Nov. 7, 2014: Friendship & peace begin with loving yourself, by Sister Anna Marie Broxterman

November 7, 2014 by

Sister Anna Marie Broxterman

Sister Anna Marie Broxterman

“Friendship as a path to peace” — the theme of our 2014 Year of Peace columns — has been gently nudging me recently as day by day I read and hear about the fear, hatred and violence that so dominates our news.

One example came in a recent civic gathering where we heard once again about the high level of domestic violence in our town. I ponder the root cause of all this and though I have no statistics to back my inner hunch, I believe much of it stems from lack of self-knowledge and self-love.

Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” attracts me in my own self-reflection. Socrates calls me also to reflect. The fourth-century B.C. Greek philosopher said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”

Jesus and Socrates, good friends to hang around with in this age of violence!

On a personal level, I have come to know through self-reflection that when I do not feel good about myself, I project my negative self-image onto those I live and work with. When they are kind enough and loving enough to challenge me in a nonviolent manner, it gives me cause to examine my life and at times such encounters create an ability to love myself as I am!

How do I receive their comments? Sometimes sullenly, sometimes angrily, but typically, in the end, gratefully! Bless the ones who have befriended me in life! Most often the encounter establishes a deeper bond of friendship.

But there are people I read about whose violent, hate-filled language and behavior seem removed from my comprehension of the meaning of being human. Nonetheless, they are companions on this planet and ones to whom I am called to love as myself.

What to do? I can emulate Jesus on the cross when he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” That thought and my actions, of course, are based on my conviction about peace-making and the command to “love my neighbor as myself.” Living the Gospel message is not for wimps!

Many faith traditions believe that friendship is a path to peace, and I am mindful of two persons who do not share my Christian faith but who speak to me about nonviolence and friendship: Etty Hillesum and Rumi.

Etty was a Jewish woman who died in the gas chamber at Auschwitz in 1943. Her diaries were published as “The Interrupted Life” in 1981. In an entry in February 1942, she wrote:

“ ‘What is it in human beings that make them want to destroy others?’ Jan asked bitterly. I said, ‘Human beings, you say, but remember that you’re one yourself. The rottenness in others is in us, too.’ I continued to preach at him, ‘I see no other solution, than to turn inward and to root out all the rottenness there. I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we have first changed ourselves. And that seems to be the only lesson to be learned from this war that we must look into ourselves and nowhere else.’ ”

Then there’s Rumi, a 13th-century mystic and poet from the Islamic world. This excerpt is from “The Guest House.”

“This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor,
Welcome and entertain them all! …
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.”

Does it seem to you, as it does to me, that the first friendship to be formed on the path to peace is the one with yourself? Only then, I conjecture, can you “love your neighbor as yourself.”

May your examined life enhance your wellbeing!


— Sister Anna Marie Broxterman is a member of the Leadership Council of the Sisters of St. Joseph and a founding member of the Concordia Year of Peace Committee






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