Thursday, September 14, 2017

We commit to the study and practice of nonviolence

Psalm 137

Submitted by Rev. Roger Scott Powers

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

Reflection: Psalm 137 is a song of lament born out of the tragedy of war. The first few verses of sorrow and despair may sound familiar, because they have been set to music so often by contemporary songwriters. What is less familiar, and what we find most jarring, is the psalm’s ending: “O daughter Babylon, you devastator! . . . Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” We are shocked by these words, horrified by their imagery.

These words are the brutally honest cry for revenge of a prisoner of war, who saw his country destroyed by a foreign army, was himself taken captive, and now must live with that enemy against his will. He is crying out from a visceral anger deep down inside. He wants payback. He wants revenge, not only against his enemy but against his enemy’s family as well. It is the same raw emotion that many in the U.S. felt immediately after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

We got our revenge, first against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and then against Saddam Hussein and Iraq. (Never mind that Saddam Hussein and Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.) These military interventions have cost us dearly in both human and economic terms. And after fifteen years, they continue to drag on with no clear end in sight.

If we did not know it before, we are finally realizing it now: the US military cannot solve all the world’s problems, nor should it be expected to. Many of the world’s problems simply can’t be solved militarily. And that’s why it is so important for us to study and practice nonviolent alternatives for addressing conflicts between individuals, between groups, and between nations.

Action: Attend a workshop on nonviolent communication or mediation skills.

Prayer: O God, bring healing and wholeness to all those whose lives have been changed forever by the experience of war. Amen.

Rev. Roger Scott Powers is pastor of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque. He has worked with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship for many years. He is also co-editor of a 640-page encyclopedia of nonviolent action entitled Protest, Power, and Change.


This year’s Path of Peace reflections are based on the Five Affirmations to Guide the Peacemaking Witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Writers were recruited to help us explore the following affirmations as each week of A Season of Peace unfolds:

  1. Peacemaking is essential to our faith.
  2. We have sinned by participating in acts of violence.
  3. We reclaim the power of nonviolent love.
  4. We commit to the study and practice of nonviolence.
  5. We will practice boldly the things that make for peace.

Each author writes Monday–Friday, beginning with the first affirmation and ending with the fifth. The authors represent a variety of vocations and experiences in peacemaking efforts, and each week presents a new ‘voice’ to walk you through the affirmations. The weekend devotions, written by the editor, also reflect the five affirmations. Individuals and households are invited to make use of these daily reflections beginning on Sunday, September 3, and concluding on World Communion Sunday, October 1.

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