Monasteries of the Heart

Recommended Books for Lectio

Seizing the Nonviolent Moments

Published by

Cascade Books
Seizing the Nonviolent Moments


Nancy Small

Why I recommend this book:

Nonviolence does not get the respect it deserves in Christian circles. In my own Catholic tradition, for example, the United States bishops issued a peace pastoral over 30 years ago called, The Challenge of Peace, in which they legitimized nonviolence as a genuine Christian option.

And yet little’s been done in official church circles to promote nonviolence as an authentic means of social change and as the desired theological stance of those who follow Jesus.

So the promotion of nonviolence is left primarily to peacemakers like Nancy Small who do not minimize or flinch from the horror of escalating violence in our time, but devote their lives to experimenting with nonviolence and articulating its truth.

To appreciate the work of such contemporary peacemakers, I recommend a newly published book, Seizing the Nonviolent Moments by Nancy Small (Cascade Books).

Small’s book, as the title attests, is centered on “nonviolent moments”--ordinary, daily decisions that shape our lives. She writes, “Life is filled with nonviolent moments. We face them every day…and we must choose how to respond.” What is a nonviolent moment? This haiku captures such a moment.

I kill an ant…
and realize my three children
were watching

--Shuson Kato

If each of us kept a log of our days, for even a week, we’d probably be surprised at the number of times we get to decide on a violent or nonviolent response to an unexpected confrontation or situation. Waiting in a long supermarket line while another customer argues with the checkout clerk. Getting cut off in traffic. Being verbally attacked by someone. Trying to sleep while a mosquito buzzes in our ear. Squashing an ant walking on the kitchen table.

Small’s point being that choosing small acts of nonviolence is a spiritual practice that eventually shapes a nonviolent heart. And if it’s done by many people together it builds a powerful force that can stop injustice and war. Small recalls that millions chose the nonviolent alternative prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and flooded the streets around the globe.

The response to that moment resulted in the “largest, global, simultaneous nonviolent campaign in history.” The movement was massive enough to have the New York Times refer to it as “the second superpower.” For a brief moment in time we had a visual of the potential power of nonviolence in changing structures.

There are few things I appreciate more than a creative, imaginative interpretation of a familiar scripture. Each chapter of Small’s book is grounded in a particular scripture and it was rewarding to find many fresh insights into old stories.

Small brings to this book a solid theological background and decades of experience in local and national nonviolent campaigns and acts of civil disobedience. She draws from her years as national coordinator of Pax Christi USA, the Catholic peace movement, and from the many retreats and workshops she’s led on nonviolence. Most importantly, we hear through her the voices of the poor whom she companioned in violent situations throughout Latin America and in the heart of New York City.

Seizing the Nonviolent Moments is a humble and accessible approach to nonviolence, written with the mindset that none of us is ever nonviolent, we are all in process. The discussion questions that follow each chapter open this book to multiple audiences—classrooms, parishes, intentional communities and personal reflection.

In the end, it’s peacemakers such as Nancy Small who are preparing Christians to embrace nonviolence as a constitutive element of the Gospel. If the institutional church ever decides to promote the nonviolence of Jesus with the power that they mandate areas of sexuality, a library of theological, spiritual and strategic books written by the faithful nonviolent remnant will be available. One of the first that church authorities should reach for is Seizing the Nonviolent Moments by Nancy Small.

--Erie Benedictine Mary Lou Kownacki, coordinator of Monasteries of the Heart, wrote the Foreword to Seizing the Nonviolent Moments.

Recommended by

February 3, 2015

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