So much of the challenge of living together with some degree of harmony in the human community depends on presence.

Am I willing to see in you the presence of the Divine no matter how different, threatening, or unfamiliar you may be?

Living as a French man in Algeria in the 1990’s, Brother de Cherge  was surrounded by difference. Yet John Kiser writes of Brother de Cherge that he believed,

God is in all his children, and when one kills another, one kills the image of God. In every human being, their is something eternal.

Speaking about Sayah Attia, the leader of the GIA, (Groupe Islamique Armé) a radical armed Islamist group seeking to impose sharia law on Algeria, Brother Christian affirmed that,

When I approach my neighbor, I also become his guardian, which means to become his hostage. Justice begins with the other. Take the case of Sayah Attia. I was not only the guardian of my brothers in the monastery but his guardian, too, of this man who stood opposite me and who should have been able to discover within himself something more than what he had become. I think this happened in some small measure, to the degree that he gave way that night, or made an effort to understand me. People say these types are disgusting animals, they are not human, and that you can’t deal with them. I say that if we talk like that, there will never be peace. (Kiser, John W. The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria. NY: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002.)

The bitter root of violence grows in the ground of my fundamental refusal to see you as my brother or sister.

When God asked Cain,

‘Where is your brother Abel?’

Cain lied saying,

‘I do not know.’

Cain went on to deny his fundamental responsibility for his brother as a member of the human family asking,

“am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)

The answer is “Yes!” I am my “brother’s keeper.” The divine presence dwells in every human being. Without exception we have all been created in the “image” of God (Genesis 1:27). “God is in all his children.”

There is no one who is not “my brother.”  The human community is an intricate, deeply interdependent and connected ecosystem. What happens to you affects me. When you suffer, whether I acknowledge it or not, we all suffer.

We belong together. Despite all appearances and all rhetoric to the contrary, there is nothing that ultimately separates us.

When I am unwilling to affirm the fundamental truth that “In every human being, their is something eternal” I become able to see you simply as my “enemy.” When I view anyone merely as an “enemy” to be opposed and defeated, there is no hope for peace. When I lose the awareness that we are all profoundly connected, the painful path of violence lies inevitably before us.

No matter how heinous his actions may be, I need to understand that the one who perpetrates violence is a broken, hurting human being. There are deep and complex realities that have come together to cause a person to turn to violence. When I demonize him for his behaviour conversation becomes impossible.

When I can open my heart to the presence of the divine in the other, compassion becomes possible. The word compassion means literally, “to suffer with.”

Lasting peace will come only when I am willing to “suffer with” my brother whose pain causes him to seek to do me harm.

 

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