Prairiewoods’ friend Chris Gaunt recently wrote an article for Prairiewoods about her extensive attempts to create peace in this world. Here are her thoughts …

Chris GauntMy Iowa friends and acquaintances from across the country are actively protesting armed drone warfare and going to jail for it. But I am not with them.

My history is one of activism. In 2003 and 2006 I endured jail sentences of three and six months for peacefully protesting the continued existence of the School of the Americas. Since 2002 I have protested war and torture in Des Moines and in Washington, D.C., and traveled with an international peace delegation to Afghanistan in 2011. I have spent almost a year in jail, those two longer stints plus too many one night stands to remember. I have no regrets about protesting or jail time. I learned that in time of war our government does not respect its citizens’ First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and speak out against the violence.

My most notable peace project covered a period of fifteen months in 2010–2011 when I protested with fifty-two weekly die-ins in the Des Moines offices of Senators Grassley and Harkin. I believed my elected officials had the power to end the wars so I lobbied with my body. After holding a NO MORE $$$ FOR WAR sign for hours, I ended the day by drawing a chalk outline of a dead body on the floor and laid down inside of it. Police or federal security often carried me out of the Senators’ offices at the end of the day.

I rarely protest or attend them anymore and haven’t seen the inside of a jail cell since 2012.

My friends across the country ask, “Where’s Chris?”

I laughingly reply, “I’m just sitting.”

I have shifted from total determination to make political changes through activism to disillusionment and a sense of futility. I believe our democratic system has been bought by corporate power and no longer serves the interests of Americans or of Mother Earth. I have changed. My focus is now on things I can change.

I explain why I am no longer involved in protests and tell my friends what hasn’t changed. My core beliefs remain in following the footsteps of the nonviolent Jesus. What I do now is where my spiritual journey has taken me. Learning to meditate, becoming a vegan, joining two vision quests and reading Steps to Knowledge have encouraged my God to get bigger, my heart to open and my life to change. It hasn’t been a sudden shift but began in late 1999 when I became interested in meditation and followed the advice of author Eknath Easwaran. I memorized the words to St. Francis of Assisi’s well known peace prayer. Easwaran advised, “Don’t change the words, and just stick with it.” I thought about what that meant for my life on a daily basis and over a course of many years.

Following my first extended jail sentence, I did edit St. Francis’ prayer to more closely reflect my lived experiences. I dropped the last line ‘And it is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life’ and started adding lines of my own. By then I was pretty sure neither god nor St. Francis would mind my tampering with the words.

This is the version of St. Francis’ prayer that became my own:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

 Oh Divine Maker,
Grant that I may seek
Not so much to be consoled, as to console.
To be understood, as to understand.
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

 It is in surrendering to loving myself
that I have been, by god,
both empowered and transformed.

 It is in “coming alive” to self
that we are free to truly live
here and now.

 Then it is in letting go
of all this
that Spirit brings to us
Supreme Happiness.

 Some call it

Early in 2008 I learned zazen sitting meditation and began to practice sitting still each day. Later that year I read Will Tuttle’s book World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony and realized vegan eating was for me. Tuttle made it clear that if anyone wanted to tap down violence in the world then looking at what is on our plates three times a day during the sacred act of eating would be a powerful way to contribute to that. Reading that my purchase of eggs, milk or meat causes the next animal to suffer spoke so directly to my heart that it scared me. I wanted to change, but I could not make that leap of faith. In fear, I put the book back up on the shelf.

Two years passed and I told my spiritual director that I was still just a want-to-be vegan. She said, “Chris, there are plenty of vegans out there,” and the sky opened up. I converted. Eating vegan makes me happy. Today I understand that many family members and friends have preferences for eating meat that are as strong as my preference for eating a colorful plate of raw vegetables has become. And that is ok.

In July 2010 I traveled to northern California for my first vision quest and finished with an understanding that I am a healer and a rule breaker. I returned from a second vision quest in 2012 with an overpowering thought: “Let it come to me.”

From April 2012 through May 2013 I read daily from Marshall Vian Summer’s Steps to Knowledge: The Book of Inner Knowing. Its readings spoke to my inner knowing and subtly converted my intense acting-out activism to a calmer, more centered and grounded sitting. I have come to accept being with myself and God, which are one and the same, really.

Now it is winter 2014. I am here, now. My daily mantra is this:

What I do
(I sit)
What I eat
(not meat)
does more for a peaceful world than any other thing

I may appear to be less active in my peacemaking; yet I rest in the knowing that the changes I have made in my life are enough, for now.

–by Chris Gaunt, friend of Prairiewoods