Facing the Darkness

Sr. Anne Montgomery, RSCJ reflects on the Disarm Now Plowshares witness at Naval Base Kitsap/Bangor

A voice from the dark called out,
‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster.  Peace, not only
the absence of war.’

But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.” (Denise Levertov)

Another poet, Daniel Berrigan, contrasts prose as “an instrument of efficiency: it belongs to the ‘things which are seen.’  Prose moves things, gives orders, is logical, serves for argument, settles conflicts or makes war. … Poetry is unnecessary in the sense that God is unnecessary.  Poetry is useless in the sense that God is useless.  Which is to say,  God and poetry are not part of the kingdom of necessity, of that world of law and order (lawlessness and disorder) and sin and war and greed we name ‘the fall.’”

In Genesis, God the poet created more than water and land with evolving life-forms, subject to scientific study.  We are faced with chaos, tamed by the division between light and darkness, of land from sea, with a Spirit hovering over all as a constant presence in an ongoing struggle:  “The light shone in darkness and the darkness could not extinguish the light.”

When we, trusting in that Spirit, cut through the last fence at SWFPAC  and stood before the tomb-like storage bunkers for Trident missiles, the dawn grew in the West: a gentle image of multiple colors, muted but strong in their promise of victory over darkness, of  the spirit of vulnerable love over the threat chaotic violence. Paradoxically, the  blinding, glaring lights by each tomb themselves were a kind of  darkness in their promise of an idolatrous and false security.

John’s Gospel introduces Jesus as the Light of the World, overcoming a darkness which cannot comprehend his way of nonviolent love, of no compromise with the political or religious power-brokers of his time. In poetic metaphor and symbol he consistently spoke “the grammar of justice.”  But he spoke most clearly and dangerously by his life, offering, not immediate results, but a Way of fidelity to truth-speaking and love of both friends and enemies: “a syntax of mutual aid.”

In our Plowshares community we tried to speak the language of pilgrimage, of the way being the goal.  We carried the symbols of hammers, blood, and sunflower seeds: hammers to transform weapons of death to human products, seeds to plant new life, and blood to remember the victims of war.  We tried to walk in the Way, too, not only during the hours on the base, but also in our communal prayers and discernment, in our willingness to plan carefully, but also to stumble and make mistakes, perhaps not achieve immediate results, but to be one with the Spirit, so that:

“peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light-facets
of the forming crystal.” (Denise Levertov)

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