Monday, May 30, 2016

Praise - the secret weapon to non-violence.

The world, without doubt, is spiralling in a web of violence on so many levels.  From the blatant disregard for human freedom and rights ripped away by terrorists and despots, to the violence that exists so clearly in rage-filled drivers on our roads, violence is so insidious in the ways that it manifests itself in our lives.  None of us is spared of its tentacles and unless we are watchful of our every step, each of us is prone to wanting to return violence for violence.

In actual fact, there is a way out of violence that is found in the Holy Bible.  True, in the Old Testament, we see a plethora of stories which show violence even in God himself, wanting to smite those who have been unfaithful.  But we know that underlying those stories is the desire of God to show us that there are consequences to living outside of a love that requires limitations on oneself.  The incarnation, when understood well, is really God’s limitations placed on himself to show how imperative it is that love in its purest form has limits that one doesn’t arbitrarily breach. 

In the 16th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, St Paul is in prison with Silas, because they had created an uproar by exorcising a woman.  While in prison, with their hands and feet in chains, we are told something interesting – they were praying and singing hymns to God.  Following this, the earth quaked and they found themselves freed from their chains.  This episode ends with them being told to go in peace by the Magistrates.  It makes for a compelling reading, and I’d recommend that you, dear reader, turn to that chapter sometime this week to read this in full. 

Daniel chapter 3 tells of yet another story where something intriguing happens to three people undergoing an intense form of persecution and suffering.  Refusing to worship a golden statue in Babylon under orders of King Nebuchadnezzar, three Jews (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) are thrown into a fiery furnace, made seven times hotter than usual.  While in those white-hot flames, these three walked about, singing to God and blessing the Lord.  When they were reported to be unharmed, the King’s nobles said that there was a fourth who walked with them, someone looking like the son of God.  This story too, has a remarkable ending. 

It is something that is seen prevalent in these two distinctively different and seemingly unrelated episodes that I think reveals a key to non-violence, and it is in praise.

It is easy to praise God when things are going swimmingly well.  The term we use in our modern day terminology is that it is a ‘no-brainer’.  But it is when things are not going well, when our feet and hands are bound by forces or powers that are beyond our ken, and when we are thrown in fires that are sometimes made seven times hotter than usual, that we need to switch from being in a state of ‘no-brain’, to one where the brain and all our other senses are fully engaged to purposefully begin to ‘praise God’. 

Why praise and not petition?  Because it is counter-intuitive.  God knows our needs and he knows how much of a rut that we are in, often due to our own stupidity.  But praising God mindfully reminds us that ultimately God is in charge, and that his divine plan cannot be thwarted by evil.  It is the faith that often has been lying dormant in our hearts that we are calling up at that instant, and this enables us to not return violence for violence.  In fact, too much petition can make us short tempered (and short-sighted) because we expect God to act according to our very limited time frame.  So we get frustrated and impatient, and violence can often result, either in the ways that we relate to one another, or even in the ways that we relate to God.  Stories abound of people in times of adversity shaking their fists toward the heavens and getting angry at God.  Perhaps you, dear reader, have found yourselves doing this at some point in your life.

But when praise is coming forth from our lips when our backs are against the wall, and when things aren’t going our way at all, this is when the value of praise coming from the depths of our hearts is gold in God’s eyes.  This is because it also comes as a result of wanting to do the harder thing, the counter-intuitive thing, and the thing that comes as a decision to love, rather than a reaction to a good feeling or emotion. 

This resulted in the stocks of Paul and Silas, as well as the bound feet of those three men in the furnace being loosened.  That was when one like the son of Man was seen walking with them in the fiery furnace too.  But notice too that it did not give them the license to unleash violence on their perpetrators, but rather, become a conduit through which their adversaries saw the reality and the power of God anew, resulting in a conversion of hearts and minds.  Sometimes, we may need to ask God to walk with us in the midst of those scorching flames that we find ourselves surrounded by.

The paragon of non-violence for us is shown writ large by Christ on the Cross on Calvary, where he not only praised God by reciting the psalms, but also by asking the Father to forgive his executors for he truly believed that they did not know what they were doing. 

Violence will always beget violence, and a great truth came forth from the lips of Mahatma Ghandi when he said that an eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind.  I believe that many of us are limping around with one eye.  Let us use the remaining one wisely, and hopefully, this will restore some lost vision in the one that had been on the receiving end of violence. 

Praise be to God!


  1. Well said, Fr Luke!

  2. It's really hard to be happy, to be joyful, to stay faithful in doing good when we are in trials. In my experience, i was drawing away, from everybody, from usual things and even from God. I preferred to be alone, maybe it was me trying to find peace, to be in the silence, in order to seek answer from God. It was such a terrible time, because things didnt get better. Disappointment, pessimism, sorrow, plus deeper darkness caused by sins as means of escape. It was horrible, that is when i was so sick of it all and reach for the light. I went to confession, mass and pray the rosary. But things didnt get better either, its just that i am given more strength to endure it. I am stronger, when i choose to be with God. I am able when i choose to hold on to light and not in my own darkness. I am touched when you write, "the thing that comes as a decision to love". Yes, i agree and it inspires me, i would want to love God because i want to love Him, not wanting anything else, but to love Him because He deserves all my love, because He is Truth and He is the source and center of my being and life.