(First published on November 3, 2010 )
My younger brother, Raymond, passed away twenty-one years ago, yet memories of him and his aching dreams remain vivid to me. The marble headstone on his grave needs cleaning, and I whisper a silent prayer of apology for neglecting, and for the dreams he and I shared as kids that I seem to keep forsaking. He had dreams when he was alive, though he did not live long enough to see them realized. I pray for the peaceful repose of his soul, even as I pray for my own dreams that I hold in my heart as I journey on in this wondrous world of the living…
I miss Raymond, but he has moved on, leaving the dreaming of dreams with me and all of us whom he has left behind. Dreams, I think, are images arising from deep within our soul where hopes and aspirations are born out of that which is transcendent about our human existence. They are “a size too big so that we can grow into them,” liberating our spirit from fear, and urging us to move forward in our life’s journey.
I am a dreamer. Even as a kid I loved to dream of many things that I would find myself striving to realize in my every day. My dreams would usually begin with the things I see that I would question, and then I would imagine how things could be if they were different. I would rearrange furniture in my mind and then proceed to rearrange them for real, or re-design houses on paper and imagine them being built for me in the future, or imagine how people would behave and what relationships would be like if their roles, circumstances, and occupations were different. I would spend a lot of time dreaming about the things that I wish to see and I would find myself making choices in my daily life that are colored by them.
More often than not, my dreams would lead me to difficult and challenging places. When she was alive, my mother would say to me, “Marites, you are always looking for a stone you can hit your head with, or a wall you can bang your head against…”and maybe she was right. My waking dreams would often be so compelling to me that I would find myself asking, why not pursue them? and then move on to the business of striving to do so. The striving would eventually take me to that point of discomfort where I would complain of the difficulty; it is that point usually reached in the process where the old gives way to the new as change actually begins to manifest in the realm of reality in which I am striving. But the fire in my belly would keep me going, and passion and conviction would fill my life with purpose and meaning until I either burned myself out, or until there was nowhere else that I felt my dreams were taking me. Then I would move on to realize other dreams.
When I first awakened to an awareness of the role of religion in people’s lives and how it has been involved in the conflicts and wars throughout human history, a question started nagging at me and making me restless again inside. Why do people of faith fight each other in the name of God? I asked. And what if, instead of fighting, they could come together to a common ground in the spirit of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation? What if together they could create safe spaces where the teachings and ideals of their respective faith traditions could bear upon the affairs of the world? The dreamer in me was at it again. With that dream I began a new journey.
But soon enough the way to peace proved to be more difficult than I imagined it would be. I have heard veteran peace activists (who have been at it for decades) speak of peacebuilding as a “marathon endeavor” that required conviction, perseverance, and a marathon mentality. That is true. But, twelve years into the journey I learned that there are other things about peacebuilding too that are likewise true.
I learned that peace is not only a goal out there that one would aim for or successfully attain (as one would in a marathon race), it is also a state of mind and an attitude of heart. From this attitude arise ways of being—of thinking, feeling and acting–that are respectful and humbly accepting of the fact that there are truths and realities (other than mine) out there that other people are experiencing. Those truths and realities are part of the bigger picture of the world I live in, and I am okay with that. I am part of the whole of things, just as I am in God and God is in me. In this awareness, I make space for diversity in my mind and embrace this in my heart, and learn from the experience of it in my relationships with others.
The way of peace is the way to peace, and one cannot wage peace unless one is in peace, too. A catchy tagline on a friend’s email expresses this succinctly for me: There is no way to peace, peace is the way. And, as William David Trimble (Nobel Peace Lauriate from Northern Ireland) once said in a speech aired on television years ago, the way to peace “begins from where we are and not from where we want to be.” That makes a lot of sense to me, so I strive to be the peace that I wish to see, and faith keeps me company.
I believe that peace is at the heart of faith. And peacebuilding–if it is to lead to peaceful relationships among people, or if it is to attain desired goals at the end of a marathon–must arise from “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1-3).
My adventures in faith along the path of peace have been difficult and spiritually challenging, and along the way I found myself breaking and then reinventing myself many times over. Soul capacities had to be forged in me for the long haul. In the process I realized that —
1. Peacebuilding is simply about building relationships, not breaking them. We human beings are in this world together, and we are equals though different. As people of peace of diverse cultures and beliefs, our role is to be instruments, channels, and builders of respectful, just, and harmonious relationships in our midst; and to find “win-win” solutions to the challenges to peace- and relationship-building.
2. Diversity is in the divine scheme of things. This is evident in nature, and is what makes it beautiful and awe-inspiring. Diversity is also evident among human beings who, though equal, are different from each other in race, gender, culture, beliefs, etc. But because of our differences, conflict is bound to happen in our midst.
3. Conflict is part of our human condition. It heralds a turning point in people’s relationships that holds the promise of growth. It is “good” or “bad” depending on how we deal with it. We may either escalate conflict to the point of fracturing and breaking our relationships (and end up hardening our positions and/or engaging in acts of violence); or promote mutual respect, understanding and cooperation. The choice is ours.
4. How we “handle our differences” is the secret of conflict transformation and peacebuilding, according to Dr. Mohammed Abu-Nimer (distinguished lecturer and trainer in Peacebuilding). In conflict, there are differences in positions, interests, values and needs that are true on both sides. And the one who is able to see what lies underneath the other person’s (or groups of person’s) position, and understand the interests, values and needs underlying their position, is in the better position to resolve and transform conflict. The one who can “humanize” rather than “demonize” the “other,” who can see goodness in the other (although goodness may not be readily apparent), understand the fear, and address the need behind the fear, will be the most likely to find win-win solutions to the challenge of conflict transformation and peacebuilding. But that does not come easy. It comes with the choice made for disarmament of the heart and for dying to ones self so that the “other” can be different from me though “one with me.”
5. Disarmament of the heart is necessary before peacebuilding can be possible. We need to learn and practice getting our own fears out of the way; to get ourselves–our own positions, interests, and needs–out of the equation so that we will be able to see the other for who they truly are as different from ourselves although like ourselves, with interests, values and needs similar to ours. Disarmament of the heart is a essential to trust building. When we disarm ourselves, then disarming the other will be possible. When we humanize (not demonize) ourselves, then humanizing others is possible. This is the foundation on which “safe spaces” can be built, where people can come together, dialogue with one another, appreciate their differences, and transform conflict.
6. Dialogue in the spirit of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation is both a way of peace and a way to peace; it is also both a means to an end and an end in itself. In the heart of dialogue is listening—heart listening—as well as mindful speaking. It is in the heart of dialogue—of life, discourse, worship and action–where true conversion of the heart is possible, and a common ground of peace can be created.
7. Love is an attitude of being that makes true dialogue possible. It illumines the darkness of fear that eclipses the heart and disables it from seeing rightly. Fear and love are two opposing forces that cannot co-exist at the same time and in the same space. Fear contracts while love expands. Love enables us to transcend our human frailties and liberate our human spirit. It enables us to see through the darkness of fear that is eclipsing the heart of the other. It urges us to reach out beyond our comfort zones to find courageous, humble, compassionate, and patient ways of braving the darkness to touch hearts, heal minds, and make all things new and whole again.
My younger brother, Raymond, took his own life twenty-one years ago, but his memory remains alive in me. The aching dreams we shared–of a world that is truly loving, compassionate, heart listening, respectful, peaceful, and worth living–keeps me seeking and moving on in this journey for ways to realize them. I regret that I could not love Raymond enough when he was alive to help make him stay and believe in those dreams, and live them. I hope this love for him that has awakened an awareness in me too late might honor his memory as I continue to dream our dreams and to realize them in this wondrous and awe-inspiring world of the living.