Friday, March 25, 2011

The Teacher of Peace

By Kay Huggins

For the past seven years I’ve worked with a peace teacher. I arrive for my hour lesson around noon, at 4th and Lomas. Parking is not difficult, there are about seven free spaces on the northeast side of the intersection. In the summer, I arrive a few minutes early to apply sunscreen and don a wide brimmed hat. In the winter, I add a coat, scarf, mittens and stocking cap to my outfit. I dress completely in black; after so many lessons, I’ve made friends with this darkest of colors. Like a New York hipster, I now own black for all seasons.

The instruction begins precisely at noon. One, two, seven, twelve women, all dressed in black, assemble. We greet one another with small smiles and smaller nods. Each finds her familiar spot, turns to face the traffic and stands. Individually, we are strangers to one another; collectively we are the Albuquerque Women In Black, a very small part of an international women’s movement for peace.

I began standing in August of 2003. It was a time when my public life was limited by my caregiving activities. The war in Iraq had begun; I was numbed by the news reports. Then, one Sunday newspaper carried a story about a stand initiated in April just as the war began. It was a silent vigil promoting peace. “Simple and solid,” I thought, “I can do this.” The location was minutes from my house; my mom could easily stay alone for an hour plus ten minutes. I resolved to search my closet for black clothing and join in the silent vigil.

I remember my first few stands. I was conscious of the heat; time seemed endless; it was difficult to keep my mind focused on “the big issues” of peace. I realized my weakness immediately; I had selected an activity least likely to be successful according to my personality. I am a busy person, able to do several things at once and usually bursting with energy. Part of my vocational choice rested on the awareness that, while I loved worship, I was challenged by sitting still for an hour. Thus, becoming a preacher seemed logical -- all that waving of arms, getting up and down, moving from chancel to floor and back. But, here I stood, having committed to stand in silence, although toes tapped, mind wandered (ruthlessly) and body sparked with energy.

So, the stand took me in hand and became my teacher. She pointed out how I judged all who drove by according to their driving style, appearance, make of car, or response to Women in Black. The stand asked my heart: How can there be peace when the mind constantly judges? My quick mind determined to silence my inner judge -- a determination made unaware of the magnitude of my competency in judging.

Gladly, the stand was wiser than I. Instead of insisting on the cessation of judgment, she gently invited me to discover the power of blessing. She gave me a mantra, accentuated by the peace on every inhale

Inhale: Peace
Bless: before, beside, behind, in.

As each passing car received a one word blessing...and I felt my heart loosening. After several months, this practice became as natural as breathing...but far less mechanical. I found myself poignantly, passionately desiring peace for each individual driving by. Indeed, I found myself in each passing person. This simple act of blessing changed my world from a place of judgment’s divisive hostility and hurt to an avenue for unity’s compassion and companionship. Slowly, I was learning the equality of the need for peace -- peace is essential to every life. From the passing cars filled with strangers, to my small community of family/friends, to every solider and every perpetrator of violence -- peace is the breathe of life. Without peace, life has no room to grow, relax, become, bless.

My teacher of peace changed my heart, gave me a blessing to share, taught me the strength of a silent stand before horror, and encouraged me to continue these lessons until horror becomes hospitality for all in peace.

I invite you to join the stand on April 7th at noon or to dress in black on that day as a sign of solidarity with your sisters who will be standing. 

Please extend this invitation to other women you know.

(The author is a Bread for the World member, Presbyterian pastor, and fellow singer/musician in a local Taizé group).

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