Spirituality… is profoundly non-judgmental and non-separatist, honoring the sacred gift of life and creation. Spirituality is about the search for ultimate meaning and wholeness in life, despite the pain, suffering, conflict and brokenness present throughout the world.  – Mark Umbreit

Deep Peacemaking Requires a Spirituality for the Peacemaker

In today’s pluralistic world, where many religious traditions mix together, and where people have mixed experiences with religion, both freeing and oppressive, the concept of spirituality can be helpful to capture what is truly common to the best of human experience and the best of all religious traditions.

A simple way to understand this common ground is to consider how the act of a sincere, heart-felt apology finds both the giver and the receiver in a sacred space. It is sacred because it is a healing space, a life-giving space, and for these reasons we can speak of a spiritual dimension to restorative dialogue. In Latin, spiritus means breath, and is closely allied to our concepts of animation and life.

In the evolving understanding of restorative justice, Dr. Mark Umbreit of the University of Minnesota has been a pioneer scholar-practitioner in his efforts to name the profound intersection between peacemaking and spirituality. The following paragraphs are excerpted from one of Mark’s articles on this topic: Peacemaking & Spirituality: Touching the Soul Within the Energy of Conflict and Trauma.

“The journey of peacemaking and spirituality is about honoring the enormous healing power of story; listening deeply to the woundedness within others and ourselves; acknowledging such woundedness, without judgment, assessment, advice or problem solving; and nurturing the innate strength, wisdom and yearning for peace that is within each of us. The journey is about being ever mindful of the power of unintentional negative consequences if we cannot tame our egos and their endless thirst for recognition and control; learning to tame our minds and their endless thoughts and chatter so that we can be fully present with each other through the turbulence of inter- and intra-personal conflict.

“Creating a safe, if not sacred, place for people in painful conflict to tell their story, without interruptions, has been found throughout the ages to be at the core of healing. Personal stories of conflict or trauma touch others as no articulate argument could ever. Arguments and positions keep us in the head. The telling of stories touch our hearts. When I work with victims of severe criminal or political violence seeking mediation and dialogue, much of my ‘intervention’ involves deep compassionate listening and acknowledgement of the stories of trauma for all involved, without judgment or prescription. Daniel Taylor in his book The Healing Power of Stories speaks of how stories help us learn to live more responsibly, to understand others in their life context, and to avoid many of the conflicts in life that so quickly hook us.

“The journey of peacemaking and spirituality is about being present with conflict in our wholeness, in our body, mind, and spirit. It is about ‘being with’ rather than ‘doing for’ the conflict, allowing our own and other’s woundedness to teach us profound lessons of life in community. Learning to be fully present in our life and work, with no illusions of control, is not easy in Western culture. Yet there exist a number of practices that cultivate such presence. By far the most relevant spiritual practice that we can integrate into our peacemaking and conflict resolution work is mindfulness. John Kabat-Zinn speaks of mindfulness as openhearted moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness. Kabat Zinn’s book Wherever You Go, There Your Are provides a practical guide for how to integrate mindfulness practice into one’s personal and professional life. His new book Coming To Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness provides an even richer guide to how mindfulness practice relates to personal and social healing in the global community.

Mark Umbreit is author of Dancing with the Energy of Conflict & Trauma: Letting Go – Finding Peace in Families, Communities and Nations (2013)

Also, The Energy of Forgiveness: Lessons from Those in Restorative Dialogue (2015) co-authored by Mark Umbreit, Jennifer Blevins and Ted Lewis


The Spiritual Roots of Restorative Justice (S U N Y Series in Religious Studies, 2001) Edited by Michael L. Hadley 

(Synopsis) This interdisciplinary study explores what major spiritual traditions say in text, tradition, and current practice about criminal justice in general and Restorative Justice in particular. It reflects the close collaboration of scholars and professionals engaged in multi-faith reflection on the theory and practice of criminal law. A variety of traditions are explored: Aboriginal spirituality, Buddhism, Chinese religions, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. Drawing on a wide range of literature and experience in the field of Restorative Justice and recognizing the ongoing interdisciplinary research into the complex relationships between religion and violence, the contributors clarify how faith-based principles of reconciliation, restoration, and healing might be implemented in pluralistic multicultural societies.


Peacemaking with others and within ourselves is about embracing the spiritual wisdom that bridges can, in fact, be built, no matter how intense the conflict or trauma might be. It’s a journey that is ultimately grounded far more in a spirit of humility and compassion than technical expertise and credentials.   – Mark Umbreit

Among his many books and countless articles, Umbreit’s first book, Crime and Reconciliation: Creative Options for Victims and Offenders, was published in 1985 by a denominational press, Abingdon. Coming out five years prior to Howard Zehr’s Changing Lenses, Umbreit’s book includes a chapter on “Biblical Justice” and also invites the Christian community to actively promote ministries of reconciliation (97f).  Umbreit worked with PACT (Prisoner and Community Together) in northern Indiana in the 1970s, which partnered with Howard Zehr’s initial VORP program in Elkhart. Umbreit came to Minnesota in 1985, entering the University of Minnesota, and partnered with another piorneer figure in the field, Burt Galaway.

Chapter 1 of Umbreit’s book features the Fred Palmer Story which shows how Christian faith can make a deep impact on an offender’s life (Palmer) as well as on a judge’s life.  With Zehr as a co-facilitator, Palmer was able to meet with two difference couples whose homes were severely burglarized.  After other stakeholders in the traditional system wanted stiffer sentencing for Palmer, Judge Bontrager, who was supportive of restorative alternatives, was quoted in The Christian Century as saying there were “irreconcilable differences between the laws of Indiana and the laws of God.”