Last week I drove to Bethlehem to listen to one of our local peace heroes, Sami Awad, a Palestinian Christian, give a talk about his journey towards becoming a peacemaker. What struck me most about Sami’s story is the way he finally came to understand the necessary link between healing, peace, and love. He told us how he had been involved in peacemaking initiatives for over a decade when it gradually dawned on him that though he preached and practiced nonviolence, he didn’t feel nonviolent in his heart. This conviction was all the more poignant when he considered his own faith tradition and what it meant for a Christian to pursue peace, since Jesus told his followers that they were to love not only their neighbors, but their enemies as well. Sami balked at this; how could he possibly learn to love those who were hurting him? But what enabled him to finally move past the barriers in his heart and extend that love to those who, for all intents and purposes, were his enemies, was being able to see their hurt – to see their wounds, and love them in their woundedness.
There is an intrinsic relationship between healing and peace. Healing is the remaking of something that has been broken – physically, emotionally, socially, politically, and so forth. But for healing to be complete, it must address what is broken both on the surface as well as deep within. Physical healing is not enough where there are emotional wounds as well. At CURE hospital in Niger, where good friends of mine work, they understand this well. This is why the workers at the hospital focus just as much on healing the emotional wounds of their patients as they do on treating their physical deformities. Most of the kids that come to this particular hospital are born with club foot or cleft lip, or suffer from severe burns that they incurred when still babies. Where these children have been scarred on the outside, you can be sure that there are deep scars in their hearts as well, as these kinds of deformities, in Niger, are associated with a whole host of social stigmas that alienate these children from society from the moment they are born. CURE seeks to heal the whole child – inside and out – before sending him or her back to the village they came from. The same is true of the children living in the Yazidi and Muslim refugee camps in Northern Iraq/Kurdistan – it is not enough that they are now in a safe place, out of the eye of the storm in Syria, or out of the clutches of ISIS. The trauma that these children carry with them into the refugee camps needs healing just as much as their starved and ravished bodies do when they finally stumble into these places of refuge.
In Hebrew, the meaning of the word “peace” is “wholeness,” or “completeness.” The word itself signifies that peacemaking and healing are inextricably linked. Peace must always seek to restore what has been broken, to heal both external and internal wounds, in addition to everything else we expect peace to do. Anything less is not true, or full, peace. (This, by the way, is why peace heroes are not just those working in conflict zones, but anyone at all, really, who is working to restore what is broken in the world around them.)
What, then, can we do to make whole again that which is broken? To heal, in the fullest way? What must we do to open the door to peace – inside and out?
The answer, I think, is simply this: We must learn both to give and to receive love, always. We heal when we learn to love ourselves. We heal when we learn to love one another. And, counter-intuitive though it may be, we heal when we learn to love those who hurt us, also. Nothing is as disarming as love. Nothing tears down walls and knocks over barriers as the earth-shattering realization, and conviction, that we are loved. This kind of love is where real peace – transformative peace – is born. It is what I call profound peace because it desires to go beneath what is seen on the surface, to penetrate the depths of our being and heal both visible and invisible wounds. It is, in the end, the only kind of peace that can transform the most seemingly hopeless situations. It is the only kind of peace that will really last.
I was struck by this not long ago when I watched a documentary about a group of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis who were brought together for a series of encounters in an effort to build connections between them. What these women and men needed, more than anything, was healing. They agreed to come together, in the midst of their pain, anger, suffering, and confusion, because they somehow intuitively understood the very deep connection between peacemaking and healing – that in reaching out to the other side, to their enemies (which surely is a gesture of peace) they might, somehow, find healing for their broken hearts. Was it easy? Absolutely not. In fact, it was agonizing to watch these people, all of whom have lost a loved one due to the conflict, sit together without a physical barrier between them, but with an emotional and mental wall so high that few of them were able to climb over it. It struck me, as I watched, how the one thing each of these grieving women and men really wanted was for the other side to acknowledge their pain, and say – “I get it. You’ve lost something so dear, and I am so sorry.” It made me wonder what would happen if each person in that room was told by a person from the other side, in a simple and sincere way, “You are loved. I see your pain and I love you.” I wonder if these words could have brought healing to the people there in a way that no other words can.
The revolutionary power embedded in this kind of affirmation of love really hit home when I was talking to a friend about a favorite blog post of mine. Written by one of our third grade teachers, it describes how students in that class began to internalize the message, through Mother Teresa’s story, that they are loved and wanted. I have often wondered about the impact this message might have on the students later on in life. For example, what if there arose from the ranks of these third-graders a great leader? And what if this was the mantra upon which his or her approach to everything was based? You are loved and wanted. Spurred by this thought, my friend and I started naming all the situations where this kind of message, if adopted by our current leaders, would utterly transform the world as we now know it: Palestinians? You are loved and wanted. Israelis? You are loved and wanted. Children born with deformities? You are loved and wanted. Refugees? You are loved and wanted. Muslims? You are loved and wanted. Yazidis? You are loved and wanted. Jews? You are loved and wanted. Women? You are loved and wanted. Just imagine! The healing that would be unleashed through this kind of message is mind-blowing; the potential for profound and sustainable peace is simply staggering.
What if we were to make a concerted effort to approach peace in this way? With a desire to extend love and heal wounds, no matter who is on the receiving end? Every single one of us is hurting in some way – whether the pain we carry is our own or that of the community we are part of. Healing will come when we learn to love the wounds we see in each other, too. Even those who are hurting us. The question is, can we, like Sami Awad, open up our hearts to those whose wounds are causing us to bleed? It might be one of the hardest challenges we undertake – personally and communally. But it is the only way to complete peace, within and without. So while it is true that peace comes at a price, perhaps this kind of wholeness is well worth the cost.