Proverbs 31.10-31, Psalm 1, James 3.13-4.3, 7-8a, Mark 9.30-37
Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing: Romans 15:13
How the human race longs for peace! Jesus offered the disciples peace, and our intercessions may contain prayers for world peace, as they often do. But world peace, and peace within ourselves, are inextricably interwoven, as Jawharlal Nehru said:
Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.
The constitution of UNESCO, the United Nations’ educational, scientific and cultural arm, makes it clear that its aim is ultimately peacekeeping:
Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defence of peace must be constructed.
The same thought was put more pithily by Jimi Hendrix:
When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.
But our strongest desire for peace is as individuals, not just as members of a community. Some suggest we achieve this nirvana-like state by meditating on the infinity of the universe, sub speciae aeternitatis :
When quacks with pills political would dope us,
When politics absorbs the livelong day,
I like to think about the star Canopus,
So far, so far away.
Greatest of visioned suns, they say who list ’em;
To weigh it science always must despair.
Its shell would hold our whole danged solar system,
Nor ever know ’twas there.
When temporary chairmen utter speeches,
And frenzied henchmen howl their battle hymns,
My thoughts float out across the cosmic reaches
To where Canopus swims.
When men are calling names and making faces,
And all the world’s ajangle and ajar,
I meditate on interstellar spaces
And smoke a mild seegar.
For after one has had about a week of
The arguments of friends as well as foes,
A star that has no parallax to speak of
Conduces to repose.
B L Taylor, Canopus
Or we can seek comfort in the natural world, like W B Yeats:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day,
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
For Christians, of course, our best hope of a sustaining and lasting peace is through our relationship with God:
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.
Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.
Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus’ keeping we are safe, and they.
Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and he is on the throne.
Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.
But peace, though infinitely desirable, and infinitely desired, is not— for Christians, though it may be for Buddhists — an end in itself. Yeats was dreaming about Innisfree while standing on a grey pavement, and Taylor was contemplating Canopus as a temporary respite. Christianity offers us permanent peace beyond the grave, but in the here and now the Christian message offers us Elastoplast for our wounds, and chicken soup for our soul, but unless we join a contemplative order, we are then expected to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again.
Not for ever by still waters would we idly rest and stay, or as Robert Frost put it:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.
St George knew very well the limitations of peace, as Jan Struther wrote:
When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old,
He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold;
With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand,
For God and for valour he rode through the land.
No charger have I, and no sword by my side,
Yet still to adventure and battle I ride.
Though back into storyland giants have fled,
And the knights are no more and the dragons have fled
Let faith be my shield and let joy be my steed
‘Gainst the dragons of anger, the ogres of greed;
And let me set free, with the sword of my might,
From the castle of darkness the power of the light.
The philosopher Hegel thought that all human endeavour was defined by the process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, in other words that truth could only be arrived at by the opposition of conflicting forces. Anyone who watches football or plays bridge is deliberately taking part in this interplay of conflicting forces for pleasure, as we have done since we played Cowboys and Indians in childhood.
In Britain, when playground games threatened to become overwhelming, you could call a temporary halt by shouting ‘Pax’. As Christians, our religion brings us a haven to which we can always retreat to reflect and in the communion service ‘the peace’ is a central part of the liturgy.
Almighty God, kindle we pray thee in all our hearts the true love of peace, and guide with thy pure and peaceable wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth, that in tranquillity thy kingdom may go forward, till the earth be filled with the knowledge of thy love, through Christ our Lord, Amen.
O Lord, grant us courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; so that after we have laboured to accomplish our daily tasks, we may in peace go to sleep, knowing that You are awake. Amen
The illustration of a dove is by Audrey Hogan, downloaded under licence from Twelve Baskets.