by Lilith Usog

Reflections on the dissonance between the biblical peace and the stories of women and children in war torn countries.

Introduction

To talk about peace when we are faced with conflict situations seems to be an ambitious task. But strengthened by our Christian ideals and resources from other Oriental religion we are still convinced that PEACE will not be a remote possibility. Surely, it will not come in a silver platter but through hard earned efforts at peace-making. We are challenged to make peace our mantra (prayer word) so we can contribute in sending positive energies into our war-torn and divided world at the same time we can make peace as a way of life. What better occasion to reflect on peace than now, with war and terrorist attacks having become daily fare for those in Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Sri-lanka, the Philippines, other Asian countries, and various countries in Africa, America, and Europe? Even where explosions do not shatter peace in our villages, most of us in Asia find ourselves continuously bombarded with cheap foreign goods that kill local manufacturing and result in unemployment and hunger. Many of our countries are helpless before multinationals and first world countries seeking to expand their territories or defend their vested interests. With fervent longing we echo the prophecy of Zechariah … “guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Longing for peace.

Where war and violence seem to be a constant in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Israel, Palestine, Philippines, and many other countries let us not be calloused by its effects. While violence exudes male arrogance, it is the women and children who suffer the most. Let me share the longings of other women and children on PEACE:

a. Afghanistan is still fresh in our memory. Claudia Torrens in her article quoted what the Afghan minister of education Maliha Zulfacar said: “Afghanistan is a ground-zero after the impact of America’s war on terrorism has had on it. “Most of our schools have been bombed and destroyed, there is an inability of Afghans to continue teaching and many educated Afghan people are leaving the country.” The current generation of uneducated Afghans is one of the major problems the country is facing now. What Afghan women need is to be more confident and speak about their rights. They still have fear; they still don’t feel secure and that has to change.

b. We also hear of the heightening tension between Israel and Palestine.

Israel. Donna Spiegelman, in her interview with Hannah Safran an Isaraeli feminist peace activist shared the following thoughts. The Women in Black in Haifa, continue to hold vigil that takes place once a week. They hold placards/signs against the occupation. The vigils started in 1988, when the first Intifada began, and the number of vigils has grown significantly ever since. In an historical perspective, Women in Black has had a significant moral impact on Israeli society.

Hannah Safran said: “But I am not an expert about Palestinians. I’m really concerned about the future of Israel. And I’m convinced that the well-being of Palestinians is the only way for Israel to live as a peaceful and normal society.”

c. Kosovo. In February 2002 as many as 80 Albanians in Kosovo were killed by Serbian police forces. More than half of the victims were women and children. Houses in almost a dozen villages were bombed and destroyed, and since hundreds of families are still hiding in the woods outside of their villages, too terrified to return to their homes. Starvation among these people is heightened, since aid organizations have been prevented from reaching them. Visitors to the area have heard reports of random arrests and beatings of Albanians on the streets by policemen.

d. Iraq. Around 4,500 children under the age of five die every month of starvation, malnutrition, and lack of medical supplies. They are dying as a result of economic sanctions placed on Iraq by the United Nations, under pressure from the United States. A visitor to Iraq was recently told by a woman there: “We are ground down, exhausted, by years of death. Since the Gulf War 600,000 children have died of malnutrition and a lack of medicine. We live with death”. Somehow these years of deprivation and isolation have eroded such minor questions as to whether one might die next week because of a bomb from the air, or in ten years time from another cause. The question was whether after death there is life, and whether there is a God who hears us. It is as if the embargo had sometimes seemed to shut out even God.”

Peace in the Biblical context.

There is a dissonance between the biblical peace and the stories of women and children in war torn countries. Peace means something much more than the absence of war. There are two words used in the original languages of the Bible that mean “peace.” In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament the word is “Shalom” and in the Greek language of the New Testament, it is “Eirene,” which has the same meaning as “Shalom.” The root meaning of Shalom is completeness, wholeness; another meaning is peaceable or time of peace. True peace excludes nobody from the circle of harmony and completeness. The Bible also refers to peace as prosperity and security (which includes economic and political security) in Chronicles 4:40; 22:9, Isaiah 32:18. To sum up the Bible describes peace as a state of total well-being, inner harmony and oneness between God and human beings.

Challenge.

Grounded on these realities we joined our voices with other peace-loving individuals and groups who are clamoring for peace. With these glaring realities we need to act and not just stay complacent. What better picture can we paint but creating circles of peace in our own homes, in places where we work and in the larger community. We are again summoned by our faith, as Christians to take on Christ, the Prince of Peace. The peace that Jesus gives is a transforming and harmonizing peace rooted in compassion and strong sense of justice. Here we are impelled to participate in peace-making wherever we are. It could be educating for peace; registering our protest for peace; making our voices heard for peace. Whatever the case maybe – stand and be counted! And like Zechariah we implore the liberating Spirit to guide our feet into the way of peace. Go forth and work for peace strengthened by this blessing:

Deep peace of the Running Wave to you.
Deep peace of the Flowing Air to you.
Deep peace of the Quiet Earth to you.
Deep peace of the Shining Stars to you.
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.

(Celtic Benediction)

Guide questions for reflection:
1. What is Peace for you? What is Peace for the Women in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo?
2. How can I contribute in peace-making? What concrete actions should I take?
3. Where am I called to sow the seeds of peace?

Sources:

http://www.CoalitionofWomen4Peace.org

http://Catholic encyclopedia.com

The Women’s Bible Commentary

Archbishop Robert Runcie and Cardinal Basil Hume. Prayers for Peace. UK

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This essay is from the January 2004 issue of EWA’s geocities.com/ecclesiaofwomen website

At the time the article was submitted, Carmelita “Lilith” Usog was the national coordinator of EATWOT. An administrator and professor of St. Scholastica’s College, Manila, and a teacher of theology (Women and World Religions) and Women’s Studies.