It’s the end of the second week of Advent, the week we focus on Peace, and I am wondering how much peace everyone is feeling or practicing in light of recent events, both here at home and abroad. Sometimes peace can seem a little out of reach or maybe for a few folks, even difficult to define. And before we begin week 3, where we focus on LOVE, I wanted to look back on the pieces of peace in my life and the world around me.
I think each of us is born with a place of grace, a spot free of regret, disappointment, fear, shame and loneliness. To me it’s that untouched place from which is birthed love, joy, compassion, kindness and peace. Throughout our lifetime though, this place can become clouded over and we may lose touch with it from being wounded and hardened by life. Yet this place of pure grace remains untouched. Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity, defines peace as harmony and tranquility derived from the awareness of the Christ, or unitive, consciousness. I believe it is known by many names including our soul, the psyche, or what the Hindus call Atman, and what Jesus called Love.
The Native American elder Black Elk tells us, “Peace comes within the souls of beings when they realize their relationship, their Oneness, with the Universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the Universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” It is the great paradox of that place of grace… it is everywhere, as well as at the center in each of us at the same time. No matter how clouded or covered over that pure center may become, it is always right within our reach.
The root of the Hebrew word for peace, shalom, means “whole, complete, sound” and points to this twofold meaning Black Elk alludes to: peace within oneself and peace between people, and all life. So the first thing I always need to be engaged in as a peace practice is learning how to uncover that original center and how to live there, from my wholeness, once it is restored. This is unbecoming who I never was, and unlearning my back to what Jesus called Abba or Divine Love.
Several years ago I heard an NPR News Story about Ivory Harlow, a waitress in a small town Texas diner. She provides a human connection for many who live in a desert of loneliness and invisibility. She believes peace begins with one person and spreads from there. “I often see a look of isolation in my customers’ eyes. They come in the front door, wander to the counter, pick up the menu and look around the diner for something they can’t short-order: a connection.”
One day she offered a free pancake breakfast to a ragged and tired looking woman. The woman then asked to borrow bus fare and promised to return and pay it back. Three weeks later Ivory got her two dollars back, and the woman returning it even offered to buy her breakfast too!
Ivory believes that one act of friendliness can generate ripples of peace. She says “Peace begins with one person, but spreads like warmed syrup. When I connect with my neighbors, they return it in kind.” I like that… peace spreads like warmed syrup over those pancakes she gave to a hungry, tired, lost soul. A simple yet profound expression of that pure place of grace.
The Upanishad reads, “As rivers flowing into the ocean find their final peace and their name and form disappear, the wise become free from name and form and enter into the radiance of the Supreme Spirit who is greater than all greatness. In truth, who knows God becomes God.” When I practice uncovering that which has become darkened, when I come from my wholeness, I become God. I become the very juicy, ripe, sweet presence of peace, waiting to be tasted, felt and embraced by those hungering for it.
So what are the pieces of peace I have found in my life this past week? Where and when have I become God, or witnessed another? There have been times when I experienced an inner state of well-being and have known the silence and quiet. Peace has shown up as being a non-anxious presence in the midst of conflict. Then of course, there are those times when I have been more aware of its absence, then its presence. But my favorite are those small acts of kindness… simple and profound, the very seeds, that when watered, will change our society.
This is the epitome of Jesus’ words, as scribed by the writer of the Gospel of John, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Why does Jesus say he is leaving peace with us? I think it’s because we are supposed to do something with that peace! We can’t just leave it to our neighbors. We each need to be responsible for the peace we want in the world. Jesus, and every master teacher leaves us peace because they know we are designed and made for this world to to do something with it.
It’s not just a nice theory, we ACTUALLY must continue to practice unbecoming who we never were, and unlearning our way back to knowing God, and therefore being God. When you hear voices raised, hostile words and tones – remember you are warm syrup. When you see a map or a globe – stop and know you are working for peace in our time. When you get angry, frustrated, disillusioned – vow not to add to the sum total of violence in the world. Whenever you feel a strong emotion coming on – a response to pain or pleasure, success or failure, extreme stress or thorough relief – say to yourself, “This, too, will pass.”
Remember the woman in Texas, who with one simple act of peace, a pancake breakfast, made a difference in a life. Peace begins with one person and spreads like warmed syrup. It wasn’t just left only by Jesus, it is left by each one of us every single day. While this is the last day of the second week of Advent where we focus on peace, ask yourself every day, “When have I left my peace with you?”