Silence for Peace

Silence for Peace

I met Dr. Iva Beranek the summer of 2004, during the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship Pilgrimage for Reconciliation journey through Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia. Having come of age in Vukovina, just outside of the Croatian capital city of Zagreb, during the 1991-1995 Croatian war, Beranek’s faith came to life in high school. She participated in the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) in college and worked for IFES after graduation. In that capacity Beranek hosted our peacemaking training that summer, on the Croatian island of Pag. In the coming years, Beranek would move to Ireland where she earned her master’s in Classical Spirituality and PhD in Christian Spirituality at Milltown Institute in Dublin. Her research mined the spirituality of reconciliation focusing on Ireland’s conflict as a case study.

Earlier this month via Skype Beranek, who now resides in Dublin, explained to me the trauma of preteen years filled with the sounds of bombs dropping like rain over the frontlines of a not-so-distant war that took place one hour from her home. She shared the confusion of learning of her grandfather’s death early in the war.

“He likely died from the shock of it,” Beranek explained.

As a young adult in war-torn Croatia, Beranek found her own emotions disconnected from Croatia’s suffering even while she connected emotionally with the interreligious conflict in Ireland. What I find most striking about Beranek is not that she would gravitate toward Ireland’s plight, but that a young woman, familiar with the carnage of injustice and seeking to make peace in the world, would be drawn to the inner life as a primary avenue toward public peace.

Beranek explained that in the course of her doctoral research she realized that the spiritual side of reconciliation has not been addressed. She sought to fill the gap.

Her doctoral thesis is entitled: Memory, Hope and Transformation in Restoration Ministries: A Dialogue between a Classical and a Contemporary Christian Spiritual Tradition through a Case Study in Northern Ireland . She researched the spiritual disciplines, prayer, the experience of God, theology, and the real needs people in conflict have on a spiritual level.

When I asked Beranek, whose first language is Croatian, why activists for peace and justice should focus on the inner, she said:

“If, as Christians, we believe that peace is rooted in Christ, then how we build that peace within us, in one way, is through the disciplines of solitude and silence; through spending time with God. Solitude is not necessarily extremely easy process, because it will bring to the fore all sorts of things that are within us. We will get to know ourselves in a fuller way. In solitude, where you know that God is with you, you can just be with God, and there is no need for a mask. Also, your humility might grow because you will see yourself as you really are — in a way that needs to be healed and transformed.”

This is all predicated on one premise: We believe that peace is rooted in Christ.

She continued, explaining that this process builds compassion, which makes you a better peacemaker.

“Solitude is not a discipline where we have to be alone. It is a discipline that touches the deepest core of who we are. When you practice it, then you can have solitude in a busy city. You can have solitude on the bus. You can talk to people and still have interior peace and the knowledge that God is with you through whatever you are doing in the day.”

I asked how Dr. Beranek would recommend peacemaking activists incorporate the disciplines of silence and solitude. She offered two gems:

1. Develop a regular rhythm of practicing silence and solitude: Set aside regular intervals to connect and reconnect with God, grow your own understanding of self, and grow in humility.

2. Incorporate the disciplines of silence and solitude into the rituals of protest: The quality of one’s protest is remarkably different after spending time in silence and solitude.

“If we marched after practicing solitude,” Beranek explained, “then maybe something of God’s grace would tap into their hearts and they would be able to see the other as a human being.”

This gives me hope!

I am often struck by the discipline exhibited by the leaders of the Civil Rights movement who stared those who called them “enemy” in the eye and returned hatred with love.

We don’t often give credit to the spiritual discipline of heroes like John Lewis, CT Vivian, John M. Perkins, Daisy Bates, and others to exhibit such love. They were trained to love the other—trained in churches and trained in organizing meetings. And I suspect both trainings called them to dig deeper than we commonly go. Somewhere in those trainings, someone called these soon-to-be-giants to shut up and listen to God speak to their spirits and they heard loud and clear: “I love you.”

What if local churches and national faith networks alike began to exercise the same depth of spiritual discipline? What if we incorporated the practices of solitude and silence before every local protest? Might our action garner more fruit? Might we even be able to lift our current ideological deadlock with love.

I am convicted. Most of the time I do not live as if I believe peace is rooted in Christ. Oh, how much more effective my own action would be, if I disciplined my feet and my mouth to stop and be silent at regular intervals — and know that God is God.

This month we asked activists and faith leaders to reflect on the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude. Click here to read their reflections.

Lisa Sharon Harper is Senior Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners and co-author of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith – forthcoming September 2014, Zondervan.

Image: Irish countryside, Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH / Shutterstock.com

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