Jonalu’s Journal – November 2017

The deaths of armed service members in Niger brought to light the military presence of our nation in an unexpected place. When I noted to a group of local people, “We don’t even know–our Senate Armed Services Committee doesn’t even know–where we are militarily involved,” the response from one person was, “The question may be where we are not militarily involved.”

The prophet Jeremiah, when his people were exiled in Babylon, wrote about the priests and prophets, “They offer healing offhand for the wounds of my people, saying, ‘All is well, all is well,’ when nothing is well.” At least, that’s the Jewish Publication Society (JPS)’s translation. You may be more familiar with the words, “They say, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.”

Though the words were written millennia ago, they apply today. We hear from our leaders, essentially, “All is well. We’re doing what we have to do.” But nothing is well. Niger, Korea, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia–immersed in or threatening conflict. So many places in the world, some where we are closely involved, others where we watch and wonder–and maybe are involved without knowing it. The world is not looking good for the peaceniks.

The “all is well” refrain used by the JPS reminds me of one of my favorite spiritually grounding sayings, from the medieval mystic hermit Julian of Norwich: “All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” Julian lived in a time of plagues and warfare, a desperate time. The peaceful mantra, she claimed, came not from her but from God, assuring her of ultimate security. A tough teaching to embrace and believe.

In times of anxiety, it’s very hard for me not to soak it up and sink into it. I want to run and hide, or strike out and hurt someone–anyone. The larger anxieties of the world magnify the smaller but much more immediate anxieties of the fellowship or of my own life–disagreements, slights, omissions, fears of scarcity. When I stop myself, though, center, meditate, and remember the gratitude of this particular moment, the sense of “all will be well” can return to me.

What I realize, though, is that others may hear that hard fought for spiritual assurance as a dismissal of their real concerns. They hear me acting like the priests and prophets Jeremiah referred to, saying “’All is well, all is well,’ when nothing is well.” “All is well” may sound like a mother’s “there, there,” dismissive and urging an artificial calm, a denial of emotional realities. The problem is particularly acute if there are differences between me and the person hearing my reassurances. Especially if we are different in race or class, for example, they may think, “Sure it’s fine for you. I’m dying here.” And they may be right.

As we approach Veterans Day, when we honor those who have taken on the military fight, in the midst of controversy and confusion around how the military carries out its mission of security, we have to acknowledge the lack of peace, even as we continue lives of relative security and comfort. I plan to join the Mennonites on November 10 in their witness for peace [see page 6 of this newsletter] and would welcome others who feel uneasy about war and peace.

In faith and freedom,    Jonalu

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