Pursuing Peace…

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.

There’s a lot of hope in Isaiah 29-33. Some wonderful lines read:

18 On that day the deaf shall hear
   the words of a scroll,
and out of their gloom and darkness
   the eyes of the blind shall see.
19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
   and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. (29:18-19)

Then again there’s a bit of doom:

12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel:
Because you reject this word,
   and put your trust in oppression and deceit,
   and rely on them;
13 therefore this iniquity shall become for you
   like a break in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse,
   whose crash comes suddenly, in an instant;
14 its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel
   that is smashed so ruthlessly
that among its fragments not a sherd is found
   for taking fire from the hearth,
   or dipping water out of the cistern. (30:12-14)

But then just after that there’s more hope:

18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;
   therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
   blessed are all those who wait for him. (30:18)

And so it goes on… I don’t know about you, but I’m getting mixed messages here. Or am I?

Isaiah makes it clear in these chapters that God wants relationship with His people but he also wants justice and peace in the world. The relationship is almost contingent on the adherence of his people to that vision of justice. In this part of Isaiah there is a lot of criticism for those Israelites who are putting their trust and hope in the Egyptian regime, rather than depending on and serving God (30:1-7; 31:1-9). There are also many passages that describe a day when righteousness will govern and peace will rule:

 16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
   and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
17 The effect of righteousness will be peace,
   and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever. (32:16-17)

So is the destruction threatened in order to make way for this new way of being? That doesn’t seem right to me; destroying to build. We use the phrase “God gives and God takes away a lot” (probably comes from a paraphrase of Job 1:21), but would be really apply it on this scale? A God who destroys nations?

I don’t have an answer for this one. I don’t know if I believe in a God who punishes. I don’t know if I believe in the model of the cross that says that punishment was taken out on Jesus so we don’t get it, either. And that is just one model, if you haven’t heard others then ask around because Christian thought is rich and varied.

I guess I do believe in a God who can’t stand injustice, though, and I do believe in a God that continually offers hope of a final justice. I do believe in a model of the cross that says Jesus made that possible too. He is my righteousness, and all that. But mostly reading Isaiah 29-33 all in one go is a bit too much for my mortal mind to get hold of. So I’ll leave it for you to ponder… How does our God move for justice? If He does move that way at all? What would righteousness look like in this world?

God bless.