The most important question in the face of terror is not how can I understand what has happened, how can I get even, or how can I guarantee my security. The most important question is, “How might I respond in a way that might genuinely promote peace?”

Brother ChristianBrother Chrstian de Cherge (d. spring 1996), prior of Notre-Dame de l’Atlas, Tibhirine, Algeria, had five pillars of peace he taught as the necessary exercises to secure peace in our own lives and peace in the world. As we limp through painful days following tragic events we do well to ponder Brother Christian’s five pillars of behaviour that must be practiced daily to have peace:

Patience – “There is no word for martyr in the Trappist constitution, nor reference to a bloody death. There is only the demand for patience and endurance in living each day.” (Kiser, John W. The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria. NY: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002.)

In the face of disaster we want decisive action. We want to rush to solutions. Confronted with chaos, we seek assurance that someone is in charge. We want strong leaders who can convince us that they know the answers and are able to tidy up the messes we humans create. We want to alleviate our pain and restore the illusion of safety.

In our race to feel safe, we are unlikely to look for a temperate, carefully considered response. Our automatic reaction is to lash back against any force or person by which we feel threatened.

When we react on automatic we seldom respond to what is really going on. The instant answer suffers from a failure to ponder deeply and penetrate compassionately to the actual source of the situation we seek to address. When we respond from the emotional reactivity of the moment, we perpetuate the chaos we hope to defeat.

The quick response seldom carries the wisdom of real insight and profound understanding that is essential if we are to find our way to lasting peace. The knee-jerk reaction is usually harsh and violent. We default in the heat of the moment to retaliation, vindication, punishment, and retribution. But these short term “solutions” always perpetuate a culture of violence ensuring greater suffering and more sorrow in the future.

Instead we need to stop; take a deep breath. We need to get our balance, get our feet firmly planted on the ground. We need to open to a deeper place within ourselves and find the wisdom that is there in the heart of gentleness.

We will always respond in a more life-giving manner if we pause before responding. Our words will carry greater wisdom when we allow a moment of silence before speaking. We will see more clearly when we sit for a time with the darkness, acknowledging confusion, and admitting that we do not immediately know all the right answers.

When we pause and take a deep breath, we make it possible to listen more deeply to all voices in the situation. We begin to be able to  see more clearly the complexity and confusion that reside at the heart of most human conflicts. We move beyond the simplistic enemy-formation analysis that divides the people into “us” and “them.” The simplistic “good guy”/”bad guy” scenario seldom results in finding new possibilities for a creative way forward.

Patience opens the possibility for awareness to emerge. It is out of this insight that new and creative ways of being in human community will emerge.

Patience is not a failure to respond; it is not a sign of weakness. Patience means stepping aside for a moment from our initial instinct and finding our grounding again. From this point of balance

The patient person consults, pays attention, seeks to see what is really going on in peoples’ lives.


nb: this is why the spiritual practice of meditation is so crucial. In meditation, we practice letting go. We put down our need for life to be different than it is. We move to a different place within ourselves. We let go of our fears, demands, expectations, wants, and desires. In meditation we step aside for a moment from the intensity of the moment and open to a deeper consciousness within.