No Manual. One instruction: Love.

Walking in downtown Oakland one day with a jolly blonde giant whose name meant Life, we passed an addled, homeless-looking man on the street, and she began to cry.  Out of her tumbled the story that her son, a heroine addict, had relapsed and was back, last she heard, on skid row. ‘That man,’ she said, ‘he could be my son … Wherever he is.’

I was reminded of this encounter reading Carol Christ’s recent post ‘All Children Are Our Children‘, and thinking, as an outsider, about the patient endurance of mothers, as well as the boundless creativity motherhood requires. Mothering is, Christ suggests, an excellent metaphor for the priming of a non-violent mind. My own mother was fond of reminding me that children did not come into the world with instruction manuals, and parents just did the best they could with all the love they could muster. The call to exercise mother-ing, by both women and men, –toward self and other, I might add–is a technique by which violence may be stemmed.

Like mothering, peacemaking and nonviolent resistance calls for patience, endurance and boundless creativity. It is, necessarily, an experimental art. It must adapt and shape-shift according to circumstance. It is emergent, in a way, and so the ground of one’s being needs to be conditioned (often) by the commitment to peace. Nonviolence is not the same as an absence of conflict. Not at all. It is a willingness to meet each other where we are, to collaborate, to listen and to learn together, to live that we might all be less violent, more whole, loving and life-giving.

There is no manual – there are techniques, yes, and these are founded and grounded in Love.

Do you know the story of the two men from different worlds who, by mothering one another (being respectfully present, patient, open, and willing to listen carefully enough that parts of who they were broke down), affected radical change in each other? This account, by Jennifer Pierce, tells the story of the holocuast survivor, Eiie Wiesel, working as a journalist in Paris after the war, meeting the rock-star Catholic theologian and writer, Francois Mauriac. [1] “To Elie Wiesel: a Jewish child who was crucified” read the dedication in one of his later books. His mind, his world, and Wiesel’s, too, had been transfigured by a willingness to stay present and dialogue. I like to think that both were transformed by their fidelity to one another.

Francois Mauriac . . . lived well beyond the Second World War and thus faced the challenge of revisioning his traditional faith amid the ruins of the old world.

~Robert Ellsberg, All Saints, (377).

The poet, Paul Celan, wrote that ‘No one / bears witness for the / witness’ but, surely, there is a degree to which we could agree that both Mauriac and Wiesel held space for the other. Celan’s words are undoubtedly true, considering the enormity of the tragedy both he and Wiesel survived. Mauriac is credited with encouraging Wiesel to release what he had been incubating for ten years in exile, and Wiesel’s testimony is, and should be, as shattering to us as it was to Mauriac.

Could we listen carefully enough to this story, to the people suffering in it and being changed, with enough sustained attention, to allow parts of our own selves to break down, or, at least, soften? 

There’s no manual. There’s really only one instruction and that is to love. 

You are the one to do it.

[1] A more recent write up by Mary Boys can be found here: “When Elie Wiesel met Francois Mauriac.”


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