Wage Peace // by Mary Oliver

Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble,

breathe out whole buildings

and flocks of redwing blackbirds.

 

Breathe in terrorists

and breathe out sleeping children 

and freshly mown fields.

 

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen

and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

 

Wage peace with your listening:

hearing sirens, pray loud.

 

Remember your tools:

flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

 

Make soup.

Play music,

learn the word for thank you in three languages.

 

Learn to knit,

and make a hat.

 

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,

imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty

or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

 

Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

 

Act as if the armistice has already arrived.

Don’t wait another minute.

 

I love the paradox of this poem: the use of the word “wage” with “peace” — two words that seem contrary, yet they need each other. Peace is something we must fight for (as much as I wish it to be something that comes naturally). 

I don’t think of chaos as “dancing raspberries” or “grief as the outbreath of beauty”, nor do I like to think that sometimes the best place to put my energies and thoughts is in making soup or learning to knit.

I’ve thought a lot about this poem over the past month — I thought about it in Cambodia, and I continue to think about it here in California.

What does it mean for me to wage peace? What does it mean to wage peace in my personal life, and to wage peace in community with others?

Maybe I wage peace in my kitchen, making soup while listening to Bon Iver, resting from the day’s busy events as I chop onions and garlic. Maybe waging peace means zumba classes where I exercise with women in a neighborhood I am growing to love. Maybe waging peace means reading about the world on newsblogs and following the twitter conversations — and then, stopping, breathing, pushing the close button. Maybe waging peace means prayer, constantly. Maybe waging peace means journaling, sunbathing on the rooftop, and then getting out again to the daily rhythms. 

Some of the definitions of “wage” that I found include: “stake,” “wager,” “pledge”, “contend”, “struggle”. There’s something of a resistance involved in this waging peace thing. I feel the resistance, I feel that struggle — but I’m convinced it’s worth overcoming. Peace is what I long for, peace is what I hope for — and I’m on a journey of discovering what it looks like to “wage” it.

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for painting a picture of peace with words.

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