“Peace on Earth, good will toward men.”
So the angels sang, announcing the birth of Jesus.
Sixteen years ago, on the New Year’s eve of the year 2000, I sat transfixed all day in front of the television watching the celebrations around the world as each time zone welcomed the new millennium. The ceremonies were deeply moving, all without exception calling, praying for peace.
Yet peace still eludes us. Here we are, two centuries after the angels’ song, still warring, still killing and maiming each other, still tangled in hatred and fear. And still sending out holiday cards wishing each other peace in the new year.
Peace seems especially remote just now with the war in Syria going on and on sending millions fleeing their homes, the ISIS continuing its atrocities, and here at home the daily gun violence, the recent shootings in Colorado and California, the persecution of Muslims, and our own presidential candidates spewing xenophobia.
I was talking with friends the other evening, expressing my fear and sorrow over this state of affairs, asking, “What can we do?”
My wise friend Shelley responded, “We can only deal with our own postage stamp of reality.” Which reminded me of the gospel hymn, “Brighten the corner where you are.”
What can we do? How can we brighten our corner?
I know that action for peace must begin with our inner state.
I am part of a women’s group that calls itself The Peace Circle. We meet each week and share our experiences and challenges in creating peace within and around ourselves. After we describe a challenge, we close with the statement, “Peace would be . . .” and say whatever would resolve the challenge. But the resolution can’t be what someone else would do. (“Peace would be if she would just stop doing that.”) It must be what we ourselves can do. Sometimes what we can do involves outward action, but often it is as simple (I’m not saying easy) as staying centered in the face of the challenge.
Sometimes finding inner peace requires traveling a rocky road that may not feel peaceful at all. If we are angry or frightened, we must first acknowledge and deal with those feelings so we don’t project them outward. Meditation is a powerful tool for negotiating that rocky road.
Being present with what is actually happening in the moment protects us from being swept away by the tides of past griefs or fears of the future.
We can bring respect and kindness to our challenges. “Respect” and “kindness” are gentle, not especially dramatic words, but oh! if we could all bring those qualities to our challenges, the world would be whole again. The peace we long for would manifest.
The prayer of St. Francis gives us an exquisite guide:
“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
In this holiday season as the year turns, may we be instruments of peace.