Conference blog #3: Catholic worker

Susan Clarkson, from the Catholic Worker Farm‘s Oxford community, reflects on the theme of our conference and on the importance of language.

Three things struck me when I saw the title of the conference; that true peace comes from within, that protest often emphasises the negative, and that we can describe ourselves as ‘pilgrims’ and leave the attribution of ‘prophet’ to others when they see what we do.

The truth that peace begins with us can often become a truism but it is the basis of all our work for a nonviolent world. The key is that although it begins with us, it shouldn’t stop there! I have met many peace activists in my life and those who are rooted in their own spirituality, whatever the source, are the ones who bring to their activist communities encouragement, comradeship, compassion and above all, love. True peace activism is grounded in love and it catches fire!

Sometimes it’s good to look at words we use for what we do. We all know what we mean by ‘protest’ but it can give a sense of negativity. On protests, it’s often easy to see what we are against but sometimes not too clear about what we are for. It’s a useful exercise to design banners and placards with only positive messages and the challenge is to make them as powerful as negative ones. One of my favourites is “Mourn the Dead, Heal the Wounds, End the Wars”. Alternative nouns for ‘protest’ can be ‘witness’, where walking is involved, or ‘vigil’, for one which involves standing at a chosen site.

A glance at prophets and prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures shows us that the title ‘prophet’ is one which is given by others. Indeed, we have the examples of the reluctant prophet in Jeremiah and Jonah. Individuals and communities which describe themselves as prophetic can be on shaky ground. ‘Pilgrim’ is a better word, rich and complex which yields unexpected depths. The most striking aspect is that everyone is on a pilgrimage, a journey through life, whether they are fully aware of it or not. The peace activists who see themselves as pilgrims are aware that they are in a community on a shared journey with a common goal. The hardships, joys and struggles are eased by companionship and compassion. The weak are nurtured and encouraged: the strong are willing to go the extra mile while still remaining part of the community. On the journey, the pilgrims for peace accept the help of strangers and take time to listen to the concerns of those they meet along the way. I could go on because the vision of of the pilgrim peace activist community is an engaging and energising one. And, I have been fortunate enough to have experienced it!

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