I once believed, rather naively, the literal truth of the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies.” Over time, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that this is impossible. We cannot love our “enemies.”
When we make others into the enemy, there is no room for love. The consciousness that creates enemies is antithetical to the consciousness that is love.
In the “Confessions,” Saint Augustine exclaims, “Imagine thinking that one’s enemy could do them more harm than their enmity.” When I strive to fulfill the teaching to “love my enemy,” I’m actually answering the call not toward some outward person that I must accept and treat with respect — there’s something that comes before that. I’m being asked to heal my own inward wounds that makes me believe I have to hurt others in order to stop hurting. That for me to win, someone else has to lose. For me to be happy, someone else has to be sad or demoralized.
Politics in America has sunk to this level, but we do not have to stay there. Nonviolence can help free us from this mindset. And when we are free, we cannot help but begin to free others by our very example.
Consider what we could do if we did finally realize that we are not separate from anyone or anything—we were meant to work with each other.
When I defiantly triumph over others, humiliate others, willingly degrade or hurt others, I do that to the whole of humanity, myself included. I impede our collective progress toward peace. When I heal those parts of me that are wounded, I make room for seeing the world as whole, for seeing all of humanity as one single body, clothed, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “in a single garment of destiny.” That destiny, our evolutionary potential: I’m not sure we can even grasp its power and fullness.
Consider what we could do if we did finally realize that we are not separate from anyone or anything — we were meant to work with each other instead of against each other, meant to nourish and not destroy what is ultimately our own self. How many trillion bacteria work with our (vastly outnumbered) human cells making up our seemingly independent human bodies that are somehow filled with the consciousness that makes you think that you are you and I am me? And what more on our journey do we need to see that you are me, and I am you? What is next for us if we can just get there? Can we get there?
We have a lot of work yet to do. But all of the great mystics as well as all of the great nonviolent leaders of great democratic movements have shown us and told us time and again: we’re here for a purpose and not for rest. And still…
Saint Teresa of Avila in her spiritual testimonies repeats over and over, “Love turns work into rest.” Love transforms not just enemies into friends, but the very mechanism that creates enemies in the first place. Let that be our work. And then, may we work, and work and work for peace, for healing, unceasingly, in all ways possible, and may that work always be for all of us, the highest form of rest we shall ever find here on Earth.
Campaign Nonviolence, a project of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, is working for a new culture of nonviolence by connecting the issues to end war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction. We organize The Nonviolent Cities Project and the annual Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions.
Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.