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Prepare the Way of the Lord

The Pledge of Nonviolence as a Way of Celebrating This Holy Season of Chanukah, Advent, and Christmas

"Prepare the way of the Lord".  This message from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist calls us during this holy season to fill in the valleys and level the mountains in our lives that are impeding the way of the Lord.  We are called to repentance, to change those practices and priorities that hinder Godís on-going incarnation into the world through us.  The Family Pledge of Nonviolence offers us a unique opportunity for repentance, a positive way of preparing for the coming of God into our lives and world.  During this holy season when family and friends gather to celebrate and renew their caring for one another, the Pledge has some especially appropriate applications.

Respect self and others. Respecting others means being present to them and affirming their goodness.  Itís amazing the difference a smile makes in a one-to-one encounter or in a room full of festive people.  The famous Buddhist peacemaker and spiritual guide, Thich Nhat Hanh, speaks of smiling as the most basic peace work.  Warm hugs and warm smiles transform situations.  The personal touches we add to our gift-giving and card-writing are strong affirmations of the worth of those recipients of our doings.  The key to a blessed holiday season is to put personal "presence" above all other presents and to simplify all our doings and things to make time for this gift of our presence.

Listen carefully. Too much running around, too many different gatherings, and too much attention to things can distract us from attending to the people around us.  So many conversations go on over the holidays.  We can offer each person in our holiday gatherings the wonderful gift of our careful attention.  A good listener can make the difference between a good time and a waste of time at these gatherings.  Listening is a critical element in a life of nonviolence.  It requires letting go of our own agenda and really focusing on the other. 

Forgive. The mountains that Isaiah and John the Baptist say are blocking the coming of the Lord at this time are often those grudges we refuse to let go of.  What a special gift for our family it would be if we would take the first step in reaching out to an estranged or hurting family member and do what we could to heal that broken or strained relationship. This may involve a willingness to forgive that person for some hurt, or a willingness to apologize for our own hurtful actions and then do something concrete to make amends for the hurt we have caused.

Respect nature. Each season has its own beauty, its own unique revelation of the beauty and bounty of Godís loving presence.  In all the rushing around of the holiday season, this Pledge of Nonviolence invites us to make time for silent stillness in the face of winter beauty -- the heavens full of stars on a clear night, accompanied below by the lights of Chanukah and Christmas; the snowful revelations of Godís unadulterated love; the forests and mountains; the deep blue of those occasional sun-filled skies.  Our silent awe and appreciation before the wonders of creation can make us more nonviolent persons in every season.

Play creatively. Often holiday gatherings sink to the lowest common denominator -- TV watching or trivial conversation.  While it doesnít have to be "trivial pursuit", some kind of game playing can transform a gathering, especially with family or close friends.  The more laughter the better.  Itís amazing the healing effect of deep laughter.  Charades has been a source of such laughter in our own family.  Whatever the game, creative play together where the emphasis is fun rather than winning, can help heal family wounds or at least make our gathering a more loving experience.

Be courageous. The Pledge of Nonviolence encourages us to stand with the victims of violence and unfairness.  In St. Louis, there is a march and prayer service before New Years for the victims of violence during the year.  On December 28, the feast of the "holy innocents" in the Christian tradition (the children Herod slaughtered in pursuit of the child Jesus), other communities organize public protests against national policies that place weapons production above the needs of children.  But in every community there are opportunities to be with the victims of poverty, a deadly form of institutional violence. 

The words of Jesus about our festive occasions are challenging.  When throwing a dinner party, Jesus reminds us to invite the least of his brothers and sisters.  So when we begin to plan our parties this season and who to spend some of our celebration time with, we might consider how we can include some lonely person(s), especially those who are also economically poor, in one of our meals or outings.  This requires some courage and may lead to a relationship that will further challenge us to involve ourselves in the lives of the victims of violence and injustice.

We can also courageously challenge the on-going violence in Iraq, especially its impact on the innocent children.   All Our Children
is an important new initiative of the National Council of Churches to provide badly needed medicines and medical supplies for Iraqi children who are among those "slaughtered innocents" we remember in deed as well as prayer on December 28.  See "Empire or Global Solidarity: Which Way, America?" elsewhere on this website for more specific analysis and action suggestions to promote peace in Iraq and the Middle East.  Also contact "Voices in the Wilderness" for regular updates on whatís happening on the ground in Iraq.