One of the ironies of the Christmas season is that immediately after the birth of the Prince of peace, we get violence. The Feast of St. Stephen is on December 26; it commemorates an early witness to the faith who was stoned to death. December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents -- who were the children that Herod ordered to be slaughtered upon hearing of the birth of a potential rival.
We live in a world of violence. There is physical violence -- which may or may not be on an increase; and verbal violence, which -- from my perspective, is most definitely on the rise.
Joan Chittister acknowledges the presence -- if not the reign, of violence in our world. And she talks of peace, which she identifies in chapter 14 as a sign of the disarmed heart. She acknowledges that peace is not something that is ever achieved, but is something "sincerely and consistently sought. It comes, in fact, from the seeking, not from the getting." (page 184)
Seeking peace, then is a commitment to spiritual discipline. It doesn't take away the violence -- or remove us from it. But the desire to seek peace, and to imagine peace -- enables us to live in the midst of violence -- without violence. And helps to generate peace.
I remember someone saying that the reason nuclear weapons have not been used against humanity since 1945 is because millions of people around the world have prayed that they not be used. That their intentional prayer for peace helps to create peace. I also remember Desmond Tutu thanking an American congregation for helping to end apartheid in South Africa. How did we do that, we silently asked. By praying that apartheid come to an end, he said quite clearly. He told a story of a nun in California who lived as a hermit. She wrote Archbishop Tutu a letter to tell him that she got up every morning at 2 am, and for an hour prayed in silence for an end to apartheid.
"They didn't stand a chance," Bishop Tutu said. "The powers of darkness didn't stand a chance against a nun praying in silence -- at 2 am, in California."
And we believed him.