Let War Be Metaphor!

by Rev. Ellie Barrington - November 11, 2012 A reflection on Isaiah 2:1-5 Listen to the audio recording

We all know the Remembrance Day promise: “To remember is to end all war.” But in spite of our remembering and hoping for over a 100 years, we seem so far from realizing that promise.

Approaching Remembrance Day this year, against the foreground of the U.S. presidential election, I have wondered: Will Barack Obama be able to actually live up to the Nobel Peace Prize he received? Given that war has been a key driver of the U.S. economy for the past 100 years, will America be able to stay out of new wars, for even four years? Indeed, will we Canadians?

In Obama’s stirring victory speech Tuesday night, I was glad to hear him proclaim the vision of “a country that now moves with confidence beyond this time of war, to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for all…”

The prophet Isaiah proclaimed such a vision: “In days to come they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

As our prayer from the martyred Latin American Archbishop Oscar Romero reminded, peace isn’t simply declared. A commentator on Isaiah explains that the prophet’s metaphor communicates that to make peace: “It is not enough to end spears and swords as an act of romance or goodwill. There must at the same time be production of instruments of life, such as ploughshares and pruning hooks. Thus human energies and public resources are reassigned to vine-dressing and agriculture. The economy is transformed; the earth is also transformed, from battleground to fertile garden.”

Jesus’ own Hebrew proclamation of “Shalom” always linked peace with justice.

Isaiah’s poetic ‘ploughshares for peace’ vision was passed down through the generations of the Hebrew people as liturgy they repeated, Jesus repeated, perhaps in the way we repeated Romero’s today. It was a call to peace-making and a proclamation of hope that peace was possible – a vision on which the people at worship could set their sights. We are beginning to understand today how visions fuel intentions, and in our co-creativity with God, humanity can direct energy and created the tools to manifest a vision.

Hearing Isaiah, we too are called to set our sights on peace. Perhaps with some update to the metaphor. Most of us have to ask what a ploughshare is. But we do understand the idea of redirecting the money for nuclear weapons toward providing world food security.

Did you hear that exchange during one of the presidential debates when Mitt Romney accused that America has fewer warships now than in 1980? And Obama retorted: “Yes, and we have fewer horses and bayonets too!” The game of war has changed. And so have the tools of peace.

My version of the ploughshares for peace vision relies on today’s tools for a just peace: democracy, development, just economy…and the evolutionary skills of dispute resolution that are proliferating in this era of rising spiritual consciousness. I am hopeful because I see evidence that we are learning, and yearning as a human race, to ‘hear each other into peace.’

People are practising skillful listening and using our emotional intelligence to reconcile differences. Mediators and lawyers are facilitating parties to resolve conflict, by baring and sharing the underlying causes of all conflict – fear and unmet needs. With the tools and intentions of peace-building today, we gather in twos and threes and in groups of Palestinian and Israeli youth, to work out ways to co-exist, in a kin-dom kind of way.

Sure, even to me, it seems like we’ve been singing “I ain’t gonna study war no more!” for a long time. So is it naïve, for us to keep up an ancient prophet’s liturgical chorus, today?

What is the alternative: As that commentator pointed out: “It is tempting for us, in an era of military conflict…simply to write off such as Isaiah’s announcement…as unrealistic…It is probably unrealistic to expect peace among all nations in the immediate future. But shall we then capitulate to war?”

Jesus taught us to hold up the vision of a Kingdom of God, on earth, even amidst the mess of the empire he lived in. He taught us to expect that it can happen, is happening in visible ways already, and will yet be the norm on God’s whole earth. As humanity moves toward higher consciousness in this current Age of the Spirit, re-awakening, we are beginning to see how peace can really be.

We humans are graced with the vision & imagination, the energy, will and tools to make peace so: “on earth as it is in heaven. Amen!”

But the reign of God will only happen if we keep the vision of peace & justice alive in every generation. We need to hear and envision, to direct our prayers and our creative purpose, toward a genuine lasting peace.

Therein lies the hope of realizing world peace.

Obama’s victory speech – and may his victory prove to be a victory for peace – included these words: “I ask you to sustain hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism. I’m not talking about the kind of hope that ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead of us. Or about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shrink from the fight. I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that asserts – despite all the evidence to the contrary – that something better awaits us, so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, keep working, keep fighting.”

The ‘fight’ he speaks of here is of course a metaphor, not a war. I look forward to a generations of children who will understand that word as a quaint historic metaphor… “War…is that something to do with swords?”

We must continue to proclaim the vision of Isaiah, in our generation, for the sake of the coming generations: Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me…let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with ‘we.’ We who remember, and commit ourselves to ending all war.


  1. It is amazing how willing the western democracies have been in recent decades to impose our values by force on other societies. It takes only five to ten years for us to begin to question our own militaristic intentions and subsequently to yearn for peace. Can we never learn the lesson?

    Brian Hartley - November 13, 2012

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