Mothers' Day has come and gone. For a brief moment we honored those who loved and mothered us. Now we return to the real world and business as usual where domination and violence are normative. Like the Hallmark image of hearts and flowers, the Way of Love and Compassion is viewed as an ineffectual, sentimental approach to life that should be reserved for puppies and babies. In point of fact, real mothering is not always gentle and beautiful. Real mothers protect their little ones in times of danger, even sacrificing themselves in the effort. Real mothers challenge all of us, men and women, to this kind of living.
I have always known my mother was my major nurturing figure Only now am I realizing that my birth father also nurtured me, even in the final moments of his life.
I was four years old. It was dusk. My dad was driving. We were nearing Grand Forks North Dakota where he was to begin his new teaching job. Mom and I were sitting in the front seat. Baby sister, Jean, was sleeping in the back. Suddenly we swerved to miss a nearly stationary car that had no lights. There was a deafening crash as we collided head on with a car coming toward us. Mom and I were catapulted into the windshield. Dad was crushed behind the steering wheel. Little sister awoke, climbed over our bodies and ran screaming down the highway.
Dad, though mortally wounded, was still conscious. He said, “Take care of my family first.” I remember none of this. We were all hospitalized. Mom's face was terribly scarred. She suffered through several reconstructive surgeries to repair the damage. I was unconscious for forty-eight hours. My little sister, suffering only a broken arm, was the darling of the nursing staff, as she toddled around the hospital.
I can't imagine the pain mom endured following this tragedy. Many nights she cried herself to sleep. She screamed to God, “Give me strength. Stand with me. I can't do this without you.” Mom's niece joined us when we were released from the hospital. She helped mom sell our new house in North Dakota and to move back home to Minnesota.
Mom returned to teaching elementary school. With the help of her mother, brothers and sisters, she raised my sister and me as a single parent. Several years later, she married my second father, a gentle unassuming man who loved us as his own and who fathered another sister and brother.
It was during these times that I realized the power of a nurturing community. Mom was well known in her home town, as was the story of her personal tragedy. People stepped up to nurture and support us – neighbors, other school teachers, business people and members of our local Church. Yes, mom's anguished cries to God were answered through her community.
Each of us has stories about women and men who mothered us. These people equipped us with resources to live with love and compassion in a world that is inundated with the ancient messages of the gospel of “Redemptive Violence.” i This mothering dynamic has fueled a Way of Compassion that has challenged the Way of “Violence Saves” for centuries.
As Early as the 6th century BCE, Siddhartha Gautama experienced a transformation. He was born the son of a tribal King in Nepal. His father raised him in opulence, grooming him to become a prince and leader of the warrior class. One day he traveled outside the palace and, for the first time, observed poverty, suffering and death. He was so overwhelmed by his desire to alleviate the suffering of others that he renounced his princely station and wandered the country as an aesthetic, seeking enlightenment. Finally, near starvation, he meditated under a Bodhi tree. There a young woman offered him food. Nourished, he continued to meditate until he finally achieved enlightenment.
As Buddha, the Enlightened one, he shared his insights with others. He taught that there was a way that one could escape the ongoing cycle of suffering and death and be at peace. This could be accomplished if a person became so conscious of and compassionate for the suffering of others that s/he was willing to devote her/his life to taking on this suffering for the sake of all sentient beings. This Way of Compassion (Buddhism) provided a powerful alternative to the practices of domination and control embodied in the religion of Redemptive Violence. ii
Five hundred years later, a young boy named Jesus, lived in Nazareth. It was located in the northern part of Israel; a country on the western edge of the Roman Empire. Near the time of his birth, a Roman legion crushed a rebellion in the city of Sepherous, only five miles from his home. The city was destroyed and thousands of people were crucified. As a result, Israel was a hotbed of revolutionary fervor. These sentiments were heightened because the political/religious leaders in Jerusalem cooperated with the Romans in order to maintain their power.
At the age of 30, Jesus left his father's carpentry business and traveled some 70 miles south. He was baptized by John, as part of a movement to free Israel from Roman domination. As John lowered Jesus into the waters of the Jordan River, Jesus experienced a moment of insight that set him on a similar path to that of Siddhartha Gautama. iii Immediately, he returned to Galilee and began healing, preaching, teaching about the Way of Compassion. He called the Kingdom or Reign of God. Local dissidents deemed his tactics ineffective while national leaders were threatened by his popularity. Finally, in a last ditch attempt to convince the political/religious leaders that the Way of Compassion and love was the only way Israel could survive, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem knowing that this confrontation might cost him his life.
Approaching Jerusalem, Jesus looked down on the city and wept. He cried, “If you had only recognized this day and everything that was good for you! But now it’s too late. In the days ahead your enemies are going to bring up their heavy artillery and surround you, pressing in from every side. They’ll smash you and your babies on the pavement. Not one stone will be left intact.” iv Forty years later Jerusalem lay in ruins. The nation of ancient Israel was no more.
It was not until Gandhi that non-violent resistance was defined as a strategy for the Way of Compassion. v Gandhi organized a mass movement around a salt march to the sea. This march struck a decisive blow against British Imperialism and lead to the Independence of India. Others followed in Gandhi's footsteps. Martin Luther King Jr. used non-violent resistance which precipitated the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960's. This was followed by the 1989 nonviolent protests in China;vi and Arab Spring.vii Although there were many more such movements, only these few captured international attention.viii
The way of “Violence Saves” is constantly before us. CNN reports daily on violent confrontations in Iran, Afghanistan, Mexico, Venezuela, Syria, Burundi, ix Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia.x Warfare is the focus of much of our recorded history. School children are taught about the war legacy of our nation – the Civil War, World Wars I & II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the two Iraq Wars. We celebrate and commemorate our military engagement with holidays – Vietnam Veterans Day (March), Armed Forces Day (May), Memorial Day (May), Korean War Veterans Armistice Day (July), VJ (Victory over Japan) Day (August), Marine Corps Birthday (November), Veterans Day (November), Pearl Harbor Day (December). Only the Marting Luther King holiday (January) celebrates non-violent resistance.
Meanwhile the Way of “Violence Saves” lurches from one lethal action to another, each one promising an instant solution, but few delivering on the promise. The common perception persists that this is the only effective way to proceed. A recent study indicates that non-violent resistance is more effective than violent confrontation in many situations. xi
The Way of Compassion continues slowly and steadily in the background. It validates the underlying truth that we each experienced from those who mothered us. The seeds of compassion have been sown deep in our hearts. They are waiting to sprout and grow. The process of love seldom results in spectacular, top down quick fixes. It is a slow process that grows from the bottom up and from the inside out as it changes attitudes and perspectives.
I remember talking with my mom late in her life. She said, “My life has been good.” I responded, “Mom! How can you say that? You were widowed twice, both times under tragic circumstances. You raised two sets of children as a single parent. You suffered a heart attack. How can you say, 'My life has been good?'” I didn't get it. Mom had expended herself in loving others and had suffered the consequences. Even though her life was laced with tragedy and loss, my courageous, compassionate mother was able to say, “My life has been good.” Now I understand. She new deep in her soul that her life was full and complete.
This is our challenge. Live with a mother's heart. Risk engaging all of life with compassion. Risk the pain. Weep over the dominating and violent actions of people and nations that produce little other than further domination and violence. Continue forward even when things feel hopeless. Shelter the vulnerable even as a mother hen shelters her chicks with her own body.
Only a few of us can live this way in isolation. As with my mother, most of us need a community of support. So, engage a community that values this kind of living. It may be an action group, a faith community, a neighborhood group, or a group of artists and story-tellers.
Together, we can participate in the cosmic flow that is present now and that continues after we are gone. Our efforts can be more than programs driven by greed and fear. They can be infused with our life energy and with an energy that extends beyond ourselves. Even though we are small, we can engage the massive global structures of domination and oppression that threaten our very existence.
We like the mothers we honored on Mothers' Day, can live for the children, the little ones, the vulnerable ones. We can be truly inclusive because we are part of that life giving force that courses through the cosmos.
i The belief that violence ”saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience- unto-death. This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today. <http://www2.goshen.edu/~joannab/women/wink99 Note: Theologian, Walter Wink, claimed in other parts of this article that this ancient myth first appeared in Babylon about 1250 BCE)
iiiMatthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:4-11; Luke 3:21-22;
ivMatthew 23:37-39; Luke 19:41-44