Episode 15: Divine Collaboration
In a previous episode, I introduced the mediator’s ideal response to conflict — collaboration. It is worth reviewing the idea: Collaboration is an effort to find a solution or reach a settlement that maximizes the satisfaction of all parties. It seeks the greatest mutual benefit possible. People seek to satisfy their interests — while ALSO satisfying the interests of the other party.
Collaboration is a creative process. Parties move past typical demands and positions. They go beyond simply “cutting the pie in half.” Instead, they seek creative outcomes that “enlarge the pie.” They attempt to increase the total benefits possible.
In a faith-based approach, we expand the collaboration model. We not only seek to satisfy our interests and the interests of the other party, we also seek to satisfy God’s interests — typically referred to as “the Will of God.”
Previously, I introduced the Will of God as a neutral baseline against which both parties can evaluate their interests. When they analyze their intentions against this neutral baseline, they avoid the head-to-head clash that comes from a direct comparison of their respective interests — a clash that typically leads to claims that “my concerns are more important than your concerns.”
But, you might ask, “How do we do determine the Will of God? Who does that? That’s crazy.” And it is true that we do not usually consider God’s interests. People of faith, however, often seek to discern God’s Will as a part of their faith journey. That is not uncommon. I’m suggesting that such discernment should now become a regular feature of peacemaking.
The discernment of Divine Will can become a powerful aid to negotiation. It expands the collaboration and invokes the dual-axis model in which we seek to reconcile our interests with both God and our fellow humans.
The alignment of an individual’s will with God’s Will is more than a simple technique. Benedict XVI, in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, explains the only way Christ can redeem man, who was created free, is by means of gaining man’s free ‘yes’ to his Will.
When peacemakers nurture a “yes” to the Will of God, they initiate a unique negotiation style we call “divine collaboration.” Peacemaking ministry begins to dovetail with salvation ministry. In Theology and Sanity, theologian Frank Sheed reminds us of just how important it is for us to consider the Will of God. He sums it up beautifully in the following quote:
“God’s will is the sole reason for our existence; be wrong about His will and we are inescapably wrong about the reason for our existence; be wrong about that, and what can we be right about?”
But, you might object, isn’t it presumptuous to assume we can discern Divine Will? Perhaps it is. And yet discernment is possible for one key reason: Man is endowed with the image and likeness of God.
This means souls — which are created in the image and likeness of God — inherit spiritual or mystical consciousness. This opens a conduit or portal to knowledge of Divine Will.
We can begin to see how Saint Bonaventure was correct when he argued that God reveals his intentions through divine relationship — which includes the supernatural advocate, the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, realignment with the Will of God would be impossible.
This spiritual guidance, which flows from divine relationship, forms the cornerstone of Benedict XVI’s theology. Christopher Collins, in The Word Made Love, explains this:
There is simplicity at the core of Ratzinger’s articulation of the Christian mystery. God speaks. Humanity listens… or not. To the degree that humanity does listen to the Word spoken by God, it opens up to the possibility of responding to the Word… In this speaking and listening a relationship is established, a transformation occurs, a story is told.
In this quote, Collins establishes how important it is to Ratzinger, to Benedict XVI, that we acknowledge this speaking and listening divine relationship.
Once we acknowledge the baseline divine relationship that makes discernment possible, we can begin to explore specific discernment techniques. We might begin with the most powerful and direct approach — contemplative prayer, as found in the spirituality of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Bonaventure; in the Carmelite tradition of St. John of the Cross; in the Ignatian examination of consciousness; in the teachings of the Desert Fathers; and in the writings of mystics throughout all history.
We also consider additional options for those who lack proficiency in advanced mystical practices. Those options include celebration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist, during which the Holy Spirit aids discernment. Worshippers, enveloped by the Real Presence, find their hearts soften by sanctifying grace. This allows them to intuit divine providence at work in their lives.
In yet another approach, disputants mine scripture for potential settlement criteria. They evaluate their free will intentions in light of scripture. If there are no clashes, if their intentions do not violate the sacred texts, then those intentions and desires are suitable for negotiation.
Another discernment technique employs a disciplined, meditative reading of scripture called Lectio Divina. The reading is accompanied by adoration and contemplation. In this approach, the written Word conditions the heart.
Using a similar technique, a person may compare scriptural narratives with conflict narratives and search for parallel themes. In this way, scripture may shed light on how a person may resolve a current conflict.
Or they may reflect on the lives of biblical figures, seeking helpful clues for aligning decisions with Divine Will. For example, they may reflect on how Jesus mentored his Disciples. They may reflect on how Jesus taught people to heal relationships.
Using a similar strategy, people might adopt the Beatitudes as a set of criteria that reflect divine intention. Or they might identify the criteria used by saints to guide their lives.
We might study Paul’s letters to the early Christians as those letters provide valuable insights into divine intentions that shaped the early church. The wisdom of the early Church Fathers — and the stories of their tribulations — may be harvested for insights. In a similar manner, papal documents — encyclicals, exhortations, decrees, and homilies — provide criteria for discerning divine will. Parties may also reference the Catechism that documents “what we believe.”
In most cases, parties seeking to realign their intentions will reflect on a combination of these resources. They will allow the Word to shine light on their particular conflict scenario. This will enhance their discernment of how the Will of God applies to their particular situation.
Spiritual direction also enhances discernment. A spiritual director — often a priest or retreat master — designs a formation plan consistent with each party’s intellectual and spiritual abilities. This plan then becomes a path to discernment that can augment peacemaking.
Parties embroiled in conflict who have lost sight of the markers identifying the Will of God can turn to their faith community for help in resetting their course. They can seek pastoral counseling or spiritual direction within that parish or faith community setting.
When people align their intentions and free will with the Father’s Will, they often experience an urge to break through prison walls that previously held them captive. During divine collaboration knots are untied. Parties are released from bondage.
In stark contrast, if parties remain alienated from the Will of God they soon find themselves descending into the quicksand of conflict. Their frustration with life and with other people escalates. They may slide into hostility or violence.
In a faith-based approach to reconciliation we move beyond the power of collaboration to seek the even greater power of divine collaboration. When we fully grasp the power of this approach to conflict we begin to understand why the Church, which has the ability to deliver divine collaboration, must become THE instrument of peace in the world.
The task falls squarely on our shoulders — we must accept the challenge and train armies of spiritual warriors who are able to hasten the arrival of the Peace of Christ.
May God bless you and bring you peace.