Waging Peace - Review

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Waging Peace: Discipline and Practice (Pendle Hill Pamphlet 420) by Pamela Haines, reviewed by Forrest Curo of San Diego Friends Meeting

Overall, this little “how to guide” offers considerable wisdom from a woman actively waging peace in multiple contexts and levels.  I liked several of her ideas and found all of them worth a second thought.  The recurring theme that gives a common focus to this assortment of examples is the healing power of attention.

The human appetite for attention is well known.  Stephen Gaskin spoke of attention as a kind of ‘psychic energy.’ For young children it’s a biological need.  People will even seek hostile attention if that seems the only kind available.  In this pamphlet, Haines explores the the kind of attention that is needed for “waging peace.”  This is the loving attentiveness that accepts whatever it observes, that works to connect a person with its object – whether the object of attention is a thing (Haines’ advice on ‘Mending and Repairing’), one’s own emotions (her sections on grieving, anger, fears, and internal conflict) or other people (her sections on ‘Attentive, Curious, Respectful Listening’,  ‘Challenging the Evil of Separation’, and ‘Welcoming Conflict’.)

I had to disagree with the first of Haines’ recommendations, that we must work to develop “A Discipline of Hope.”  To my mind, real hope is not a ‘discipline’, but a recognition.

Otherwise, Haines’ advice about attention is appropriate medicine for these distracted times in which we cope day to day by fending off awareness of numerous intractable threats – while much of these threats’ intractability stems from widespread distraction and denial. Is attentiveness an adequate medicine?  If not adequate, it’s certainly necessary.

The editor of this pamphlet suggests in the introduction that we also read Pendle Hill Pamphlet 5, Richard Gregg’s 1939 essay on how to build an enlightened world order.  I find more light instead in Pendle Hill Pamphlet 49, Emil Fuch’s Christ in Catastrophe, about the faith he found as a Quaker in Nazi Germany, a time of great anxiety for himself and his family. “One night [in prison] I became nearly mad. I [imagined] my children, cruelly killed, lying before me. And in this hour of utter despair I heard a voice saying, ‘What do you want? Shall they save their lives by losing their conscience?’” Our lives haven’t brought us to such choices, and that’s good. But we see our own nation descending into ways we know to be wrong and ultimately ruinous, while “millions of persons, hundreds even of our friends, go along.” My friends and I found Fuchs speaking strongly to us in the Bush years, and nothing has changed substantially since.

Fuchs wrote, “We who have to go through terrible times of great catastrophe in the changing world have also this grace from God, that once again he makes it possible for us to see his reality clearly, more clearly than the generations before us.” Catastrophe is already the flavor of life for half the people of our world, while all visible signs point to catastrophe as the clear destination of the present course for all of us. Haines bids us search these signs diligently for reasons to hope, but I search instead for that implacable Grace described by Fuchs. I pray that more of us find the reality that brings true hope and leads us to better solutions than we could ever figure out, left to ourselves.  ♦

Forrest Curro is a member of San Diego Friends Meeting.