I just received a copy of Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings which was edited by John Dear. One section of John Dear’s brilliant introduction and tribute to Dan brings me to thoughts of Advent and Isaiah. Like Isaiah (Is. 30:19-21; 23-26), Dan calls us to hope. Dear writes:
Reading and hearing his poems confronts, inspires, uplifts and heals. They offer hope to those struggling with cultural despair. That to me is the best clue to his poetry. Dan invites us to hope. He insists on hope. Despite all. And he can do this because he himself essentially hopeful. He keeps a long haul view toward the resurrection. (28)
All of Dan’s writing confronts and inspires. I had the opportunity to attend a retreat with Dan and his sister-in-law, Liz McAllister several years after I attended a retreat with John Dear. In his early 80s then, I found Dan to be a gentle, humble giant. (As I write, a gentle snow is falling in our mountains—gentle like Dan.)
As Dear explains, Dan’s activism is firmly grounded in his spirituality which includes daily immersion in the Scriptures. Conforming his life to Jesus’ life enables Dan to be gentle and yet ever so strong and forceful when injustice must be confronted.
John, Dan, and Liz have had a big influence on me. Had I not met them and Emmanuel Charles McCarthy I would not now be a peace activist. I look forward to savoring the selections included in the book.
Like Isaiah, Dan and John can envision a day when the People of God will weep no more. Advent is hope. We know that God is merciful. God will hear us. God will give us bread and water. God walks with us through the valley of darkness and death. God is ever at our side.
God became human so that we might become divine. The Jesus we are will show us the way, “This is the way; walk in it.”
All is gift. We are gifted now. Isaiah promises spacious meadows for our flocks, silage for the oxen and asses, streams of running water on high mountains. More is to come for us—peace among nations, care for the poor, comfort for the widows and a welcoming embrace for the immigrants.
“God will heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.” Daniel Berrigan reminds us that “a prophet is nothing more than a ‘truth teller who says it and pays up.’” (30) When we live the Gospel and conform our lives to the nonviolent life of Jesus the Christ, we will be wounded. But, we know that God will bind up our wounds so we can carry on the God’s work. Dan’s piece of advice to a young John Dear was, “Make your story fit the story of Jesus.” (33) Embrace love, “Love your enemies and pray for your persecuters” and embrace nonviolence, “Put away your swords.”
Matthew (9:35-10: 1,5a, 6-8) tells us how to make our stories fit the story of Jesus. Jesus taught in the synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kin-dom and he cured every disease and illness. Our lives of nonviolent witness become our sermons in the synagogues and market places.
Like Jesus, our guts are wrenched when we observe misery and suffering. We are moved to pity. We are moved to action. We are Jesus to our small part of the world.
I am involved in healing ministry. I know the healing power of Jesus. I have experienced deep healing. I know that, in spite of our reluctance and doubts, we can claim the healing power which Jesus gave to the Twelve. We live in the person, power and presence of the Risen Jesus. We are Jesus! We can raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons.
Demons in Jesus’ day were a way of saying that Empire—structural violence incarnate—makes us sick. We cannot challenge empire. We take on its demons. When Jesus cast out demons, he was casting out legion (divisions in empire’s army).
Our healing is not restricted to healing the infirmities of individuals. We live in relationship. We live in society. The structural violence in our society makes us ill and dysfunctional. We are diseased by our violent society and culture. Like Dan and John and the Cloud of Witnesses surrounding them, we must challenge the structural violence that causes human misery.
We can give to the annual diocesan appeals and our money will help alleviate misery and suffering at least for a while. We are giving bread to the poor. Dom Helder Camera tells us that we must then ask, “Why are they poor? Why are they in misery?” Then, like him, we will be labeled Communist, socialist, or something equivalent. Dan’s lifelong witness (He is now 88) teaches us how to fit our stories to the story of Jesus. Dan teaches us how to ask the tough questions gently.