“Be at peace in your soul and all around you hundreds will be converted”. This sentence coming from Seraphim of Sarov, a charming saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church, says it all. But what is peace?
There was once a contest where artists where asked to give an artistic rendition of peace. Two of the exhibits were short-listed for the final decision.
One depicted a calm lake with scenic towering mountains all around it. The sky was blue, the sea was calm, the colors were bright. The other picture had mountains too. But they were rugged and bare. Rain fell, the winds were strong, the clouds heavy and dark. A foaming waterfall tumbled down. And behind the waterfall, a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush, a nest. A mother bird had built her nest there!
The judges, rather unexpectedly, chose the latter as an exemplar of peace, justifying their decision by saying that peace does not necessarily mean living where there is no trouble or mess. Peace means to be in the midst of all the troubles of life and still be calm in your heart.
The world promises peace through the rule of the law. Law and order is the only way for a society to acquire and maintain peace. There are a set of regulations that should be followed. Everywhere – at home, at work, between neighbors, between nations. If you don’t, then you are punished. If necessary, use force aggressively.
Jesus speaks about another kind of peace. The defining phrase is, “Not as the world gives.” In the vision of Jesus, there is no aggressiveness. No belligerence. No laws to follow. It was Saint Augustine who said, Love and do what you want! It is a peace that is basically acquired through surrender. Surrender to His will as manifested in the daily events of life.
Peace is an interior thing that manifests itself on the outside. Jesus Christ after all did not promise to calm every storm in our life. He promised to calm us in every storm of life. I am always touched by the realism by which Jesus Christ speaks. He predicts rain that will come down and storms that will rise and winds that will blow and beat against the house that we shall build. However he offers a solution. The one who is wise enough to build on rock will survive, the one who is foolish and builds on sand will find himself with a ruined house.
The quote of Peter Parker in Spiderman 3 is definitely catchy. “No matter what comes our way. No matter what battle we have raging inside of us, we always have a choice. My friend Harry taught me that. He chose to be that best of himself. Our choices are what makes us who we are. And we always have the choice to do what’s right.” The question is do we really have this choice?
Is the attainment of peace a question of will power? Is it all a question of good politics? It is just good psychology and good counseling? Apparently not if we are to judge from what we see around us.
The vision of the Church is more pragmatic. There is a radical problem in man, it says. She calls this problem original sin, namely this deep selfishness that turns everything that comes in man’s way in his favor, many times to the oblivion of others. Experience has shown us again and again the superficiality of our solutions.
The answer to a real lasting peace has to come from a source that is divine. Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who died in 1968, once wrote, “We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” As simple as that.
One of the brothers asked Abba Isidore, a priest of Scetis, “Why are the demons so terrified of you?” And the old man said, “Ever since I became a monk I have tried never to let anger rise as far as my mouth.” And if we were to ask him how did he do it, he will simply look up and point to heaven!
God is at the root of this attitude of peace!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.