John Philip Newell: 11/11/11: Our Instinct for Unity

Col. Gaddafi is dead. Pray that there may now be peace for the people of Libya. Not that it will be an easy transition, after decades of brutal dictatorship and after bloody battles of civil war and the violent killing of Gaddafi. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "brute-force" is incapable of creating true transformation. Hate-force cannot do it. Only action that is based on a true regard for the other is capable of healing what has been torn apart. This is our true "soul-force," said Gandhi, to heal the world through the hard work of love. How do we access within ourselves this deep energy for transformation?

On 11/11/11, Armistice Day, people from different ethnic groups and religions will gather together to chant for peace at All Saints Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas. The armistice that ended the hostilities of World War I was signed on Nov. 11, 1918. We need a new end of hostilities in the world today. Libya needs it. We need it. Every nation, every community, every family on earth needs it. I invite you to join in this offering of prayer for peace, wherever you may be.

On Nov. 11 in Austin we will especially pray for peace between the religious households of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. We will use words from the Quran, the Hebrew Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus to chant for an end to hostilities. Without Christian-Muslim-Jewish dialogue there will not be peace in our world. Without a return to the prophetic vision for unity at the heart of every great spiritual tradition, there will not be new beginnings among us as nations.

To pray for peace is not to seek a healing that is contrary to our deepest instinct. It is rather, as Mahatma Gandhi said, to get in touch with "the intense longings of the human heart." We are made in the image of God. This is the foundational belief of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Deep within us are the yearnings of God for oneness, even though we may live tragically removed from these longings, or not know how to truly satisfy them.

I lived on the holy island of Iona in the Western Isles of Scotland for four years. It is a place of pilgrimage to which people come from the four corners of the earth, seeking new beginnings for their nations and families. During our time on the island, it was especially people from Northern Ireland and South Africa who came expressing their intense longings for peace. We could not have imagined then what we now know about the journey of transformation in Northern Ireland and South Africa. It is not that perfect peace has come for these people. Enormous challenges still face them. But hopeful change occurred in the midst of unimaginable violence and injustice. And the change came because people chose to be true to the sacred instinct for unity that is deep in the human heart.

On Iona we had a Border collie named Jo. He loved to round up. In fact, he lived to round up. The instinct for unity has been particularly bred into the Border collie, but it is a holy instinct deep within everything that has being. We and all things come from the One. We carry within us the sacred longing for oneness. Jo was excited from the moment on pilgrimage day each week when, with up to a hundred pilgrims from around the world, we would walk the island pilgrims' path, reflecting on the journey of our lives and nations. He would look almost berserk with ecstasy as he circled us again and again. Toward the end of the pilgrimage we would sit in a circle around the ruins of the hermit's cell and pray for peace. Jo would enter the heart of the circle and lie down and go to sleep. As someone who knows Border collies said to me, "Of course, he lay down and slept. His work was done. He had you in a circle."

What has happened to our instinct for unity? And how shall we nurture it? Teilhard de Chardin, another prophet for peace in the 20th century, said that once humanity has harnessed the great energies of earth, sea and sky, we will then learn how to harness the greatest of energies, the energy of love. And on that day we will have discovered fire for the second time. I call on us as nations, as communities and as families to harness this greatest of energies. It alone can transform us.

To the home of peace,

to the field of love,

to the land where forgiveness and right relationship meet,

we look, O God, 

with longing for earth's children,

with compassion for the creatures,

with hearts breaking for the nations and people we love.

Open us to visions we have never known,

strengthen us for self-givings we have never made,

delight us with a oneness we could never have imagined,

that we may truly be born of You,

makers of peace. 

(from John Philip Newell's "Praying with the Earth: A Prayer Book for Peace")

[Taken with permission from Religion, originally posted 10/25/11]