I'm Off to Northern Ireland

Tomorrow I leave for Belfast.

I've been to Northern Ireland before, but only for a couple of days; this time I'll be there for a week, and will be co-leading, with my friend Gareth Higgins, a retreat on Celtic Spirituality, Contemplation, and Radical Peacemaking. We have organized the retreat so that part of each day is devoted to spiritual practices such as lectio divina, contemplative prayer, personal reflection or group interaction; with the remainder of each day devoted to exploring the Irish landscape and meeting a number persons, both Catholic and Protestant, who have been directly engaged in the Northern Ireland peace process. It is our hope that this event will prove to be an opportunity to find the connections between personal spiritual practice, community building, peacemaking (both internally and interpersonally), justice, and contemplation.

The Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland. Photo by Carl McColman

What emerges for me as I reflect on the possibiity and promise of this coming week is how each one of us holds an invitation to become "peacemakers within." Living as I do in the comfort of the Atlanta suburbs, the hot spots of the world — not only Northern Ireland, but Israel, Palestine, Darfur, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan — sometimes seem just far, far away. It's easy to lose myself in the daily grind, or the onslaught of the normal responsibilities of having a family, a career, and a home. Saying a prayer once in a while for the people suffering in the war-torn regions of the world often seems to be about the most I can muster.

But perhaps my perspective would change if I considered how my own heart is often a "war-torn" region. How easy it is to get angry at my loved ones for trivial reasons. How off center I get when conflict erupts at work. How annoyed, if not downright furious, I become at the seemingly perpetual traffic jam that is the Atlanta perimeter, I-285! Just because I do not resort to violence as a way of managing my conflict does not mean the conflict isn't there. And heaven knows, domestic, workplace, or road-rage violence are all too prevalent in our society. Perhaps the line separating me (and you) from those who are violent is thinner than we would care to admit.

So, while I may not be able to do anything more for the peace process in Northern Ireland (or the Middle East) than honor those who are actually doing the heavy lifting, I can certainly act in solidarity with them by initiating my own "peace process" within myself and for the benefit of my family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. As the old song goes: "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." It's a lovely sentiment, but of course, when I take a close look at my prejudices, my anger, my political biases, and my resentments, I realize I have plenty of work to do. Maybe the stakes aren't quite as high as for those involved in the cease-fire in Northern Ireland. But then again — maybe, perhaps, they are.