Living a Non-Violent Life
by Beth Orchard, IPS Student, Social Justice
Ahimsa, or an expression of deep love and abstinence from causing pain or harm to others or self, was a large part of Gandhi’s practice. In his view, we must not punish those who do harm, but help them understand the injustice and transform them through love. Satyagraha was a large part of his movement for non-violence and simply means truth power, or the way of truth which brings us closer to what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the ‘beloved community.’
I think of this when I reflect back on a discussion we had in our Social Justice Leadership class about ‘living a non-violent life.’ I think ahimsa can be self-reflective of our love and tendency to cause ourselves harm or pain through our actions. When we are not mindful of what we say or how we act, the repercussions can be great not only for those around us, but ourselves as well.
Something that is difficult about living a life of non-violence is to commit with all one’s heart. It is not something that a person can only commit to half-heartedly, nor is it something which another person, say a partner, can just join alongside. It is a full commitment from both partners, or from a community as a whole, in order to be fully effective. Gandhi would never have achieved the success he did with his movement if nobody else believed in what he preached. Because he lived it, and it was a part of who he was, others also started to see how that could positively impact themselves and the world around them. This was his most powerful legacy.
Henry Nouwen wrote a book called ‘the Wounded Healer’ and spoke about how we must crucify ourselves in order to be like Christ. This sacrificial love is lived out in the life we lead of taking care of ourselves, and letting God be present within us. To live a life as fully and as loving as Christ was requires more than compassion, it requires releasing ourselves of all obligations to heal our own wounds and allow others to come alongside us in community to help each other repair the wounds the world bestows on us so we can thus go on to help heal others.
My life is about more than simply being present in the moment with those I’m in service to, it is about a lived experience of being a part of their existential crisis of faith, of despair, of lost hope and opportunity. It’s realizing the blessings we’ve been given in the midst of someone else’s loss. It is about carrying the cross and burden of sheltering the weak and shepherding the lost when nobody else will go near them. It is also about demonstrating a love that is so radical and life changing that it transforms hearts to a higher being of truly caring about what happens to others, and through that becoming cared for ourselves.
Christ gave His life so that we might live and I believe I am called to a special cause for justice. It is a calling only I can fulfill, and only I will be able to manage, but not without the help of others who struggle the same road. Nor will it be without the guidance of a God who knows my heart and my desires and will be there to lift me up when I fall.
For me to live a non-violent life, I must first die to all the things that I thought mattered to me. It goes beyond material things and delves into the very core of who I am. It begs deeper questions of how I can submit all aspects of my life to God to live a life of faith that will probably be a road filled with more doubt and uncertainty than I ever dreamt possible. But it will also be a road of unspeakable joys and triumphs that I can create amidst a community of those who are doing the exact same thing and will cheer me on all the way through to the end.
God knows my heart and can speak into those times when I am in need of moments for myself and am at my lowest point. He understands what fills me up and often throws a wrench into my plans to keep up with the fast pace of life by asking me to stop and consider the glory that is around me. I do this by taking walks outside, having conversations with friends, or just sitting quietly reading one of my favorite novels. All of these moments give me time to decompress and satisfy a desire to deepen my spirit through quietness and calm. In those moments I realize how fortunate I am to be called to such an awesome community of advocates for justice, and how, by seeking the Kingdom of God, He brings me closer to my desire to see peace and reconciliation happen in the world.
“The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.
Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.”
–Henry Nouwen ‘The Wounded Healer’