Q: Each time I hear news from the Middle East, I am horrified, sad, scared, angry. Violence seems to rule the world and I think: how can any one individual’s inner journey toward peace affect the trajectory of a bullet or a bomb? I struggle with these thoughts each day. How may I again rekindle hope in the face of this terrible reality? — CMB

A: Dear CMB,

Thank you for your question, one which you share with hundreds of thousands of people because we know that violence begets more violence, yet we do not seem to know how to embody peace yet. The tragedies to which we are related simply because we are members of the human family do not seem to be abating. Even more sadly, neither do the tragedies to which we are connected when our governments act out of self-serving and short-sighted motives. It’s as if a collective cry is going up to the heavens, more and more urgent: “What can we do to stem the tide of destruction and create peace as a living reality amongst human beings and all creatures?”

You are too thoughtful a person to accept a simple answer. But let me say what little can be said within a few paragraphs: First, that your sadness and horror and anger are important to acknowledge, because they are ways of saying “no.” You are capable of keenly imagining the trajectory of a bullet. The pain that you feel as a result shows that you clearly understand that no, this approach does not create the creative, joyful world you know to be possible. Conversion, which means a turning around of our ways, involves turning away from what’s wrong and turning towards what’s right. Most of us do not “convert” once and for all, but rather have the experience of the Shaker hymn: “To turn, turn, will be our delight, ‘til by turning, turning we come ‘round right.”

So amidst your horror, you can say, “No. That is not anything to which I want to contribute. What does it mean for my life to turn in a different direction?” There are so many answers to that question that it becomes for most of us a continual refinement. The question leads to specific reflections about what we can do day by day: Can I sustain an individual meditation or yoga or prayer practice that allows me to be present to myself and others during the day in a kind and loving way? Can I use less fossil fuel – by driving less, by buying local foods that do not need to be transported long distances, by using alternative power sources (solar, wind)? Can I explore the tasty and healthful benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet, which makes more food available to others by sensible land use and which reduces the harm done to the four-footed, flying, and swimming creatures with whom we share the planet? Can I afford to donate money to organizations like Amnesty International or Doctors Without Borders who make a direct difference to people harmed by war? Do I have power in my country to influence elections and get into power people who want peace? Are my skills ones which can be used in my vocation or as a volunteer to bring healing, mediation, education, food and shelter, or other needed resources to combat zones? How can I connect with others who share these concerns so that we act in concert and support each other?

These kinds of questions deserve our daily prayerful consideration, so that slowly and surely we can “turn ’round right.” At the end of each day, we can reflect on progress, let go of setbacks, and commit ourselves to moving ahead once again in the morning. When we do so, others take notice, gain hope, and begin their own turning.

The point is not to be frightened by how far we have to go, which can lead to endemic discouragement, but rather to say, “Now, today, what can I do and how can I be so that these conditions do not need to continue?” Gratefulness here lies in the choices we have about how to live, in a transformation process that takes into account our innermost hearts, our relationships with those near to us, and our sense of belonging to this precious Earth household.

Together with you in prayer,