February 8, 2011
Leader: Go in peace, to love and to serve;
All: We will seek peace and pursue it.
Dear reader, I must confess, I don’t pray every morning. Not formally at least. My mind almost always moves towards God, always greets Him, but I don’t always make time to sit down with Him.
But this morning I did sit down, and I decided to use the morning service from the Iona Community to structure my prayer. I don’t do this often, but when I do there is a richness that comes. The response above is taken from the ending of the service, and this morning these were the words that stayed with me. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that by some graceful synchronicity these words are taken from Psalm 34 (part of today’s Bible dose):
11 Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Which of you desires life,
and covets many days to enjoy good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.
Seek peace, and pursue it. Pursue it. I don’t know about you but pursuing is not a verb I associate with peace. In my mind it seems almost predatory. Thinking about this made me realise that I have been thinking of peace as rather a passive thing. A gentle thing. A quiet thing. But can peace also be dynamic, can it be loud and lyrical? Maybe.
I really like this quotation from Baruch Spinoza, a 17th Century Dutch Jewish theologian;
Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.
How interesting. Peace, then, isn’t something that simply arises when conflict stops (I found a great blog post on this subject) but it us a quality, a state to be cultivated and sought after. To be pursued.
But what does that look like?
Well, it must, on one level, mean us as a community speaking truth to power, as the prophets did before us. It must mean crying out against injustice and violence. It must mean speaking out for those who cannot speak for themselves.
But it’s not just about breaking down, it’s about building up. It must be about the creation of something new, and this creation surely starts closer to home.
In my church every Sunday morning, as in many churches across the world, the middle of our service is punctuated by ‘the peace’. We stand up and offer each other our hands saying “peace be with you”. Some people even look me in the eye as they say it (in England too, this is quite a rarity). It’s a wonderful moment and I’ve never really thought about it until now, but it really forms the centre of our service; the bridge between the unfolding of the Word and sharing of communion. In the middle of our worship we stop to wish each other peace. Do we know what we’re wishing for?
This act is an important one, its power is not to be dismissed. But I wonder in what others ways we pursue peace as a community? Is it really on our radar?
And there is a peace even closer than this. Closer than the community and even the most intimate relationship. It is the peace within. In John 14:27 Jesus tells his disciples at the last supper “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” We are given peace by God himself; how many of us receive it?
We don’t live in a world of peace, not on any level. I learnt this weekend (at the SCM Still Small Voice conference) that globally there have been less than 30 minutes of peace since the outbreak of World War Two. 30 minutes.
On a community level our egos and our precious ideas make it hard for us to really hear each other, however hard we try. And individually which one of us does not wish for a quieter mind? That we could switch of the voices of criticism that sometimes swarm around us?
It occurred to me today that without peace, there can be not freedom. It seems to me that this works on all levels; material, communal, emotional, spiritual. Without a clarity, a strength of stillness, how can we be free? While there is still violence, internal or external, how can we be free?
Peace is not easy. That’s why it must be pursued. But perhaps not to pursue it is, ultimately, harder work.
Today I read Psalms 33-35.
Thanks for AuntieP on flickr for the beautiful photo.