Friday, July 27, 2012

The Center Holds

An image of a carrot haired young man being arraigned in court fills the upper half of the front page of the Boston Globe.  He stares vacantly into the near distance.  People around the nation wonder what possessed him to arm himself, to fire automatic weapons into a theater full of movie-goers, to booby-trap his own apartment  - with the knowledge and expectation that police would be entering it to investigate.

Until yesterday, the story was on the front page.  It had supplanted the story of the bombing of a busload of Jewish human beings  in Bulgaria less than a week prior.  In the inner pages of the paper, the ebb and flow of power in Syria dominates and then, of course there are the frequent articles about drone warfare – and all of this in the midst of so much press about a presidential campaign that seems to be maxing out in absurdity at times.

On our island, the weather was oppressively humid yesterday – the kind of heavy moisture that enervates and leaves a body one wondering if she is coming down with something.   I moved restlessly from one place in the house to another, unable to focus or concentrate.   The carrot haired young man continued to stare – silently – without expression – without emotion –and I wondered with the nation: “What possessed him…..?”   No answers came.  But the question continued to nag.

With little appetite, I tried to get some lunch down – simply because it was noon and that is what one does at noon in our household.  A curious aching in my heart region kept drawing attention to itself.  I had been trying to ignore and avoid it.  It persisted.   Finally - tears began to seep out of eyes too long dry.  Just a stingy few at first - - and then flowing a little more freely until my whole body felt like I was squeezing them out.   I let the anguish take hold – wrenching its way up out of my belly in animal cries.  It continued for awhile and then, like water finding its own level, the storm subsided, the heart-ache eased and I began to think a little more clearly again.   Sometimes the world is just too much.

As I pondered my own gut response through the rest of the day, very little insight came until I returned to my own breath and began to find the center again.  I do not like being overcome in such a way – but it happens.  The task then is to find my way back to center.

This is an ongoing endeavor for me in the work of living nonviolence – to somehow hold the center. There is often a kind of chaos swirling around in which humans seem to feed on the energy of catastrophic events like the bus bombing and the massacre in Aurora.  Horror and outrage, grief and disbelief, revenge rhetoric and hopelessness all pull the collective consciousness of the events away from the balance that holds at the center of all things – almost a centripetal force that serves to expand the effect of the violent event.  I get caught in the maelstrom too.

But - - - that is not who I choose to be and it is not the response to life that I wish to make.  So the years of discipline begin to take hold again and I breathe….I pray……I focus.  This week, the comfort comes from Isaiah 43:1-3

But now thus says the Lord,
He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name,
You are mine.
When you pass through the waters
I will be with you;
And through rivers, they
Shall not overwhelm you;
When you walk through fire you
Shall not be burned,
And the flame shall not
Consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The holy One of Israel, your

The words are a flow of Divine mercy that gains the redemption and restoration of Israel.   In my temporary state of exile, what I need is to know that the center holds – that the greater story that embraces humankind is a story of wholeness. The ancient metaphors work.  They convey a truth greater than our finite understanding, greater than our multitudes of violence and sorrow and tragedy and suffering.

For today, for this moment, the work of living nonviolence is the work of returning to center and finding that it, indeed, does hold.  From there, the witness of a nonviolent response can be heard and believed and – maybe even understood.

 Vicky Hanjian

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