“Bomb-Affected-People”

 

railroad gate bangor 4

 

On August 6, 1989 when the sun’s oblique rays cast long shadows of giant cedars across the railroad tracks leading into Subase Bangor, a Burlington Northern security car parked at the base gate and waited for a shipment to arrive. It was the guard’s duty to ensure safe delivery of missile propellant fuel on this anniversary of the United States’ bombing of Hiroshima.  I left my home above the tracks and approached the car with a heavy heart to dialogue with the guard:

Do you realize this is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima?

No Ma’am, I don’t.

And we wait for a train carrying fuel for more bombs to potentially kill and maim more people?

We had to drop that bomb. It saved hundreds of American soldiers.

And what about the lives of hundreds of Japanese noncombatans? Don’t you think it’s time to let go of the bombs?

They were collateral damage. We need these bombs.

And so it goes. On and on and on…. The train arrived, met by armed marines who opened the gate to escort it to the bunkers. Fuel delivered, the train reversed it’s journey. Out of sight, not out of mind or heart. I knelt on the tracks, lit sage and wept for Hiroshima and for my own collusion. We the bombers are hibakusha as much as the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As long as we make bombs with intent to use, we are a bomb-affected-people.

For Further Reflection

 

http://hibakushastories.org/who-are-the-hibakusha/

http://www.military.com/base-guide/naval-base-kitsap—bangor

http://www.gzcenter.org/event/from-hiroshima-to-hope-2/

 

From Hiroshima to Hope 2017

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“Piecemeal Peace Is No Peace “

D-Day 70 yrs

Peace
Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

WHEN will you ever, Peace,
wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and
under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you,
Peace? I’ll not play
hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do
come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor
peace. What pure peace
allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting
wars, the death of it?
O surely, reaving Peace, my
Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave
Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter.
And when Peace here
does house
He comes with work to do, he
does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

D-Day at Seventy Years

As I do my morning dishes National Public Radio reports from Normandy, and my reflections spiral into a deep longing for another way to define “The Greatest Generation.” For me it would be a generation which refuses to be satisfied with a “piecemeal peace,’ but instead does the hard work of self- examination and conversion, work which leads to whole and lasting peace.

Today I choose to honor the hundreds of men who refused to go to Normandy, and those who risked scorn and poverty to support them.  They were men who believed that if we as human beings had been awake and living lives of nonviolence, the dictators would have been kept from power and D-Day would not have happened. You can read their stories and learn about the film,”The Good War And Those Who Refused to Fight It,” at http://www.pbs.org/itvs/thegoodwar/ww2pacifists.html.  The film is available from PBS USA and likely from your public library collection.  Clips are available on youtube.

 

photo credit for dove: hapal via photopin cc CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECOR

Shadows From My Past

Vietnam War Memorial

On a startling sunny day in April, 1984, I stood before the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. overwhelmed by the experience of thousands of lives reduced to letters chiseled out of stark black granite.  As if shadows of children cast upon the wall as they lay mementos of their loved one wasn’t enough to bear, four fresh young men came to vigil, their uniforms creating a macabre dance of shadows both real and anticipated.   I wept then and I weep now.

On this day, March 7, 1965, the first U.S. combat troops were sent to Vietnam.  My spiritual practice today will be to take inventory of my commitment to nonviolence, and to make reparation by revisiting the Wall.  I will call those men by name and ask forgiveness.  I will call to mind all who lost their lives in that war.  I will ask for God’s gracious mercy toward all of us who had the need to wage that war.  Most of all, I will hold dear the broken lives of my peers who returned from that war hopeless and who still need us.

The Wall of Faces:  http://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/

Submarines and Food Stamps: Called to Nineveh

“Jonah” is a poem I wrote during the first Gulf War, which was raging during my tenure as a nonviolent resistor to the nuclear weapons at Subase Bangor in Puget Sound.  Living beside the railroad tracks leading into the base, I witnessed monthly  shipments of missile propellant fuel destined for Trident submarines.  Admiral Trost said that the subs were necessary to “protect the lifestyle to which we had become accustomed.”  Nevermind, that most people do not share that affluent lifestyle, and they are in poverty partly because taxes are allocated to these weapons, while food stamps are drastically cut.  My spiritual practice is to try to live a lifestyle that doesn’t depend on the weapons to protect it.

The poem reflects the despair I felt then and now, but it offers hope that resistance can breed resistance.  It was dedicated to Steve, a submariner who applied for, and received, conscientious objector status. We are called by conscience to go to Nineveh.  Will we go?

Jonah

JONAH

For Steve, Who Broke the Silence

How obscene.
How obscene that submarines slither through unseen.

Journalist to Pentagon briefer: “Sir, is it true that
A cruise missile was fired from a submarine?”
General Kelly:  “We never discuss submarines.”
They slither through unseen.
As unseen as the bodies in Baghdad.
How obscene.

Today I sit on Hood Canal-
Mountains, sun, spring wildflowers.
Euphoric, here where
Submarines slither through unseen.

As if to confirm the paradox
Two patrol boats pass.
Do they escort the Leviathan?
I can’t hear it.
I can’t see it.
The beast breaks silence,
Its dark, hulking frame mimicking the
Great Orca of Puget Sound.
Sacrilege.

Shivering, shedding silent, shame-full tears…

I re-member:
When the beast descends this time
It goes down depleted.
Another Jonah has tumbled out,
And his “No” will echo forever in
The belly of the whale.

© rita h. kowats

Disarmament of the Heart

010

When all is said and done our call in this life is simple: Love God, Love Self, Love Others. Love is born through a rigorous process of disarming the heart. it is an act of unparalleled trust. It frightens us, so we fiercely protect our center like petals protecting the heart of a flower . The choice to unveil the beauty of the center leaves us vulnerable, so we resist and protect it. I am deeply grateful for the witness of many prophets who faithfully do the hard work of disarming so that they can preach the truth from a clean place. Because they are doing it, I believe that it is possible.

The practice of disarming the heart is so important, that without it, we have no moral authority to do justice. Our call to do justice presupposes the call to let go of the ego entrapments that motivate us: unbridled power, arrogance, addictive control, unfocused fear, selfish competition, resentment. The more these attitudes motivate us, the more we stifle dialogue with an adversary; however, knowledge and acceptance of our entrapments create openness and opportunity for dialogue. Paradoxically, this is a very strong place from which to do justice. When we are committed to disarming the heart, we are truly “walking the talk.”

Although the practice of disarming the heart is difficult, we can do it in simple and practical ways. Foremost, the process necessitates a degree of solitude and silence in which we have the space to allow peace to germinate. Without peace we cannot bore through the clamor of ego enough to see and recognize the needs of one another, much less the needs of the world. We unconsciously allow the clamor to persist because it throws a safe cloak around our inner core. We fear the power of our deepest self because if that gift is acknowledged, life becomes dangerous and demanding. It’s easier to hide the prophet in us. But we must do the work, and expose the prophet, because unconscious “peace” only plays at doing justice.

Within the moments of silence and solitude which we carve out, saying mantras can be a powerful spiritual tool.  For four years I leafleted weekly at a nuclear submarine base in Puget Sound.  To stay alert and focused at 6:00 A.M. I recited, “Come Lord Jesus, set us free.”  It was a plea to let go of the fear and prejudice which blocked leafleters and workers from honest dialogue.  Sometimes preoccupied by angry challenges, or still half asleep, I forgot to say the mantra.  A frequent traveler into the base came in a pickup truck with a rifle on a rack.  I would think, “Oh, does this guy hate me.”  One day I was able to pay attention when the truck came through.  The driver looked depressed, and from some place in me I blurted, “How are you this morning?”  He responded, “How am I?  I’m terrible.  How else would I be, having to go in there every day and do the work I have to do?”  We were connected from that moment on, because We both had allowed the Spirit to disarm our egos.

We are sometimes unable to dialogue peacefully because we cache resentment and blame, finger tip-ready to call up on queue. Such arming of the heart causes violence and blocks progress toward achieving justice. Buddhists have a practice of forgiveness in which they pray to forgive self and others for all conscious and unconscious harmful acts. I think this prayer should be a part of every training for nonviolent action, and a daily practice for anyone serious about falling in love with God, self, and others.

Finally, I want to say something on behalf of ego. I embrace it, because it’s in the mix of being human. Like the petals which surround the heart of the flower, it has a purpose. When strong and focused, it keeps us safe and gives us the courage to love. The goal is to harness the ego, not annihilate it. We want to have a sense of humor about it all, lest we become zealots to whom no one wants to listen. Meister Eckhart says that “God laughs and plays,” and that works for me! The more fear we have of exposing our own complicity in injustice, the more inclined we are to set up protective barriers; however, if we hold our own flawed natures lightly, we are less likely to attack our adversaries for their flawed natures. Disarming in this way doesn’t mean we have to condone the unjust action. It simply means that we accept our commonality as human beings.

In his poem, “Peace,” Gerard Manley Hopkins offers a unique description of heart-disarmament: “And when peace here does house, he comes with work to do. He does not come to coo, he comes to brood and sit.” May our brooding create a peace which births justice.

_______________________________
“Disarmament of the Heart” was first published in AMOS, a journal of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, Seattle: ipjc.org

Holding Vigil

Used with permission

“Vision After the Sermon “by Paul Gauguin

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.”  Gn. 32:24

“…I saw God face to face, and my life was spared.”  Gn. 32:32

Recently, I enjoyed viewing the work of my favorite Impressionist painter, Paul Gauguin.  “Vision After the Sermon” took me by the shoulders and shook me awake.  “Pay attention to me!” it shouted.  Initially, it profoundly disturbed me.  I identified with Jacob and felt abandoned on the other side of the river, left to wrestle alone.  I was angry that the spectators judged from afar, while Jacob fought on their behalf.  My response was so intense, I let it live itself out, unattended for a week.

Spirit has done her work in the meantime.  Today, as I return to the painting, it whispers, “They are not spectators.  They hold vigil for Jacob.”  Awe impregnates me.  What a holy thing it is to hold vigil for someone who struggles to see the face of God.  When we are aware of someone’s struggle and we set aside a time to surround him with the light and grace of God, we are in solidarity with him, even while standing on the other side of the river.  Because we vigil, our loved one, or a group about whom we care, is not alone.  We can send someone the energy of God whenever we think of her throughout the day.  In this way, the spectator becomes a participant.

I have experienced the spiritual practice of holding vigil before an important meeting.  It can have a profound effect on the outcome, because it frees us from the need to force a desired outcome, thus allowing the Spirit to guide the struggle.  When we intentionally pray for the openness to see the face of God in unexpected places- even in a business meeting- our lives as we know them are spared, changed.

It comes to me that I hold vigil with all of you who read these reflections.  We wrestle together.  We are a community in search of the Face of God.  Thank you.  Amen.

“United We Stand, Divided We Fall”: A New Twist

ME quote

I used to raise consciousness at a navy subase about the violence inherent in possessing and using nuclear weapons.  Weekly, a worker drove through into the base as I passed out leaflets.  His truck carried a rifle rack and he looked straight ahead, never acknowledging my presence.  I was convinced that he was an irreconcilable “redneck” who surely hated this “bleeding heart liberal.”  One day he seemed different.  His despondence was palatable.  I responded to it by blurting out, “How are you?”  He shouted back, “How am I?  I’m terrible.  How else would I be having to go in there every day and do what I have to do?”  I had reduced him to my erroneous perception of him.  In the spirit of today’s Eckhart quote, I would say I had divided him from his true self by dwelling on what I thought to be his flaws.  Not exactly following the call to love God with my whole heart, and my neighbor as myself.

As human beings we seem destined to make judgments about one another.  Nothing alarming about it- it’s the human condition; however, when we choose to dwell on the flaws of others until that’s all we see- it divides us from our own best self, from the other, and from God.  We are all more than our flaws.

My meditation birthed this prayer.  If it speaks to you too, I thank the Spirit:

Undivided Heart Prayer