Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Elements of Peace: What Any of Us Can Do

I suppose everyone has been talking recently about the shooting at Fort Hood. It's been difficult for me to wrap my head around. I remember a time, eight years ago when the towers fell, everyone seemed full of rage and fear and thoughts of revenge, and all I could muster was a devastating sadness, a sadness that sank deeply into my bones, a sorrow like liquid in the marrow. Now, I see around me, on the news, in the paper, online, people grieving, mourning, moaning with that same sorrow, the washing tides of grief — and all I can feel is anger. Anger and frustration at having carried such sadness alone for so long, only to see it spewed forth in cathartic forms of patriotism, twisted to serve the purposes of war and control.

I could spend hours deconstructing the language of isolation, the mythologies of exceptionalism and cold-heartedness at the root of these misdirected efforts to grieve. But it would be only so much talk, like trying to describe a sunset to the blind, and I am tired, and running short on words. What can I say that would make any difference? I have spent my life writing, it seems, and sometimes it feels paltry and ineffectual, self-indulgent at best. Can words open up the heart? Can mere words step between two enemies at war and throw open their arms in command and invitation? Can words save a life? And I don't mean metaphorically, in some warm-fuzzy white-light chicken-soup-for-the-soul kind of way. What comfort can words be to a dying woman watching her blood seep away, or a man who lies in his hospital bed knowing that if he ever recovers it will only be to face the vengeful cruelty lurking hungrily under the guise of "justice"? How can words change the world, except for the worse? Justice, freedom, honor, sacrifice — when have I ever seen these words serve any but the powerful and the strong? There are those who live justly, who live their peace and love in the everyday world, the world beyond words, the world of touch and smell and sunlight and sorrow. And there are those who only talk about it. And do they talk. What can I do with my words that can overcome that? What can any of us do?

So I've found myself recently plunging into making, plunging my hands into boxes of beads, counting out stones in my palm, twirling thin wire between my fingertips and looping it back and forth, gently, carefully. This is my catharsis; not moralizing or justifying or preaching to the grieving choir. For the past week, I've been coping with crafts. I have been weaving sets of prayer beads, each delicate stone representing one of the three Druidic elements — nwyfre, gwyar, calas; wind, water, stone; breath, blood, bone — or the inspiration of Awen, the life of Spirit, spiraling and deep. The work demands my concentration, a steady eye and a steady hand, and silence. And for a time, these small, intimate, precious things are the only things in the world to me. They are the world, the three realms of earth, sea and sky, woven together with the invisible threads of — of what? I might say love, or peace, or even something like harmony or Song. But the truth is, these are prayer beads, and they are woven together, and bound to each other, with words.

Peace has been at the center of my spiritual life for so long, I'm not even sure I can think of what it means to be "spiritual" without it. And we need peace these days, we need it desperately. It was this need that led me to write the two pieces that appeared in the most recent issue of Sky Earth Sea: A Journal of Practical Spirituality: an essay on "peaceful warriorship," and a description of my personal use of the "Druid Prayer for Peace" as a daily meditation. In the wake of recent events — and the on-going political wars and environmental destruction that continues seemingly unchecked — a few thousand words read by only a handful of people seemed worse than useless. But even in my cynicism and frustration, the prayer still meant something to me, something powerful, something more than mere words. And I wanted to create it again, to make it into something tangible, something I could hold between my hands, something I could give to another not just metaphorically, but physically. And so, I began sorting and beading and weaving.

And as I worked, I thought about my best friend, a musician of incredible talent, who had sent me a letter recently about his own frustrations with his art, and his doubts that music could change the world. What can we do, he asked me, and what right do we have to lecture others when our own efforts seem to be so small and meaningless, our actions so impotent and our intentions always usurped and distorted by systems of violence and fear? And it seemed to me that the answer is, and that it always is: we do what we can. We have to try, we have to allow ourselves that much. Even if our uncertainty shakes us to the soles of our feet, even if our knowledge of the world and its vastness make us feel small and helpless, even if bloated systems of fear and myopic self-interest loom over us, leering and licking their chops — we do what our hearts and minds and hands urge us to do.

And then we have to forgive ourselves. Forgive ourselves for failing, for not being perfect, forgive ourselves for not being able to save the world. Because if we don't give ourselves permission to try anyway, knowing the odds are stacked, certainly no one else will. And there are already enough cynical asses in the world who would rather sit back in comfortable complacency than face the risk that their capacity to care about something might just be greater than their capacity to control it. Because that's the risk we run when we allow ourselves to love, when we open ourselves to something bigger than we are. That's what's at stake: our willingness to connect with something, through compassion and devotion and gratitude and joy, that is not completely under our control. Try as we might, the world is too big for us to control. And yet we participate, at every moment, with every breath, we participate in its creation and its thriving community of life. Peace, I think, is no more or less than coming to understand that creative participation, rooted in freedom and mystery.

So maybe my words might not save the world. I am a writer. All I can do is what any of us can do: be most wholly and fully who I am, and live my peace on a daily basis in the best way I know how. And right now, that means giving away prayer beads. Maybe it's a silly idea, maybe it won't make a difference — but gods and politicians be damned, I just have to try!

So, dear readers, if you are interested in receiving a set of prayer beads, please send me an email at, with your name and mailing address (and blog or webpage address, if you have one). At the moment, I have two sets to give away, though I will probably be making more over the next few weeks. During the first week of December, I'll put all the names I receive into a hat and draw a few winners at random, who will receive a set of prayer beads and a copy of the Peace of the Three Realms meditation. All I ask in return is that each of you make a promise: a promise to spend some time over the next year working honestly and whole-heartedly towards peace in whatever way you can, whether it be through prayer, art, politics, or other forms of service, and a promise to give yourself permission to care.


  1. Thank you! What wonderful thoughts to contemplate today.

  2. Hi there! Your prayer beads and prayer meditation guide exacts curiosity in me. I'm a Roman Catholic who prays the Holy Rosary everyday. Peace, my friend, can be achieved through prayers. Go on launch!

  3. Spiritualmother, Thank you for visiting and taking a moment from your day to leave a reply. :)

  4. Senior Debutante, Thanks for visiting, and I'm glad I've sparked your interest. :)

    I was raised Catholic (as I like to describe it, "poor Irish Roman Catholic, to be precise"), and growing up I had a lot of experience with praying the Rosary and contemplating the Mysteries. While in college, I even had a chapbook of poetry published that was inspired by this practice. (It's available online, The Rosary Poems, at, in case you're interested in checking it out.)

    Now, the more I settle down into my practice of Druidry, the more I find that this essential element of prayer and meditation is incredibly important to me. You might say that this practice of meditating on peace was inspired by the Catholic Rosary in many ways, and I would hope that people of all different religious faiths might find some value in it. :)

  5. a thoughtful, mourning post, and not only timely after what happened in texas but also timely for remembrance/veterans day.

    i did not grow up catholic (i was raised in a progressive lutheran family) but the rosary has always made a lot of sense to me. and of course it exists in other cultures/religions, for example, in the middle east and in buddhism and hinduism, so it's really something universal.

    thank you for this post. blessed be.

  6. A blessed synchronicity made me find my way to this blog and read your touching words. Thank you so much for the inspiration! Being a musician myself, I totally sympathise with your musician friend's emotions. I know them, too: over the last months I have repeatedly suffered from a nagging feeling of ineffectivity and powerlessness. But your words encourage me to reconsider. To go on. To do my part, small as it may be...

  7. Karen, I'm glad these words spoke to you... And yes! Keep on plugging, as they say. :) The world needs people like you, and my friend--indeed, the world needs all of us, in all our complexity, with all our dreams and inadequacies and amazing talents churning away to make us who we are. :)

  8. isbella, Yes, I always try to pay attention when similar practices show up in many different traditions--the use of prayer beads, meditation, song... all these things have something to them, some meaning perhaps deeper than we know. And cultures from all over the world and throughout history come up with them, time and again. :)

  9. The shooting was very sad. I felt pretty upset when I heard about it. It makes me feel like there's hate in the world that can't be fixed. But to give up won't help either. Keep on writing anyway, maybe your words will catch somebody's ear who has power. And also, I promise to work towards peace in the world. We'll get there someday! =)