FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude

Daniel Berrigan has died, and so we have lost our great teacher who, flinty and generous and relentlessly persistent, taught us how to live in a culture of death and madness:

“Find some people you can pray with and march with.”

He pronounced this simple sentence at the end of a mesmerizing three-hour conversation he and I had in his simple Manhattan apartment in 1981.  Ricocheting through my unsuspecting soul, this unadorned command dramatically changed my life.

I was a graduate student studying theology at the time, and our wide-ranging exchange was bracing and breathtaking, but the gift that was Dan Berrigan distilled itself into those ten words, compressing spiritual search, community, faith, and action into a pointed moment of decision.  Over the next few months I let that invitation settle into my being until I was ready to unswervingly say “Yes” to it.  Berrigan’s simple but profound haiku marked out a way forward for me and, more incisively, a beckoning new way of being.

But by the early 1980s, this had been the case for many, many others.

Dan had instructed people everywhere on a life beyond the script handed out by a system that thrives on war and cruelty.  We are called to live nonviolence and peacemaking, he told us, with his words—in 40 books and endless poetry—but especially through his communicative action.  Using the most powerful language at his disposal, his own vulnerable and creaky body, he unleashed a decades-long conversation with his society with every act of civil disobedience and divine obedience.

There was drama and surprise in these pilgrimages for peace, where he joined others in publicly calling out the well-oiled machinery of war and how almost everything conspires to keep it running. He wanted to interfere with its smooth functioning, its 24-7 relentlessness, and he found many ways to do this, from burning draft files to hammering on the gadgetry of nuclear annihilation.  These vignettes were shocking in the way that Flannery O’Connor’s grotesque literary characters were—designed to shock us into recognition and awareness, and to compel us to consider things anew.

Dan stood in a tradition of impresarios of vivid enlightenment, going back to the Hebrew prophets and Jesus—but also the Buddha and a long lineage of mystics and shamans in innumerable cultures and contexts—who have taken it upon themselves to stand in the withering glare of history and declare with their lives a profoundly better way.

I now see that this is what I was looking for when I made my way to his place, that summer day 35 years ago.

Researching the consequences of the nuclear arms race for a book project, I had traveled from California where I was based to the East Coast to visit a number of foreign policy think tanks. No one I spoke with could envision a world free of atomic weapons.  At most, they thought we might be able to cut back on nuclear weapons by dramatically increasing conventional ones. Each appointment left me more and more depressed, and finally, when I arrived in New York, I suddenly thought to call Dan.  I was in need of some pastoral counseling on the matter of nuclear weapons, and who better to see?  He didn’t know me, but he graciously welcomed me to his place in Manhattan.

For several hours, he shared with me his vision, which essentially boiled down to this: “We live in a culture of death — and it is up to us to resist it.”  There was a lifetime of experience behind these words and I felt the weight of them.   Then, as we were coming to the end of our time, I said, “Dan, I’m going back to the West Coast.  What can I do for you?”  And then he delivered the unexpected missive: “Don’t do anything for me. Find some people you can pray with and march with.”

Dan, that handful of syllables hit their mark all those years ago, and I have done my best to practice them.  Following orders, I did as you asked—and my life took an unexpected detour onto a road of nonviolent transformation that I am still, in fits and starts, traveling.  I am grateful for your pilgrimage and the one it inspired in me and countless others.

More articles by:

Ken Butigan is director of Pace e Bene, a nonprofit organization fostering nonviolent change through education, community and action. He also teaches peace studies at DePaul University and Loyola University in Chicago.

December 19, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russophobia and the Specter of War
Jonathan Cook
American Public’s Backing for One-State Solution Falls on Deaf Ears
Daniel Warner
1968: The Year That Will Not Go Away
Arshad Khan
Developing Country Issues at COP24 … and a Bit of Good News for Solar Power and Carbon Capture
Kenneth Surin
Trump’s African Pivot: Another Swipe at China
Patrick Bond
South Africa Searches for a Financial Parachute, Now That a $170 Billion Foreign Debt Cliff Looms
Tom Clifford
Trade for Hostages? Trump’s New Approach to China
Binoy Kampmark
May Days in Britain
John Feffer
Globalists Really Are Ruining Your Life
John O'Kane
Drops and the Dropped: Diversity and the Midterm Elections
December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail