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.
So then, I explored peace in a third way seeing CONFLICT as the big word and peace in small letters in the centre. How do I find peace in the midst of a Tsunami? When Jesus says, “I do not come to bring peace to this world, I come to bring a sword”, he is saying that he is the creative Spirit who causes us to let go or outgrow our old life, the narrow way of being that is only interested in maintaining the past. It is the old way that keeps me/us stuck, unhappy, angry, upset. The power of love is an expansive, explosive power of new life but the price is high. It is a destructive and a creative power that is the way to new life. We may first think it is some evil power, but sometimes it is for our own good. I thought of Jesus followers who did not want him to go to Jerusalem, … they will kill you. They wanted to protect him. He says, … I have to go. This is the paradox, the crisis that will bring peace.
On December 26, 2004 a tsunami killed over 200,000 people in 14 countries and created great suffering. There was a lot in the press about the demon Earth who did this and even some Christians said it was God’s judgement. I sat down to write a prayer to better understand and connect with the truth of the situation. The prayer has stayed with me since that underwater earthquake caused the tsunami. It still helps me in times of turmoil and devastation.
O Mother Earth, what can I say? We have been blessed in so many ways from your bounteous gifts. But this week your stretching and growing has caused an event, a wave of water killed thousands of people and brought heartache to so many more. We know you didn’t mean to cause this pain, but your human family is in great distress and mourning. The human family is pulling together to help those in need and bring love and compassion, help and forgiveness to this painful situation. I know I can forgive you for this because there was no evil intent and it is just a part of your life as you live and grow. I understand because it brings to mind times when my stretching and growing sent out a wave that affected the life of those around me, my family and friends and colleagues and resulted in dislocation and pain for my community. So, I just have to say that today I am sad, and I feel deeply for my brothers and sisters and for you, Mother Earth, and I will join with my human family to find new ways of connecting, helping, caring, and celebrating the love of life.
Today as I remember that prayer in the midst of the promise of peace, I recall understanding that many died, but I was not one of them. I still have life to offer, help to give, and love to share. Hope was smashed, a dream died, sorrow was overwhelming, and love seemed lost, but I am here with the gift of another day and gifts to share.
In last week’s advent service I asked people to identify a conflict in their life, and led a guided meditation through the paradox we often face within.
Is there conflict in your life right now? It might be recognized by a nagging ache, a hurt, a pain in your heart, an angry voice in your head, an argument, a memory of an action or a word that caused distance. Put some words to that conflict and recognize the feelings.
There is a voice in you that says, ‘Let it go’. And another voice says, ‘I can’t let it go.’
‘Stop thinking about it’, one voice says. ‘I can’t stop thinking about it’, says the other.
And then you hear, ‘Peace be with you’, and you say, ‘Yeah, Right! That’s not going to happen’.
And now you feel someone come close to you, put an arm around you, draw you close and hold you in silence. And you let them.
And you hear the words, ‘Breath, take a deep breath now’.
Just breathe into your heart space where love and peace reside.
Breathe into that space where all is well, just for now, this moment.
It is the place that allows you to know you are loved, you are forgiven, and you are set free.
Preparing for this service was a profound experience for me, and I hope for those who shared it with me. I want to share it with you in this second week of Advent with this blessing that I have used for years in various forms:
May the Light of Love keep shining deep within your spirit
May the hand of mercy clear the path and show you the way
May the voice of Wisdom speak loud enough so all of us can hear it
May the Peace of Christ be with you every day. Amen