Give Us This Day Our Daily Will to Build Peace:
A Reflection for September 21, International Day of Peace
There is no way to peace; peace is the way.
And all your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace.
—Isaiah 54:13 (Today's International Version)
And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children
—Isaiah 54:13 (21st Century King James Version)
Mentored in peace by God can be an awesome task. I was fascinated by a rabbinic interpretation of this verse. Playing on the original Hebrew word for children, banayik, the Babylonian Talmud says, “Read not banayik (your children) but bonayik (your builders).” Turning children into builders is a key. Peace needs to be built piece by piece, step by step.
Being Mentored Into Peace
Students between the ages of 8 and 19 from different religious and cultural backgrounds in New York City came together and worked on a “9/11 peace story quilt.” It was an artistic endeavor aimed at transforming the brokenness and wounds caused by the tragedy into a symbol of unity and healing. The inspiration came from a book, What Will You Do for Peace?: Impact of 9/11 on New York City Youth. Faith Ringgold, an 80-year-old children’s book author, is a key person who worked with the children on the story quilt.
Recently some of the United Methodist Women members worked on a similar story quilt in the prayer room during the National Seminar in Birmingham, Ala. They brought torn pieces of fabrics symbolizing their hurts and brokenness, and deaconesses patiently worked on stitching the pieces together into a quilt symbolizing healing, wholeness and reconciliation. I saw Deaconess Joanne Finley sitting on the floor with her needle stitching the torn pieces and praying over them and offering herself to pray for us who visited the prayer room. Deaconess Earnestine Varnado also worked patiently on bringing together the torn pieces into a whole. It took time, energy and patience to bring the disparate and torn pieces together into one beautiful quilt. Among the more than 50 words written on the fabric pieces, some stand out:
- Finding shalom (peace).
- Brokenness to wholeness.
- Letting the circle be whole.
- Restoring justice-building community.
Piece by piece, stitch by stitch.
A Portrait of Peace
Both collective and individual peace stories inspire us into action. For the sake of justice building and peace building, many have fearlessly spoken out. One such person is Marian Solomon, a United Methodist Women member from Ames, Iowa. She was inspired in her youth by the messages of E. Stanley Jones, a Methodist missionary to India, and Frank Laubach, who mobilized literacy around the world with his memorable imperative “Each one teach one.” Ms. Solomon listened to the inspiring call of these two leaders in a Methodist youth meeting. Mr. Jones invited her to go to India and see Gandhi’s peace work in India. This became an impetus for peace work for Ms. Solomon. In India she met James Lawson, a young leader from the United States who later became a leading figure in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. Mr. Lawson was sent by the then Woman’s Division as a missionary to learn Gandhian ways of peace and nonviolence in confronting oppressive structures—a piece of United Methodist Women history not known to many.
When Ms. Solomon came back to the United States, she committed herself to becoming a nurse. She spent a year and a half in India working with the followers of Gandhi providing health care and addressing the needs of children. After that, she also committed herself to the Civil Rights Movement in Florida and North Carolina in registering African Americans to vote. Her passion for peace further led her to be part of Witness for Peace in Nicaragua and of the Christian Peacemaker Team to Israel and Palestine.
In 2002, I saw Ms. Solomon at the Iowa Conference United Methodist Women’s annual meeting. She was ready to leave for Iraq with the Voices in the Wilderness and Christian Peacemaker Team. She recently told me that she went to Iraq to prevent the war. She later continued her protest in Washington, D.C., urging the government not to pursue the path of war. She was put in jail.
When asked what she as a United Methodist Women member wanted to share with us, a community of women committed to mission, Ms. Solomon said, “Do not be afraid of change, and be willing to do what Jesus would want us to do, for the poor, for those who have so little, for a chance for life.”
For a Chance for Life
Peace is about giving a chance for life. Peace is naming the demons that obstruct the “fullness of life” promised to us (John 10:10). Peace involves:
- Living in harmony with the Holy Spirit, with oneself and with our neighbors.
- Confronting the demons and exorcising them.
- Working for justice and reconciliation.
- Strengthening social networks and community institutions.
- Building harmony and wholeness for the kingdom of God.
- Protecting the earth and passing on a stable and safer world for future generations.
Many of the fabric pieces stitched into the beautiful quilt in the prayer room at the National Seminar portray some of the basics of shalom as well.
In the kin-dom God is glorified, the will of God is done and peace and justice reign supreme. As long as poverty, exploitation and violence exist, there will not be any peace. We need to address the root causes. We are called to be evangelists of shalom. This is a calling the United Methodist Council of Bishops affirmed in an earlier foundation document named “Defense of Creation.” They invited the church to pray, saying, “Prayer is the armor of the spirit that both humbles and empowers us to be instruments of peace that is not our own to give.”
On this International Day of Peace, I invite us to take a minute to join people around the world to pray for peace, resolve to be builders of peace, confront anti-shalom forces and be restorers of justice-building communities. Building peace piece by piece is the way. In the words of St. Augustine of Hippo, may we “share a common desire: peace.”
Glory E. Dharmaraj, Ph.D., is director of spiritual formation and mission theology for the Women’s Division.