Becoming a channel for peace

The events in Ukraine have been triggering for me, as a person of Jewish heritage whose ancestors fled that region around the turn of the 20th century because of violence, discrimination and enforced subservience to repressive overlords. 

Ukraine, now improbably led by a Jewish man, is repeating the pattern of David vs Goliath, with ordinary civilians making improvised explosive devices to try to defend their homeland from invasion by soldiers equipped with missiles and tanks, while children huddle with their families in basements, or join the throngs trying to flee across the borders to uncertain, relative safety.

Squint a little and you can see so many other conflicts that have played out in just this way, since the dawn of human history. Are we doomed to endlessly repeat the cycle of military build-up (keeping the weapons factories humming and the stock market soaring) followed by conflict and the violent imposition of new social structures—rinse and repeat?

Can there be another way?

In the case of Russia vs. Ukraine, it’s been heartening to see big crowds risking their lives to protest the action of their government (just as US citizens did in 1968 (Vietnam) and 2004 (Iraq). Unlike World War II, when there was a clear enemy who deserved to be vanquished, most recent conflicts are wars of choice, fought to preserve or enhance elite strategic interests.  

We may not like Putin and his cronies, but they are just another example of the general paradigm of might makes right, which has been the US stance as well: here at home we tolerate the on-going impoverishment of people and social services in order to support the most powerful military in the world.

It’s the paradigm that needs our attention.

Those who are facing down the guns do not have the luxury of holding space for peace, unless they are willing to be martyrs. 

It falls to those of us on the sidelines to do the hard work of changing the paradigm and fostering a culture of peace.

In 1848, Thoreau famously withheld taxes and went to jail to protest the US involvement in what he considered to be an unjust war. 

In his letter penned from prison, “On Civil Disobedience,” which inspired Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. decades later, Thoreau wrote: 

“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth — certainly the machine will wear out… but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

Listening to Thoreau in 2022, I have to ask: How can I lend my life to the cause of world peace, the creation of social structures that nourish all people and the more-than-human world?  How can I put my gifts—for writing, teaching and encouraging others to give creative expression to their truths—in service to the cause of a brighter future for all of us on Earth?

Thoreau also wrote: “Most [people] live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

One act of liberation that any of us can do, with the basic creativity that is our birthright, is to sing our song! Sing it loud! 

Let the beauty inside us shine through and counter the darkness of that heavy, old paradigm under which so many of our ancestors were forced to live and die. 

We are each being called upon now to become sturdy planks on the bridge to the future, over which our descendants can cross to the better world that is possible. 

Each of us is a vessel for the creative spark that dances with life on this planet. Open your hearts and let that Lifeforce pour through you! 

Let your words and your images become instruments of peace. Reach out and harmonize with kindred spirits around you. Let your chorus ring out, sending ripples of peaceful intentions across the world.

Darkness can only be defeated with light. Every whisper, every murmured prayer, every unspoken positive intention, is an important contribution.  

As Rumi said, “Be your note.” 

Be it now, for the ancestors who are cheering us on, and for the future beings who, we hope, will be blessing our memory in a better time. 

Photo by J. Browdy
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