From the first reading taken from Acts, it seems that the dawning days of Christianity were marred by dissension and division. These would later morph into violence. One might wonder if the message of Jesus to live peaceful lives was soon forgotten, or if was inevitable that the patterns of violence were inextricably woven into the fabric of Christian life.
Some years back Remy Rougeau wrote a book called “All We Know of Heaven.” It is an account of a young man and his somewhat troubled time as a novice in a religious order. As I remember it, there are more than a few accounts of confrontation, dissension and the like. But what I remember more clearly is a woman who plays a brief and passing role in the novel. She is old and had lived through the violent upheaval of a war.
After the war, she found refuge in the quiet and stillness of the monastery, where she passed her days tending a garden. She lived through a horror, suffered from it, and found peace. I thought of her when I saw another old woman sitting on the side of a road in Da Nang, Vietnam. She, too, had lived through the agonies of war. She was then tending to vegetables in a large bowl that she had between her bare feet. I wondered what she had hoped for as a young girl and what she had lost as war ravaged her hopes and probably her family. She, too, had found peace.
I do not think Christianity can rid the world of violence. It is too much a dark part of the human heart. And, regrettably, it is as well a tactic that has been resorted to all too often in Christian history. Perhaps little people, like the women I saw and remembered, reveal in their modesty and simplicity something of a lesson for us who strive for peace, wondering if we will ever find it. We may spend years trying to establish it, catch it with whatever means we have at our disposal. It is elusive, beyond our grasp. Then we are old, and have somehow absorbed, taken within ourselves the pain and violence of life, and finally find peace, and perhaps God, in a garden or the side of a road.