--Susan Palo Cherwien
I got this extraordinary book of poetry about a month ago, after hearing some selections used as part of a gorgeous hymn festival sung by the choir in which Beloved and I met. I've since been savoring Susan's precise, vibrant wordsmithing...an extraordinary circumstance, as I tend to devour beautiful books.
I found the quote above at the end of one of the poems, and have been pondering it deep in my heart, marveling at the unlikeliness of that word pairing: outrageous peace. As is my wont, I looked at the prettiest definition most closely: "highly unusual, extravagant, remarkable."
And then I re-watched a movie tonight, and it brought me to a deeper, more difficult definition: "grossly offensive to the sense of right or decency."
The movie was Dead Man Walking. It came out in 1995, at the tail-end of my callow youth. I saw it through the eyes of a young woman, and took two things from it then: the conviction that the death penalty is wrong, and a deep admiration for Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ.
Tonight, it seems to me that Sr. Helen made outrageous peace. It deeply offended the parents whose children had died violently, violated, at the hands of the condemned man whom she was trying to counsel. It offended correctional workers, worried her mother, alienated others with whom she was working. It offended the condemned man, because she held a mirror in front of him.
Her willingness to throw herself into the gaping maw of others' pain, to face head-on her own self-doubt, to claim unequivocally the love of Christ for all people, even society's "monsters..." This willingness of hers made outrageous peace: the condemned man faced his crime and asked for forgiveness. His family found a measure of dignity and comfort. A parent of one of his victims began to heal from his searing grief and got back on speaking terms with God. She made room for kindness within the coldest of human processes.
She made peace where there could not be peace; further, she made peace that offended people deeply. It seems to me I've heard about some of other guys who sang that song: Bonhoeffer. King. Mandela. Jesus. The song required everything of them.
It changed the world, with each of them...and the song of outrageous peace goes on.
I wonder I'll get to sing a verse...and if I'll be able to do so. I pray that I'll have the courage to lift my voice, if called upon.