Imagining Peace in a Pot of Soup
a prompt inspired by a Denise Levertov poem + a webinar on writing & grief
Welcome to Writing in Company. Each week I share some words and a writing prompt, meant to be jumping-off points for you to write about what matters. Use the prompts however you like—to journal, to draft thoughts for your own writing project, as meditation or prayer ideas, or for another creative endeavor. You can always look back through the archive for more ideas. Grab your pen and paper, and let your words loose on the page.
I started and stopped this piece multiple times—writing and deleting word after word. My words seem inadequate to the moment.
The word I can’t erase—the word I’ve found myself humming and breathing and praying over and over—is peace.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said "It is not enough to say 'We must not wage war.' It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but the positive affirmation of peace."
—Nobel Lecture, Oslo, Norway, December 11, 1964
Peace is not a simplistic goal. It is a stubborn insistence on the humanity and welfare of all, and this apparently does not come naturally to us as individuals, communities, or nations. Peace takes a rugged imagination and a firm will.
The image I’ve been turning around in my imagination, as the latest crisis evolves in the Middle East, is of an onion—each complex layer of history piled on top of the other. You can try to peel away a layer and another is right there underneath it—its sharp stinging odor making your eyes water. Some of the onions are dense and hard like rocks. Others are so old they are going soft with rot, or sprouting new shoots.
So many holding the onions are ready to just lob them at anyone else who sees or speaks about history and reality differently than they do. It makes it both fraught and necessary to speak and write about it.
My conflict-avoiding inclination is to give in to the backspace key and send out a different post. But that one word—peace—won’t delete.
I close my eyes and let my imagination have some space. I end up back on stage in first grade where our class play was Stone Soup, and my classmates and I dumped our onions and carrots and individual scraps into a pot big enough to feed three strangers and a village.
It’s not first grade or a class play. The violence in Israel, Gaza, Ukraine, and elsewhere is all too grown-up and real. But I wonder if making peace—now, again, and always—starts with something like a big pot of soup. Instead of bringing our layered onions as weapons, we come together to peel the whole lot as the tears stream, and then feed anyone—anyone—who is hungry.1
It’s harder to argue and easier to listen when you are eating and serving soup. Afterward, there is much more to figure out, but I always think more creatively when I’m fed. Don’t you?
In the meantime, I will do what I know how to do, and turn to poets to say something well. Today, it’s Denise Levertov, who builds a poem like we must build peace—step by step, line by line, scrap by scrap, speaking into both chaos and silence with hope and faith.
Be sure to click through to read the whole poem: Making Peace
from a poem by Denise Levertov
A voice from the dark called out, ‘The poets must give us imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar imagination of disaster. Peace, not only the absence of war.’ But peace, like a poem, is not there ahead of itself, can’t be imagined before it is made, can’t be known except in the words of its making, grammar of justice, syntax of mutual aid. —Denise Levertov, from "Making Peace" in Breathing the Water
a writing prompt
Use Levertov’s full poem as a starting point for your own writing. Take a line, an image, a phrase from it—what shimmers for you, asking to be addressed—copy it out, then keep your pen moving.
Or, write about your own stubborn imagination for peace. Whatever shape it takes, and however unformed it might yet be, we need the words and idea of it, loose in the world.
Deep peace to you, and to all.
a November webinar on writing and grief
With individual and collective grief thick in the air, it’s timely to invite you to this upcoming webinar. For an hour on November 16th, I’ll be in conversation with Teri Ott, the editor and publisher of The Presbyterian Outlook about using writing as a way to carry grief. There will be some writing time, too. Whether you are in a new season of grief, are long-acquainted, or want to add to your toolbox of spiritual practices, you are welcome. There is a minimal cost for individuals or groups to help support the faithful work of the Outlook.
Find out more and register here:
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