Benedict writes of peace in seven places in his rule. In his prologue, he tells the newcomer to the monastery, “If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue from vicious talk and your lips from deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim” [Ps 34:14-15, RB Prol. 17]. Thus Benedict lays down the motivation for living this way of life, a commitment to guard one’s tongue and to take up deeds of good.
In the psalm itself, a wise person speaks of the need to “fear the Lord,” meaning to hold God in awe and reverence, so that one can enjoy the life God has in mind for one. Behavior is important to the development of peace, so much so, that Benedict teaches, “Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love” [RB 4.25-26]. Again, “If you have a dispute with someone, make peace with him before the sun goes down” [cf. Eph. 4:26; RB 4.73]. I remember a friend saying that it is difficult to honor the original scriptural directive to not let the sun set on your anger, but with experience she learned that dealing with anger may take longer than 24 hours and include several settings of the sun, as one allows peace to come to one’s past memories, present conflicts and the hope to be peaceful in future situations.
There are concrete situations in the monastery requiring peace. In chapter 34, on the distribution of goods according to need, those who need less are to give thanks, and those needing more are to feel humble, not self-important, because of kindness shown toward one’s weakness [RB 34.3-4]. RB 34.5 states: “In this way all the members will be at peace.” In greeting guests, Benedict has a ritual: “First of all, they are to pray together and thus be united in peace, but prayer must always precede the kiss of peace…” [RB 53.4-5].
It may well be that prayer allows for the discernment of the motivation of one’s guest, so guest and monk may be at peace before they exchange the kiss of peace. All decisions are the superior’s to make, as Benedict makes clear in RB 65.11: “For the preservation of peace and love we have, therefore, judged it best for the abbot to make all decisions in the conduct of his monastery.” This latter directive is a guard against a prior or second-in-command, who usurps the authority of the abbatial office to act alone in making decisions that belong to the duly elected leader, the subject of chapter 65. Elsewhere in the rule, the abbot is directed to seek the counsel of the whole community on important matters and that of the council on less important matters, from which counsel to make wise decisions [RB 3.1, 12, 6].
The last mention of peace in the rule has to do with rank when coming forward for the kiss of peace and for communion and for leading the psalms in choir [RB 63.4], which is the way to honor the date of entry into the monastery over any societal status one might consider important.
So what do these directives in the rule have to do with peacemaking? As I look over the community on any given day, I am aware of the efforts sisters make in maintaining an environment of peace within our household: chipping in graciously for the canning of fruits; the holding of one’s tongue when irritated by another’s insensitivity; the exchange of forgiveness when dialogue is needed to clear up misunderstandings; the kiss of peace at Eucharist while looking one another in the eye and saying silently, “I see you”; and the loving care of our elders in their later years so they may experience peace in their diminishments.
Sister Elisa has spent many years of her life bringing consolation and tools of reconciliation as she serves at-risk youth in South Central Los Angeles; Sister Betty has spearheaded the “Safe Parking” project in her parish in Redmond, Washington, that ministers to homeless adults living in their cars; Sister Carol Ann heads the community’s social justice committee, which keeps us informed of peace and justice issues to which we respond. Many retreatants and visitors tell us that our very place is where they experience peace, not only in the care of the grounds and forest, but also in their delight that the deer and other animals wander over the property without fear. A peaceful environment is one way we offer hospitality to the sacred space so many come to be a part of.
On a corporate level, we sisters have participated in several creative peacemaking endeavors over the years. For three years in a row, the curator of our Historical Museum, with members of the Nez Perce Tribe and the National Park Service, participated in a symposium for reconciliation, beginning in 2002, the 125th anniversary of the 1877 conflict. The purpose was to engage in prayer for mutual understanding and respect. At another time the sisters participated with folks from the Grangeville area in silent non-violent protest of an endeavor to create a white nationalist compound in nearby Kamiah.
On May 1, 2008 Sister Clarissa, Prioress, received the Kessler-Keener Idaho Extraordinary Witness Award on behalf of the community for its promotion of human rights, and peace and justice over many years. For several years, we, along with several communities of religious sisters in the Northwest, have been a sponsoring member of the Inter-Community Peace and Justice Center of Seattle, an organization that raises consciousness of issues occurring in our neighborhoods, regions and in the globe. We also maintain connections with several peace organizations: Pax Christi, Pace Bene, Benedictines for Peace and Network. These groups help to widen our awareness of the need for peace in our world. Our petitions at Eucharist and liturgical prayer manifest the call for peace for so many wearied by war, natural disasters, and violence. During last year we held four vigils for peace, by focusing on the needs of people in our world, who long for peace.
Most recently Sr. Karen Joseph, OSB, of Immaculate Conception Monastery, Ferdinand, Indiana, reminded the community of the witness of our lives as a reservoir of hope by the way we live together. We pray at least three times a day the Lord’s prayer, which Benedict believed was a way to ward off the effects of “the thorns of contention”, particularly when we repeat the pledge made to each other, “Forgive us as we forgive” [RB 13.12-13].
In conclusion, I offer that prayer for peace attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.