By Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon
This past week I was spending some times with a church ministry team focused on pursuing peace and justice in Palestine and Israel. In our strategy discussions, we talked about the many tensions in our work. How do we speak truth prophetically, while also having a pragmatic approach to influencing policies and advocating for human rights? Our goal is to not only minister, educate, and work with those who already agree with our policies and positions; but to grow the movement of those committed to holistic engagement and a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Needless to say, there are many tensions!
One of the women in the group interrupted our conversation to tell us a story she learned from one of her pastors. Certainly, we are all familiar with the story from Genesis of the Garden of Eden and the paradise created by God for Adam and Eve. Eden is often understood as a picture of the way God intended for the world to be – without malice, sin, and brokenness. Eden was a perfect place. Adam and Eve were commanded to care for the Garden and to tend to it. They communed and were in right relationship with God as they dwelled in the Garden.
Yet one of the often missed realities of that story was that even before the disobedience of Adam and Eve, there was tension in the Garden of Eden. For Adam and Eve were permitted to do all things but one. They were commanded to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9). Even in paradise, tension existed!
An appropriate response to tension is a critical component of being someone who pursues peace. The Christian advocacy group called Sojourners reminds us: “Working for peace doesn’t mean avoiding tension. Peace is about using a creative tension that transforms the word with love. In a peaceful world, people still argue and disagree, but they do it respectfully. They don’t let emotions like anger and fear decide how they will act. They don’t purposely hurt each other. To be a pacemaker means to embrace tension – it is always an element in human life – and to show the world how to use it constructively and lovingly. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, tension can be a good thing: ‘I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.’”
A prayer for peacemakers:
God of Heaven, May we as peacemakers be willing to constructively enter into tension as we persistently hope for peace. In a world full of tensions everywhere we turn, help us discern how to constructively respond. Help us to not avoid tension, but to respond to it in a way that transforms and leads to peace. Give us persistent hope as we reflect and seek you during this Lenten season.