"Helluva Town," published by Powerhouse Books, New York, is a collection of black and white photographs taken by Vivian Cherry in the 1940s and '50s. All of the pictures were taken in New York City.
There are pictures of kids playing cowboys and Indians and cops and robbers. They used wooden sticks as make believe guns. Cherry photographed the kids playing dead, chasing each other, making believe in the streets and alleys of Manhattan.
There is one picture that stands out. It is in the front of the book and is a photograph of the peace activist Dorothy Day. She is walking in a line with others in a peace demonstration. A cop stands to her left watching her.
She is carrying a hand painted sign on which was written words of peace and justice by John XXIII. "Why should the resources of human genius and the riches of the people turn more often to preparing arms than to increasing the welfare of all classes of citizens and particularly the poor?"
On the page facing that photo is another picture of a group of poor men on a food line. Just above them is a statue of Jesus, seemingly looking right past them, over their heads.
A few pages later, there is a picture of a little boy. His shirt is tattered and too small and it is missing a few buttons. He compensates by buttoning the shirt with the remaining buttons, giving a slant to the cloth. He is laughing.
The smile on his face is so beautiful -- it shines off the page like a light. Something of God shines through his face -- and it is a revelation of grace that will one day bring peace to the world.
I do not know if Vivian Cherry knew who Dorothy Day was. And I do not know if she caught the irony of a Jesus statue seemingly looking beyond and past the destitute of a city.
The pictures are striking.
Jan. 1 was set aside by the church to pray for world peace. In the time since Vivian Cherry raised her camera and took the pictures in the book, it seems we have not advanced at all in the cause of and the establishment of peace.
Arsenals of great power exist all over the world. The poor remain crushed under the wheels of greed, blindness, and indifference. The question can be raised as to whether it is futile to devote a life's work to peace, to live the life that Jesus asks us to live. Perhaps the disciples wrestled with the same worry.
It is the beginning of another year. Hopefully it will be a year that brings peace to torn and battered regions of this world. It will surely be a year when some people awaken to the call of the gospel to embrace peace as more than a dream. It will be a reality for them and they will share that reality with others.
Mostly all of it will go unnoticed. A lot of people will wonder if God is like the statue of Jesus in the second picture, seemingly removed from the scene right before its eyes.
Peace will come. That is the hope of Gods' promise. It is not a vain hope -- for it will not come from human plans or calculated treaties. It will come from the promise of God. It will come as a gift. Dorothy Day and others like her knew that and lived from it, walking the streets and living the works of mercy.
On the first day of January we gathered to express gratitude to God for those kinds of people in our midst. The peace that is God shines through the lowly, and too often we do not recognize them. But they are here, and more will rise this year, living the truth of a life yet to come.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 SW, Conyers. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.