This adventure began when I was invited to lead a contemplative service during Advent. I said “yes” and was assigned the second week, which traditionally has the theme of Peace. John 14:27 came first to my mind, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Paul calls this the peace that passes all understanding in Philippians 4:7. And then a second scripture, Matthew 10:34, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, …a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household”. There it was – the paradox. This became my focus: Peace and Conflict coming together in our life experience.
Parker Palmer, in his new book, On the Brink of Everything, says that he envies people who practice contemplative disciplines to see the truth about themselves and the world, and in doing so often avoid the train wreck. Then in his words, “I’m a contemplative by catastrophe. My wake-up calls generally come after the wreck has happened and I’m trying to dig my way out of the debris. I do not recommend this path as a conscious choice. But if you, dear reader, have a story similar to mine, I come as the bearer of glad tidings. Catastrophe, too, can be a contemplative path.” (P. 59) I agree with Palmer that when we are able to embrace conflict we can often find the path to peace.
In the service I had two Christ candles. The first one, standing by itself was burning when people came in, indicating the One who came with the message of good news, glad tidings. The second Christ candle remained unlit in the Advent wreath for the One who is yet to come. This is Advent for me, living in the tension of what has come and what is yet to be. In expectation we prepare for the Christ who is yet to come, and in so doing we experience the presence of the holy in the gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
In preparing for the service I asked myself “What is Peace for me?” I didn’t give up after the first few easy answers came to me. Staying with the question is the contemplative way. Stay with it until you get the answer your heart, God or the Holy Spirit has to offer. Then I looked for the experience of peace in my memory, in the world or in people around me. How does peace happen? Leonard Cohen’s words came to me from his song, Treaty. “I’m angry and I’m tired all the time, I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty, between your love and mine”. Thinking about the words ‘Peace that passes all understanding’ I wondered how do I/we get there. I have a graphic with the word PEACE In large bold black letters and the word conflict is printed in small letters right in the centre. There it is. The dynamic of life, the paradox, the way forward, you can’t have one without the other. Peace and the Sword. The promise and the conflict. Continue reading