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Spiritual Reflections

Love Subverting the World: A Peace and Justice Perspective

Yes, it is love that subverts the world. By the grace of the Holy One, may we remain in that revolution of truth, of mercy, of justice that boldly witnesses to God’s dream of abundant life for all people, today and every day.

In the dark times, will there also be singing? 
Yes, there will be singing. 
About the dark times.1

I suspect Jesus learned this song about the place of resistance2 from his mother, who sang of a new world order while he listened deep within her womb. In her revolutionary hymn, the Magnificat, Mary praised the tender mercy of the Holy One who turned a distorted world order on its head. Already now, she sang, the proud have been scattered in the conceit of their heart, the mighty have been cast down from their places of power, the rich have been sent away empty-handed. Already now, the Holy One is restoring right relationship by creating a kin-dom where the lowly are exalted and the hungry find themselves honored guests at a banquet feast where all are welcomed as kin. This resistance is love in action, subverting the values and priorities of a lopsided world order. The revolutionary mark of this love is that it always leans toward the widest inclusion, the most tender mercy, the deepest spaciousness of heart. 

The list of those who have enfleshed the Magnificat’s message in their lives is long. Permit me to highlight two of the many who have enlisted creativity, imagination, and fresh thinking in overturning the money changers’ tables as Jesus did, singing about the dark times with defiant hope and unwavering commitment. 

Peter, Paul, and Mary

Beginning in the early 1960s, the folksinger trio of Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers began a nearly five-decade career of using their voices and the universal language of music to support human rights at concerts, marches, and protests. They were grounded in their belief that music could be a catalyst for change, inviting a vision of a world marked by justice and peacemaking. Peter, Paul, and Mary joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and thousands of others at the 1963 March on Washington to further the cause of civil rights. They continued their activism as a visible presence in the 1965 Selma-Montgomery march, the Vietnam War protests, and in decrying the victimization of the people of El Salvador. 

In the cover liner for the album Carry-It-On, Mrs. Coretta Scott King declared, “Peter, Paul, and Mary are not only three of the greatest artists ever, but also three of the most outstanding champions of social justice and peace.”3 

Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo 

A song quite different from the rallying music of the folksinger trio was the music created by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, also known as the Mothers of the Disappeared. They were mothers whose adult children or family members were disappeared in the middle of the night by government forces of the dictatorship in Argentina. In an effort to trivialize their protests, the government called them las locas (the madwomen). And they said, yes, we are mad. Loss has made us mad, so mad with grief that we don’t want any other mother to suffer the anguish of her child’s forced disappearance. Beginning in the 1970’s, the music they created with their protests was jarring, mournful, fierce, loud. It could not be silenced and it would not go away.

The brutal regime in power intended to keep protest at bay by enforcing a policy that more than two people speaking in public was declared a meeting and therefore, illegal. The regime had not counted on the creativity of the mothers, who began by walking in groups of just two people around the Plaza de Mayo, holding signs with photos of their missing children. They wore white headscarves embroidered with the names and dates of birth of their lost children.

Finding strength in each other by marching in public, they could not be stopped from singing this song of resistance, even at the cost of their own lives. Their international campaign defied the propaganda distributed by the military regime and focused on legislation, the recovery of the remains of their and others’ children, and bringing ex-officials to justice.

Love subverting the world

Surely Dorothy Day, whose life also sang about the dark times, intuitively recognized the primacy of love in such witnesses when she noted, “Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world and overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship with each other of love.”4

Yes, it is love that subverts the world. By the grace of the Holy One, may we remain in that revolution of truth, of mercy, of justice that boldly witnesses to God’s dream of abundant life for all people, today and every day. 

  1. Bertolt Brecht, quoted in Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, edited by Carolyn Forché, New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1993  ↩︎
  2. This article’s title was inspired by a line in “The Resistance,” a prayer-poem by Steve Garnaas-Holmes in Unfolding Light, https://unfoldinglight.net, November 16, 2018.  ↩︎
  3. King, Coretta Scott. Liner notes. Carry-It-On. Rhino, 2003. CD.  ↩︎
  4. Dorothy Day, On Pilgrimage, New York: Catholic Worker Books, 1948, p. 52  ↩︎

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