Peace Pilgrim

Note: I cross-posted this at my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany.

Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words is a compilation of writings and transcripts of speeches by a woman who called herself Peace Pilgrim. She was an amazing and inspiring woman who walked back and forth across the country for almost 30 years bearing a message of peace. In 1953 she rid herself of all possessions other than the clothes she wore, a toothbrush, a comb, a pen, and some paper, and embarked on her pilgrimage for peace. She slept outdoors or at truck stops unless someone offered her a bed, and ate only when someone offered her a meal. Her message was simple:

This is the way of peace — overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.

She gradually became well-known and spoke at colleges and churches across the country as she walked for peace. She was still on her pilgrimage in 1981 when she died in a car accident (being driven by a friend to a speaking engagement), because she had vowed that “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food.” (Wo)mankind unfortunately did not learn the way of peace before her death, and still hasn’t.

Many of her words rang true with me and echoed things I have thought about before. These include the ideas that inner peace requires living in the present, not owning more than we need, and being kind and compassionate and giving towards all, that evil can only be overcome by goodness, and that people who do evil things are hurt in some way. Peace Pilgrim emphasized that if someone does something unkind towards us, we can choose whether to respond with hurt and anger or with compassion, and that it is harmful to ourselves to respond with anger. She talked about how fear is almost always of the unknown, and that thus getting familiar with something or someone helps you overcome fear. She said that the way of peace is the philosophy that the means determine the end, and that peace cannot be reached through non-peaceful means such as war. I agree with all these aspects of her message.

However, her words were too spiritual and religious for me. Her inner peace was based in a spiritual connection and a belief in God (she did not call herself Christian or any other particular religion, but simply religious), and besides all the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph, she also emphasized a distinction between the higher self and the self-centered self, and between the body and the soul. She said that there were divine laws guiding us towards peace that we could choose to follow or not, and also that each person has a preordained calling. I do not want to go into my own religious beliefs here, but suffice it to say that these views do not ring true with me, and that my belief in peace, both inner and outer, is not based in any sort of spiritual or religious belief. It was therefore difficult for me to get through parts of the book that were focused on these spiritual and religious aspects.

For me, her message therefore comes through in spite of the spiritual aspects, but I think it is a very important one. I admire her inner strength, her ability to rid herself of all possessions and walk for so many years, and her ability to be kind and compassionate towards every single human being. I think she was in many ways a modern-day prophet.

The book itself is well put together; her friends were clearly dedicated and spent a good bit of time organizing her writings and speeches into a coherent flow. Most of it consists of writings in Peace Pilgrim’s words, but there are several appendices containing her answers to questions she received through correspondence, newspaper articles, and other peoples’ impressions of her.

If you are interested in peace, the life of a modern pilgrim, living simply, or living compassionately, I think it is worth reading at least parts of this book (it is somewhat repetitive since the writings are taken from many different times). You can read the entire thing online here, and learn more about her in general here.

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