The Two Escapes


Offered by the Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards, EPF National Chair

Lord make me an instrument of your peace, we pray. Clearly God needs more instruments of peace today. We want peace. We want to be instruments of peace. But we usually are not such instruments. Being an instrument of God’s peace isn’t easy. So we usually escape from the mission in one of two ways. Simply not escaping would mean showing up and, as the adage goes, that’s 90%.

The Escape Inward. A common avenue of escape for many centuries has been the escape inward. New Agers and spiritual Christian’s didn’t invent it. Classical philosophy in the West and Vedic philosophy in the West often lapsed into the escape inward. 

The escape inward may deny that the turmoil in the outside world is real or that it is important or that it will last. Or it may embrace a helpless despair. What can I do about it? We shrug rather than act. We disconnect from humanity, from the Body of Christ, detach, get ourselves into a zone. The stress of life in the world is hard. Many people, especially those who lack a strong core of faith, cannot handle it. So they resort to the escape inward and their silence becomes assent to the oppression and injustice of the world.

The Escape Outward. The opposite route is even more problematic. What actually goes on inside us isn’t a bliss zone. We all have our fears, our traumas, our griefs, our angers, our resentments and grievances. It’s messy in there. The most common way to escape our inner demons (actually they are not demons but they are painful experiences) is to turn our attention outward, but what we see isn’t what’s really out there. We see what’s in here as if it were out there. That’s called projection. It means seeing in another person’s face the things we don’t want to experience in our own heart. 

The first act of peacebuilding is to withdraw our projections, to stop seeing others as the incarnations of our pain. When we become addicted to trauma, we need villains. Our world is reduced to an us against them battle. Peace requires us to come to terms with the inner turmoil. But the problem is that when we isolate, we usually don’t engage our messy selves. We go into an escapist zone of happy thoughts. Reencountering other people disrupts that escapist spirituality. 

I do not intend to prescribe either a way inward or a way outward. There are various approaches to both ways. My point is simply that it takes both, together, in balance. We cannot engage others for peace without healing our inner brokenness; and we cannot find our inner brokenness except through our relationships with each other. An option you might consider just as a part of your journey is to participate in our Peacebuilding Online Series. The next offering is on dealing with trauma, our trauma and our neighbor’s trauma. It’s free, online, one hour, Sept. 5. You can learn more and register here.

Elizabeth O’Connor was a sainted lay leader of the Church of the Savior in Washington, DC, a community famously dedicated to justice and peace. Her book, Journey Inward, Journey Outward stressed the necessary link between spirituality and political engagement. It isn’t a recipe for how to do it. There are different ways. But O’Connor made the simple point: peace must be worked out both inwardly and outwardly. We can’t have one without the other. 

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