Spiritual Nonviolence, Part 8

Spiritual Nonviolence, Part 8

Active nonviolence call us to be ready to suffer, perhaps even with joy, if we believe this will help liberate the Divine in others. This includes the acceptance of our place and moment in history with its trauma, with its ambiguities.”[1] 

Here are the ten tenants of A Spirituality of Nonviolence,[2] based on The Decalogue for a Spirituality of Nonviolence.1

  1. I recognize the sacred in all people.
  2. I accept myself deeply.
  3. I recognize that what I resent in another also lives in me.
  4. I renounce the ‘us-them’ mentality.
  5. I face my fear with love.
  6. I accept that New Creation is a community act, not a solo act.
  7. I am part of the whole creation, not master over.
  8. I am ready to suffer to help liberate the Divine in others.
  9. I will celebrate when the presence of God is accepted.
  10. I will slow down and plant seeds.

The eighth statement from A Spirituality of Nonviolence2 is I am ready to suffer to help liberate the Divine in others. Suffering is a nearly forbidden word in today’s Western culture, as if by speaking it aloud we increase the chances of bringing it nearer. We go to great lengths to prevent, avoid, or minimize suffering, and we have made significant progress in alleviating many causes of suffering from past eras. With the invention of and common accessibility to indoor plumbing, heating and air conditioning, personal vehicles, the internet, and antibiotics we have made our lives easier and more comfortable in many ways. But has our overall level of suffering decreased or merely shifted form? I suspect the latter to be the case.

It is easy to believe that more money in the bank or fewer pounds on the body or moving to a new town, job, or relationship will alleviate our personal suffering and put us in a happier and more contented space. While I believe we can sometimes escape certain types of suffering, we cannot erase suffering from our lives by changing our physical, earthly circumstances. Suffering, both individual and communal, is a spiritual issue that often manifests physically, but cannot be resolved in the ways we typically approach problem-solving. In fact, and frustratingly paradoxically, suffering can only be alleviated by embracing it, by getting closer to it, and by accepting it as a life-long companion. None of which is to say we should cease our efforts to relieve dehumanizing and life-threatening forms of suffering, only that we should accept that eliminating one type of suffering will not stop suffering, in the form of difficult challenges, from resurfacing in other forms. If suffering has spiritual (meaning subconscious) roots, the fact that we will suffer from something is beyond our control. Buddhism recognizes suffering as a foundational element of earthly life. The cure, which is deeply unsatisfying to most Western minds, lies in non-attachment, meaning accepting that to live is to suffer and willingly accepting whatever is given us to bear. Learning to live contentedly in spite of our suffering is the key to a joyful life.

When we view suffering from a broader perspective we see that it lights the fire by which we leave our comfort zones and grow into more mature states of being, even though it often requires tremendous discomfort to dislodge us from our status quo. Suffering has a Divine purpose, not because it is painful but because it is a necessary stage for change to occur. In the context of our current theme of nonviolence, suffering is how spiritual forces lead us to a new, nonviolent life. Because suffering is a spiritual issue, we must search deeply within for what it seeks to change in us. What am I denying about myself and projecting onto an external situation or person? If we are to address suffering, our own or that of others, we must accept that suffering is internally, not externally generated. To blame others is to miss the point and perpetuate that form of suffering.

Liberatingthe Divine within ourselves makes us less likely to react violently toward others because it gives conscious purpose to our suffering. Helping others liberate the Divine within themselves, even if it causes hardship for us, makes them less prone to violent actions and reactions, too. Perhaps the question we should ask is not, “How can I reduce my personal suffering?” but “For what higher purpose am I willing to suffer?” Once we learn to live with suffering, taking on suffering for other purposes is not a problem to be avoided but part of the work we willingly do for the greater good.

This is the 34th in a series of Life Notes titled Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus. The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of other individuals or organizations. To engage with me or to explore contemplative spiritual direction, contact me at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com.

[1] Rosemary Lynch and Alain Richard, “The Decalogue for a Spirituality of Nonviolence,” in From Violence to Wholeness, Ken Butigan with Patricia Bruno, Franciscan Nonviolence Center, 1999, p. 18.

[2] www.cac.org, A Spirituality of Nonviolence, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE7pqKJ_aRo

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