Peace Like a River, Strength Like a Mountain

Stephen M. Shick

Nature provides ready metaphors for peace and justice. Jesus' peaceful kingdom is described as a mustard seed that grows into a large bush, providing shelter to all. the Hebrew prophet Amos cried for justice to roll down like water, and we sing, "I've got peace like a river" and "strength like a mountain."

But it takes more than mere words to join nature to action. Truly experiencing ourselves as a force of nature in all its varied circumstance is something beyond just symbolism.

The next breath I take is not a metaphor. it is, if I am mindful of it, a reminder that I myself am a force of nature, linked to all that exists on our living, breathing planet. In many American Indian traditions the medicine wheel honors the natural forces that can guide us into harmony with all living things. Our suffering, our victories, and the passions and beliefs that move us to action are part of a larger system that appears at times to seek harmony and at times to tear us apart. In engaging each fully we become forces of nature.

Officials laughed when Wangari Maathai said that the women of her country would plant fifteen million trees. The natural strength of the trees they planted began flowing through the women who planted them and they discovered their own power. Through the simple planting of trees women who lived in poverty and despair began to transform the landscape and themselves. The trees helped reduce soil erosion and water pollution. They provided shade and produced sustainable crops. Wangari Maathai's vision transformed the landscape of Kenya, and the Greenbelt Movement she started has spread to more than thirty countries.

Growing and producing enough food for their families gave Kenyan women a greater vision and unexpected courage. They began to challenge their leaders' dictatorial and environmentally destructive policies. They faced brutal oppression with a strength they could not have imagined when the first trees were planted. When you plant a tree and you see it grow, Maathai says, something happens to you. You want to protect it, and you value it. The same thing happens with a vision.