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Posted December 12, 2005

Book: The Road to Peace: Writings on Peace and Justice
Editor: John Dear
Orbis Book, Maryknoll, NY, 1998, pp. 220

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

After Henri Nouwen’s funeral Mass of the Resurrection in the Slovak Catholic Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Markham, Ontario, Art Laffin and I drove through the Canadian countryside to the small cemetery where Henri was to be buried. As we drove along, we talked about a way in which we could continue Henri’s ministry, his witness to peace, his testimony to Jesus.

We knew that many people had not yet left the cathedral, but we did not realize that we would be the first persons to arrive at the grave. We parked along the country road and walked down a path, passing the thirty tombstones and crosses in the small, remote cemetery. Up ahead, in the corner, beneath a cluster of pine trees, stood a pile of dirt. We had expected to find a crowd of people and a coffin. We walked toward the dirt until we stood together, in silence, looking down into a big hole. We had come upon an empty tomb!

For a brief moment, I recalled the story of the women arriving at Jesus’ tomb on the first morning of the week. They discovered an empty tomb. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” an angel asked them. They looked at one another.

As we stood by the empty grave awaiting the funeral procession, I began to understand. Henri lives on with the God of life. And so, his work continues. I decided then and there to help him continue his peacemaking work.

This collection gathers for the first time nearly all of Henri’s writings on peace, disarmament and social justice. I have broken them down into six parts, covering the different themes of Henri’s varied social concerns. Part One begins with Henri’s unpublished manuscript, “A Spirtuality of Peacemaking,” which Henri wrote in 1984 and later renamed, “Peacework.” Excerpts were published in the New Oxford Review in the mid-1980s, but it has never before been published in its entirety. A 1985 talk on peacemaking to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church plus two anti-war statements given at reallies in the early 1970s are also included, published here for the first time. Part Two records Henri’s support of the civil rights movement. In 1964, Henri moved to the U.S. from Holland and immediately identified with Martin Luther King, Jr, and the struggle against racism. He wrote about his experience in Selma for a Dutch journal, and later also felt compelled to record his personal pilgrimages to Atlanta for Dr. King’s funeral in April 1968.

Part Three features reflections on Central and South America, particularly the effect of U.S. warmaking against Nicaragua in the 1980s. Part Four focuses on L’Arche, plus an interview about his work at L’Arche a year after his move to Daybreak. Part Five follows with Henri’s 1994 talk to the National Catholic AIDS Network Conference, his first major reflection on AIDS. Part Six concludes with interviews and reflections on social compassion, prayer, and solidarity with the whole human race.

With the publication of these essays on peace, disarmament, and social justice, we catch the full breadth of Henri’s vision. This collection rounds out Henri’s voluminous spriritual writings because it includes his passionate concerns about the pressing social issues of our times. It fills out the social implications of his spirituality.

“Only those who deeply know that they are loved and rejoice in that love can be true peacemakers,” he wrote. The profound love present at his funeral and evident in these writings reveals the depths of Henri’s peacemaking life which will go on bearing fruit.

An Excerpt from the Book:

A peacemaker prays. Prayer is the beginning and the end, the source and the fruit, the core and the content, the basis and the goal for all peacemaking. I say this without apology, because it allows me to go straight to the heart of the matter, which is that peace is a divine gift, a gift we receive in prayer.

In his farewell discourse Jesus said to his apostles, “Peace I leave you, my own peace I give to you: a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.” When we want to make peace we first of all have to move away from the dwelling places of those who hate peace and enter into the house of him who offers us his peace. This entering into a new dwelling place is what prayer is all about. The question indeed is: “Where are you staying? To whom do you belong? Where is your home?” Praying is living in the House of the Lord. There “he keeps me safe . . .in the day of evil” and there “my head shall be raised above my foes” (Ps 27). We need to prevent ourselves from being seduced by those who prepare for the day of destruction and the end of all things. “Watch yourselves,” Jesus said.

Or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life and that day will be sprung on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come down on every living person on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen and to stand with confidence before the Son of Humanity.

“Praying at all times” is the first aspect of peacemaking. What does this mean concretely for us who have barely enough time and space to keep some distance from the cares of life? To answer this question we must be willing to explore critically the ways in which the “cares of life” strangle us. Only then can we see the converting power of prayer and its pervasive role in peacemaking.

Table of Contents:

1. House of Peace
2. The Journey to Radical Equality
3. The Cry of the Poor in Central and South America
4. Life at L’Arche
5. Compassion in the Times of AIDS
6. Solidarity with the Human Family