Living Peace: A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action John Dear, Doubleday, Image Books, New York, 2001, Paper, 226 pp.
The Questions of Jesus: Challenging Ourselves to Discover Life's Great Answers John Dear, Doubleday, Image Books, New York, 2004, Paper, 305 pp.
Review by Shelley Douglass for "Fellowship" Magazine, May/June 2005.
John Dear has an innocence and an exuberance about nonviolence that are delightful and refreshing. Is there anyone else who could confront a company of soldiers drawn up in front of his rectory ( chanting "Kill! Kill!" by ordering them - in the name of God - to put down their weapons, leave the Army, and go home to get some sleep and be with their families?). There's an Early Church sense of calling and confidence here, but in the manner of the telling there's always humor and humility.
These two books are evangelism (sharing good news), and offer some of the background to John's own journey into peacemaking. In Living Peace, John tells stories of his conversion to peacemaking and what ensued. Those who follow a faith discipline will often feel a wry sense of recognition, as when he realizes, about Jesus' teaching to love your enemy ( p. 77) "Oh my God, I think he's serious!"
Living Peace gives us not only stories, but reflections on the actions John has taken, and a keen sense of the need for peacemaking to be rooted in spirituality, in a practice of the presence of God. "The life of peace is a difficult balancing act between the inner work and the public work, a high-wire trapeze walk that requires calm, patient, step-by-step mindfulness toward our goal."
For those of us who want a more explicit way of mindfulness, The Questions of Jesus provide one route. Building on Ched Myers' characterization of Jesus as "the one with all the questions," John extracts each question from its Gospel setting, reflects on it, connects it with struggles in his life and ours. (There is an appendix locating each question by chapter and verse.)
I think this is one of John's best books precisely because it calls on us to reflect for ourselves on Jesus' questions. This book should be read slowly and prayerfully, perhaps as part of a daily reflection time. I think it can be used profitably by any serious seeker; while the terms are Christian, the insights are universal. The two books together make a good pair, each clarifying the other, and both challenging the reader: how do I live my peacemaking?
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Shelley Douglass lives with her husband Jim Douglass at Mary's House Catholic Worker in Birmingham, Alabama, offering hospitality to homeless families and acting for nonviolence and peace.
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