A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
from “Making Peace” by Denise Levertov
We wake these days to the distressing news of a new war (or perhaps more accurately, the newest phase of an old war) in the Middle East, all the while war continues to rage in Ukraine. And each time war erupts, we naturally go looking about for some way to bring peace, staging protests, writing letters to political leaders, offering prayers. I confess that while I engage in those typical methods, I do so with little conviction that they will have any influence, so constant has war been throughout human history. What chance is there for any lasting peace? Or, less grandly, what chance is there, this time around, in this latest conflict, for a peace that might actually last long enough to make a difference?
The Rev. Karen Hering, who serves a literary ministry through her writing and website Threshold Times, offered Levertov’s poem “Making Peace” as a way we might step into this newest conflict, this age-old conflict, by focusing on our own lives, not to the neglect of doing what we can in the world around us to build peace, but also turning into the ways our lives not only do not contribute to a peaceful world, but actually support the continuation of resorting to war for settling conflict. Levertov invites considering my life as a sentence that in its present form mitigates against peace by giving greater weight to “profit and power.”
If I take up the challenge Levertov issues to consider my life as a sentence, I quickly see no shortage of ways that sentence I am living again and again unfolds so that profit and power wins and peace gets short shrift. My food choices, my entertainment and shopping preferences, my responses while watching nightly news, even the expressions on my face in everyday moments when I pass a disapproving judgment on something another is doing or saying: profit for my own efforts and power for my own ego desires surface everywhere. My politics, I would insist, speak of peace—yet the way I live those politics, the anger that fuels them so often, has little of peace present. And I can hold onto a position for a very long time, unwilling to make any sacrifices or offer any forgiveness, a way of living that turns peace aside again and again. Small wonder, then, that peace never lasts for long if my life is typical of how most of us live most of the time.
What would a different sort of living sentence look like if peace was the primary value, the expression that sentence most sought to give? As we watch wars continue and urge our leaders to negotiate for peace, may we also take a long look at our own lives and do some personal negotiating that we might become sentences of peace, living and speaking peace all around us.