Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace.
Luke 1:78-79 (The Message) – Song of Zachariah
When we think of peace, we often think of the absence of war, pain, fear, and suffering. Yet in this season of Advent, the promise of peace comes right in the middle of the darkness of our broken world, and in our broken selves. Peace is not the absence of trouble, peace is about the presence of God in whatever we encounter. Surely this is the promise of Advent.
In her book, An Interrupted Life, Etty Hillesum writes about her spiritual awakening and the persecution of Jewish people in Amsterdam during the German occupation (she was killed in Auschwitz concentration camp), “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”
Hillesum wrote these words when it must have seemed that hatred and evil were winning. How did she find any peace within these circumstances? How might we claim peace in ourselves, when so much around us, and within us, is a swirling storm of emotions and events that seem to pull us into fear and despair?
Gerald May writes, “Peace is not something you can force on anything or anyone… . much less upon one’s own mind. It’s like trying to quiet the ocean by pressing upon the waves. Sanity lies in somehow opening to the chaos, allowing anxiety, moving deeply into the tumult, diving into the waves, where underneath, within, peace simply is.”
Peace simply is…
I am so drawn to this image of trying to quiet the ocean by pressing upon the waves. How often my arms grow weary from pressing upon the ocean waves of distraction, anxiety, fear and chaos. I too often try to resolve the uneasiness within me by trying to control the outside. Instead, the invitation from May is to dive deep within, where peace already exists. Where God is. Once we touch into this place of Peace within, we can more easily share it with the world around us.
The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom, meaning “wholeness or completeness, well-being and harmony.” It means a putting back together. Like pieces of a garment, sewn together to make a whole. Or puzzle pieces gathered together — found after being lost — to fit together to make a whole picture. This is not a homogenous peace where the prerequisite for peace is that we all think or act alike, but a peace of bringing together, restoration, a renewed vision. I am only one piece of cloth — one puzzle piece — one note in a symphony, but I trust that God’s amazingly beautiful creation holds us all, needs us all.
In John 14, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
How might we practice peace this week?
Perhaps we can begin with ourselves. How might we be more peaceful within ourselves, and within our families and friendships? Can we refuse to give space for criticism, judgement, toward ourselves and others?
How might you spend more time in that space of peace as Gerald May writes about — the deeper place where peace simply is. Can you find peaceful places to spend a few minutes each day: perhaps outside under the stars, early in the morning watching the sunrise, taking a walk, observing a bird, listening to a favorite song. I would love for you to share where you are finding peace this Advent season.
Can we trust that as we make a greater space for peace in ourselves, the world will be changed…
[note: this song was written by Jill Jackson. Two years before writing this song, Jill’s life felt unbearably broken and painful and she tried to commit suicide. Then Jill had a life-transforming spiritual experience, which led her to write this song.]