Father Dan Berrigan was once asked: “what do you want written on your tombstone?” The answer was vintage Berrigan: “May he never rest in peace!” While I have my own reputation for dissatisfaction, disquiet and questionable quest, my hope is for just the opposite on my gravestone. Quest and dissatisfaction may never be an end. More than anything else, I hope one day to rest in peace. But Berrigan is onto something. There is a time for resting in peace, but that time is not yet, for any of us. Each age, it would seem, has its own strengths and weaknesses. The ‘60s and’70s were a restless, violent time. People were dissatisfied and said so. This was true in the church and in the world as a whole. Everywhere we looked we saw unrest. There was dissatisfaction a plenty, more than we could handle. There were sufficient mistakes made, some precious things were wasted, lots of persons got hurt and much immaturity was able to justify itself behind a sense of flowing with the spirit of the times or being dedicated to a cause.
But we were unable to be at peace. Today there is, certainly in the church at least, more stability. That part is only partially good. We stand in a real danger of misreading the signs of the times. This is our temptation: we look back at the ‘60s and ‘70s and conclude that, for all the turmoil and unrest, they were worth it, a necessary time of transition. The criticalness, the radicalness, the lack of peace, were necessary then. Now, it is believed, they are not as necessary. Now is a time to solidify, to be satisfied, to shore things up, canonically, liturgically, ecclesially, institutionally, interpersonally. The dissatisfied time is over. The shoring up is steadily taking place. That outlook is beginning to pervade in the church and you need to apologize now if what you say or write isn’t bubbling over with everything that is positive.
I offer just a tiny example, it is the one which prompts this article. I have been writing this column for a year. During this time I have received numerous letters, both from folks I know and from folks I don’t know; good folks, all of them. Many of them chide me and plead with me. Invariably the bottomline is the same: Please write positive stuff. Please, don’t join the crowd who are always tearing things apart. I am partially in sympathy. There is too much negativity around. We who preach, who write, who upset, too often use causes, however valid, to vent our personal frustrations when we should be engaged in a much humbler and more difficult process called growing up. Moreover, all of us bear the scars of two decades of criticism. We are tired, justifiably so. More and more, at least so I gather, people are simply fed up with omnipresent negativity. There is a real hunger again for what builds up. But my sympathy stops after that.
There are other motives, less acceptable ones, operative in our impatience with criticism; namely, we are growing, again, as a church community, easeful, apathetic, selfish, inturned, narrow, insensitive and full of degenerative spiritual fat. In a word, we are growing ever more adept at resting in peace while others bleed. The wounds of others, injustice, degradation, interpersonal disharmony is old news and, as Ronald Reagan put it recently, “it disturbs my breakfast very little!” We are growing skillful and easeful at being unreconciled. This callousness is true in our outlook on the world and in our personal relationships. Regarding the latter, our lives are full of separations, divorces, splintered friendships, betrayed relationships and psychological skeletons and we grow daily in an ease that shrugs and says:”C’est la vie. It’s sad, but nothing’s to be done!” The hurts, losses, divisions begin to disturb our breakfasts less and less.
May we never rest in peace; certainly not in that type of contentment. May we never be allowed to worship comfortably and exchange a false bolstering support with each other at undisturbed breakfasts, at ease, while a feckless fusion of insensitivity, selfishness and distraction, dulls our perception, dulls the truth and lets us live falsely insulated from the wounds of the heart and the world. The type of contentment we are entitled to must be based on a wider foundation and must be postponed until later in the kingdom. At present, we need constantly to have our false foundations shaken. In the shaking of foundations comes the possibility of new building. Now is the time for unrest, for work, for the tears and unease that open us to reconciliation, redemption, and a wider and more just community.
I hope this disturbs you. We are entitled to peace, but not yet!