Gandhi may have been a hero of noncooperation, but I count myself a foolish imitator. When confined by the military police on premises of Ft. Benning, suspected of trespassing, for a brief moment I challenged my adversary. It was hardly heroic. I stood with my back to the bars when Officer Bracey came in, mirth bounding from him as he announced “Fantastic. Time to go Mr.”
I didn’t turn. No, conscientious objector that I was, I would not aboutface. Why should I submit myself to the accursed system? This officer represented the will of the police state, and with what integrity could I describe myself if I readily clipped my heals to his beck and call? My feet remained firmly planted, resolutely splayed apart. There was never a more perfect posture of defiance…
Then again, I was busy pissing in the toilet.
“Sorry officer” I said, “I want to obey, but it’s the call of nature.”
“Hey, I get it. When you gotta go, you gotta go” he said.
What Daniel Berrigan, S.J. called “divine obedience” requires a surrender. But how so, as wholly unmistakable as a free fall in the force of gravity, or as uniform as a pledge of allegiance? Probably the latter, since in ordinary ways God moves most of mankind. The prophet Elijah went to the dramatic vista of the mountaintop seeking the command of the Holiest of Holies. Neither in thunder, nor in lightning, neither in the heat of sunset or the sublime aurora of the night did he encounter the command. A fire brandished in a column led the Israelites forth from Egypt, but none came to Elijah in the darkness. At dawn, when light slowly swept back the curtain of shadow, finally, in the whisper of a gentle breeze, he heard the uncontestable voice.
Then again, what times we find ourselves in? Are we like the styro-foam cup I now see drifting among the fallen leaves, utterly ignorant of what awaits us? Though a feint rush is audible, do we fail to recognize it for the pitfall that tantalizes? If we could read the signs of the times, we could make out the sign that reads “Danger!” and steer clear of the electric dam.
Most of us can not describe ourselves as either holy innocents, or radical refusniks. Still, the call of our divine soul beckons us with the call of nature.
It just so happens that a full moon occurred the evening of the SOA vigil. Could it be so different that in us also, just as the tides adhere to the gravity of the moon, the beckon of God elicits from us great movements of nonviolence. Though the sun is said to be that acting force around which our world swirls, the lesser gravitron sets in motion the oceans of our planet, the winds of circulation, and upon all this, whole ecosystems bless the Lord. Similarly, albeit unconventional to participate in nonviolent protest, we too give life by our surrender to the less attractive magnet of vulnerability and powerlessness.
[Written at dusk, beside the river running through Columbus, upstream from the mill, when first inspired by two kayakers surfing a wave on the wild side of the dam. To me they define the playfulness of a resister: They fight upstream the way Daniel Berrigan went limp, joyfully held aloft in the arms of his muggish FBI captors. May we too search for that irresistible counter-current that is the voice of God.]