Blessed are the Peacemakers: Whitterings, March 2005

“Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called children of God”

Our Lord does not say that the peacemakers will be blessed; He says that they are blessed. I put it to you that the peacemakers, in common with all the categories of people mentioned by Christ in the Beatitudes, are already blessed because they are already journeying on the path of righteousness. To be a peacemaker one must be able to step back from the heat of the conflict and see both parties in a conflict with the peaceful and painful eyes of compassion. A couple of weeks ago I watched as two teenage friends, both already upset with other people, began to spar in order to let off steam. It did not take long before one inadvertently touched a sore point in the other. I watched while in the two seconds taken to respond the other swiftly found an even weaker spot in the other and poked back. In the twinkling of an eye they were well into the process of trying to hurt each other with personal information that only close friends are privy to. While watching them I felt a sense of pain mixed with peaceful compassionate detachment.

Perhaps detachment is the wrong word. I mean the feeling that one gets when one seems to be looking down from a great height upon conflict while loving both sides and seeing them in a way that you realize that they can not see one another. I remember when I was a teenager and had a truly poisonous and vitriolic fight with a dear friend of mine in the sacristy after having served Evensong and Benediction. The elderly priest taking the service, the former Dean of Aberdeen Canon Arthur Hotchison, tried to intervene but neither of us paid any attention to him as we were so caught up in our screaming. A few seconds or minutes later I remember finally focusing on Fr Arthur’s face over the shoulder of my friend and saw that he was silently weeping. Canon Hotchison was in his mid eighties when this occurred and was not in excellent health. My friend and I used to go regularly to his house to clean and prepare meals for him and so we were both very close to him. The second I saw his pain the fire of anger in me died. I felt ashamed and guilty. I felt helpless watching this old priest whom I loved crying because of my violent words. I did not remember what he said exactly but it was something about him loving us and that we loved each other and why were we not kinder to one another. I now think I know what he felt: the compassion to see both parties with love mixed with the painful realisation that one is unable to get the other parties to love one another the way you do. This is also true when you love someone who does not love them self and so you must constantly stand back and watch as they punish them self.

Surely part of being a peacemaker is to learn to live in this lonely land of compassion. We do not often think of peacemaking as lonely or painful. In Leonard Cohen’s song Suzanne there is the verse:

“And Jesus was a sailor
when he walked upon the water
and he spent a long time watching
from his lonely wooden tower
and when he knew for certain
only drowning men could see him
he said all men will be sailors then
until the sea shall free them
but he himself was broken
long before the sky would open
forsaken almost human
he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
and you want to travel with him
you want to travel blind
and you know he will find you
for he’s touched your perfect body
with his mind.”

In 1962 Hector Rondon of the newspaper La Republic in Venezuela covered the violent rebellion in Puerto Cabello when rebel marines clashed with government troops in the streets. As the government troops moved from doorway to doorway to flush out the rebels, peasants flowed into the city from the countryside to side with the loyalists. The rebel marines were pushed into a four block area and a deadly game began. The government troops went building by building to exterminate the revolutionaries. Rondon recalls, “The air was full of lead when I noticed a priest walk into the streets to offer the Church’s last rites to the dying. One badly wounded soldier crawled to the priest, later identified as Father Luis Padilla, and pulled himself to a kneeling position, grasping the priest’s cassock. The sniper fire continued, and bullets chewed up the concrete around the priest as he looked up to face the sniper. Padilla gave the sacrament to the soldier, then moved onto others who had fallen.” The photograph he took at this moment won the Pulitzer Prize in 1963.

When I first came across this photograph I was reduced to tears. For me it represents this lonely love of those who love Christ and who therefore love the world with His love. “Love one another as I have loved you.” In the middle of hell a priest walks into danger to comfort the violent children of this world as they reap the prize of hatred. Indiscriminately he comforts the fallen of both sides while snipers continue to fire at him. In this photograph is revealed the full pathos and the full glory of the Church at Her best.

The beginning of peacemaking is the realisation that ones enemy is as equally loved by God as you are. Your enemy is simply afraid. Fear is the root of all evil. As Yoda reminds us, “Fear leads to violence, violence leads to hatred, and hatred leads to the Dark Side.” In Rowan William’s Lent Book Christ on Trial he quotes from Anita Mason’s The Illusionist, a retelling of Christ’s Passion:

“The trial was taking place somewhere else. From an immeasurable distance, he was aware of the governor’s face staring at him in a passion of fury. Demetrius looked at the face and saw that this man too would one day die. He looked deep into the furious eyes, and far away at the back of them he saw fear.”

To see with the heart is to stand above the fire of passion of this world and see instead with the passionately compassionate, and hurt pained eyes of Christ. Christians are Strangers in a Strange Land, Aliens in Occupied Territory. We stand too much out of the world to take too much comfort from it but too much in it to be protected from it. We stand at the door. It is a lonely place to stand but we are glorious because of it. The Lesson of the Fox in the Little Prince reads,

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.”