The olive is a symbol of peace because for the tree to produce fruit, it needs to reach maturity in a place where the tree can establish itself well. If there’s conflict near an olive grove, any kind of action that might disturb the trees, olives won’t grow.
Violence is everywhere. I came to understand over the past few months that violence doesn’t have to be physical. It can be as insidious as passive-aggressive behaviors in an unhealthy relationship, it can by verbal bullying, it can be racism or sexism so ingrained in ideas and practices that we’re not aware of it when and while it happens. It’s a hard concept to accept because the term has meant something physical that ends in bruising, or bleeding, for so long.
That defining of the term forces us to ask really difficult questions. One such question that I think a lot of us would rather avoid, but should be looked at, is abortion. How do we define the conditions in which the violence of an abortion justifies the procedure? Is prohibiting the right to an abortion violence? Is the procedure itself a form of violence? Is there a time when violence can serve a good, or is all violence by its nature invasive, harmful, and destructive?
My assumption is that right now, you’re not feeling very peaceful.
The reality is real peace can only exist when we actively and consistently face the toughest, most painful, most difficult topics of discussion that get in the way of our olive trees growing.
For example, when in activism does protest become violence? Does protest and resistance ever enter into the realm of violence against a perceived oppressive individual, group, or idea? And does that entering into violence discredit the value of the protest?
The principle of turning the other cheek, something Jesus taught, asks us to no respond with violence in the light of oppressive behavior, but instead to respond with the calmness of an olive tree slowing deepening it’s roots. But in order to produce the fruit, the good olives, we also need to develop a bark-like firmness when it comes to behavior that is directed at us personally.
When we are attacked personally, if it is an attack that is undertaken in such a way to provoke a response, the moment we respond we engage in violence. Regardless of how we may feel justified in our response, we are co-operating with the agreement to do battle and any moral high ground we may have had is lost.
In the case of an abortion, while I believe it is ultimately up to the individual to make the choice, I personally must rest with the belief that it is a form of violence inflicted upon the foetus, and an objectification of a human parentage as a reaction to an animate object that displays evidence of sentience. It reduces body parts to consumer goods that can be discarded, and at it’s deepest is a patriarchal response. It cannot exist alongside peace, and I would argue that the need for abortion is symptomatic of a deeper spiritual and emotional disconnect that all people in society, regardless of their sex, suffer from.
Most of us have, if we accept this new way of approaching the term violence, have been on the end of a violent action and probably committed a few of our own. Peace comes when we let go of the need to be penetrated by the action into our psyche. There are difficult and painful experiences that cannot merely be wiped from our consciousness because of the gravity of those experiences. The trauma from hitting your thumb with a hammer is different than the trauma of being shot. But I believe the process to recover is similar.
It happens in silence, in action within. It requires a commitment to consistently approach one’s self and to see without prejudice the nature of who we are, who we want to be, the mistakes we may have made, to find the patience to forgive ourselves and others, and the courage to walk in new directions. It requires taking a perspective that includes all of the virtues I’ve been writing on and trying to assimilate them into a kind of cohesion in how we think, feel, act, and pray. It requires the ability to allow individuals the dignity and respect to be wrong and to make the mistakes that will help them to grow while proceeding on a path that is best for your own well being.
“In peace and self same I will sleep and I will rest, for Thou hast settled me in hope.”