I’m extremely interested in the study of the human desire, over the ages, to have justice and of people seeking hope in what the ancient Egyptians called Ma’at (a balance between the powerful and powerless).
The 20th century writer and philosopher Thomas Merton cautions that “hope in man must not be naive.” He advocated non-violence. This concept seems so utopian that it could never be achieved within the context of human time, perhaps not even in the 100 (if we’re lucky) years we have to live on this earth.
His writing pushes readers to play with the concept of timelessness or eternity and what can be achieved by moving forward with “truth” — no matter what the immediate results prove. “Do not depend on the hope of results,” he argues. He says Christians are working on a timetable that is dependent on God and that we must suffer as Christ did, taking on the yoke of the savior, that yoke of evil.
Despite this, in the immediate context of our current world, I couldn’t help but think of how one goes about changing the politics of the world through non-violence — considering the current crisis in Ukraine, various conflicts in North Korea, flare-ups in Africa and even local violence I see on the news in Savannah and our Lowcountry each year.
There sometimes seems to be a stage that the powerful begin to stand on, and there becomes a distinct separation from the ordinary — a hedge away from regular people. If “the realism of non-violence must be made evident by humility and self-restraint, which clearly show frankness and open-mindedness and invite the adversary to serious and reasonable discussion,” then the stage has to be torn down, or everyone must be brought onto the stage so that listening, discussion and a middle ground can be found.
Should we use the threat of power and violence to raise us to that stage, and make peace then — and by those means?
Merton calls on us to say, “No!” We must not allow ourselves to take that stage, because that would make our ideal of non-violence a pharisaic ideal.
“The basis of pharisaism is division,” he states, and the basis of non-violence is the humbleness and oneness of the entire human race. The only real solution is to do the work of God in faith and have hope that through the generations, the kingdom of God will eventually come.
This is a timetable of patience, and is not dependent on immediate gratification. Though this is a hard ideal and the ways to live it out are diverse — from those who write in their home’s chambers, to the marches of Martin Luther King Jr. and those who non-violently struck the same chord for justice — there are endless battles that can be won on the level of ordinary streets.
Do we have the patience? How long will we wait until the earth is made new?
With each action we take and each word we say, with every moment we listen and by how we distribute and give of what we have in our possession, we push against walls that separate human from human, people from people and nation from nation.
A great hope is that all people will unite one day and accomplish great things. It always starts small in the hearts of a few.
What big things do you want to see accomplished? What steps can we take to make it so? How much patience will it take to bring about? And lastly, will we do what is necessary long enough to make it so?
I think we can make this happen.