Radical Prayers on Peace, Love and Nonviolence, by John Dear, November 2017. Pace e Bene Press, ISBN: 978-0997833713, 148 pages. Price approximately 12.99 (paperback)
“There are many ways to pray”, writes John Dear in an introduction to his fifty prayers on peace, love and non-violence, “probably as many ways as there are people”. So you may not find his way the same as yours. Each of his prayers is quite long, a page or two, direct and personal, usually beginning “Dear God”. The collection is grouped in twelve parts, starting with praise and adoration and ending with prayers for “humanity’s conversion to total nonviolence”.
How to use this book? I tried one on my own, “Dear God, help me to start living today as if I were already in heaven”. But I immediately stumbled over wondering what heaven might mean. So I turned the pages and read, “Dear God, you could wipe us out in the blink of an eye if you wanted to …” and that was even more problematic. Yet, strangely, what makes these prayers provocative and largely unusable for me personally enables them to be quite effective in public worship. I have taken to reading them at traditional Sunday BCP Evensong. Read slowly and meditatively they sound startling and arresting after the beauty of Elizabethan liturgy. It certainly challenged any complacency about now being an Eco Church when we prayed, ‘to be “a new grass-roots movement to protect creation and create a new culture of nonviolence for Mother Earth”.
The book is published by Pace e Bene, “peace and all good” in Italian, the greeting St Francis and St Clare had for each other. Founded in 1959 by the Franciscan Friars of California, Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service is described as independent and nondenominational. With offices and associates around the world, its vision is “to foster a just and peaceful world through nonviolence education, community-building, and action”.
John Dear is a priest (although dismissed from the Jesuits in 2014 as a thorn in the side of the conservatives, in 2017 he helped draft Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message), an activist (he tells us that in his work for peace he can now count up eighty arrests), and an author of some thirty books.
Actually what I found most helpful was his introduction in which he says that the pursuit of nonviolence requires prayer: “If you are nonviolent you need God…If you are violent, you don’t need God. You have your guns, weapons and money to rely on”. So perhaps the greatest value of this book is not so much to be a manual of prayers as to inspire us to live more prayerfully with the God who is unconditional and total love.
“As we go forward in our work for peace and nonviolence, we lean on God, dwell in God’s peace, and trust God, come what may. We can do this because we have spent our lives one day at a time sitting with God, getting to know God, letting God love us, and living out God’s spirit of peace and love.”