“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
--Matthew 5:9 NRSV
Rarely do we hear the word “peace” anymore in the sense of cessation of conflict between two or more parties. Perhaps we encounter the term “peace” in this way when we see a news article about another failed Mideast peace plan or when we are watching a documentary about a peace treaty at the end of World War II. For some, the word “peace” may conjure memories of peace marches during the Vietnam War or hippies making the peace sign. When I think of the word “peacemaker” I have images in my mind of diplomats sitting across the table from one another negotiating a treaty, but it doesn’t seem like a job for ordinary people like me and you. So, this Beatitude of Jesus seems at first unrelated to daily living.
We do hear the word “peace” a lot today in the sense of inner peace. So maybe it is worth beginning any discussion of peacemaking with the personal and internal. Mystics from various traditions teach that any efforts for peace in our world can only begin with peace inside us. The medieval Christian mystic Julian of Norwich said:
“Peace and love are always in us, existing and working, but we are not always in peace and in love.”
The Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
“Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.”
The Jain monk Satish Kumar writes:
Lead me from death to life,
from falsehood to truth.
Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts,
our world, our universe.
Peace, peace, peace.
The first step to making peace in the world seems to be finding peace in ourselves. Attempts to make peace with those around us have a difficult time succeeding when we proceed from a conflicted place inside of ourselves.
As we move outside of ourselves into the world around us, peace may seem like an abstract concept for those of us privileged enough to live in save neighborhoods that are largely free of violence. Yet it doesn’t take much effort to see violence at work in all areas of our lives. In his writings about leadership, Parker Palmer writes that our perception of the world around us shapes our actions in that world. When we view the world as hostile and full of scarcity, we act with hostility and view everyone as a threat to our interests.
[A shadow that affects leadership] is the perception that the universe is essentially hostile to human interests and that life is fundamentally a battleground. As I listen to everyday discourse, it is amazing to me how many battle images I hear as people go about the work of leadership. We talk about tactics and strategy, about using our big guns, about do or die, about wins and losses. The imagery here suggests that if we fail to be fiercely competitive, we're going to lose, because the basic structure of the universe is a vast combat. The tragedy of that inner shadow, that unexamined inner fear, is that it helps create situations where people actually have to live that way. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. . . Our commitment to competition is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, the world is competitive, but only because we make it that way. Some of the best places in our world, some of the best corporations, some of the best schools, are learning that there is another way of going about things, a way that's consensual, that's cooperative, that's communal. They are fulfilling a different prophecy and creating a different reality.
Palmer points out how we create the opposite of peace in our families, our workplaces, our schools and our places of worship when we enter them expecting competition and conflict. When the only tool in our tool belt is to dominate others before they dominate us, there can be no peace. When we learn ways of living that create compromise, community and sharing of resources, we create a new reality.
In this precarious time in the political life of our nation, we are in need of peacemakers. Peace understood in this sense is not the avoidance of conflict or the absence of struggle. Instead peacemakers help create contexts and spaces where people in conflict can feel secure enough to let their guard down, listen to other points of view and find the common good once more.
I have an experiment for you to try out. On any given day try to keep track of the number of violent images and words you hear or experience. These words or images can be news stories about violence or conflict. They can also be cases where imagery of war and violence are used in ordinary situations such as business meetings or conversations with friends or family. Count the number of times something violent is in the media and advertising you consume. If you are alert, I bet you will quickly lose track of the number of images and words involving violence, war and weaponry you experience in an ordinary day.
We are saturated with images of violence and war. It pervades our language and our actions. Is it then any wonder that we know so little about making peace? Peace has become a rare word in our culture. It is time for people to understand the word peace as more than an unrealistic and abstract idea but rather as a vital way of changing reality around them.
The reason Jesus said peacemakers are blessed is because they not only see but already live in the reality of God’s peace. It is possible for you and me to experience that blessedness too. I found the following quotation today, and I can’t get it out of my head. It seems to fit with the kind of peacemaking Jesus was pronouncing as blessed.
You are someone only in as far as you are love, and only what has turned to love in your life will be preserved. What love is you can learn from Jesus…. So be converted to love every day. Change all your energies, all your potential, into selfless gifts for the other person. Then you yourself will be changed from within and through you God’s kingdom will break into the world.
--H. van der Looy, Rule for a New Brother
May you be converted to love today.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851