Mandela said that “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.” Gandhi, likewise, wrote that peace starts in our souls: “A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”

As many of us know, we can’t be purely good on our own – we need grace. But once we have received grace, what restrains us from living truly radical lives of peace?

I challenge us, as we’re reading the news about the sobering events throughout the world, to never entertain the idea that we are powerless. World peace begins with you and me. 

Rebekah Mays is a Barnard College graduate originally from Austin, Texas. She currently works and writes in Prague, Czech Republic. You can find more of her writing on her blog The Prague BLOG or follow her on Twitter @smallbeks.

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