“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9
How do we make peace? Is it even possible?
Woodrow Wilson seemed to think so. After WWI, he included a peace keeping organization, to be known as the League of Nations, in his 14 points. This visionary covenant, ratified by 42 countries with the exception of the United States, was designed to solve disputes and bring long-lasting peace to Europe.
Or how about Alfred Nobel, a “Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer.” One of five prizes established in his will, The Nobel Peace Prize has “been awarded annually (with some exceptions) to those who have ‘done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.’”
One name most notably absent from the long and distinguished list of winners is Eleanor Roosevelt who worked as Chairperson on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the United Nations, “an international organization committed to maintaining international peace.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a monumental document that testifies to the Oneness of all humanity and creation. I have included a link to it below.
According to the list of Peace Prize winners, the 20th century seems to have been and is filled with inspired and creative individuals and groups, seeking to make peace. Certainly, this kind of peacemaking is worthwhile and productive. After all, just as we can have useful and engaging beliefs, we can have useful and engaging ways of constructing or maintaining peace.
Because most of us humans identify with our mental constructs, feelings, emotions, sense perceptions, memories, etc., more generally called our beliefs, and because we also identify with all the ways we tend to organize and gather our beliefs into ideologies, groupings, tribes, nations, faiths, cultures, subcultures, systems, etc., etc. we tend to see different, unfamiliar and opposing beliefs as being a denial of each other’s very existence as identities, individuals, free persons, groupings, nations, etc.
And so, it could be said that peacemaking in the ways of this world as we humans have come to believe it to be, in this 21st century since Jesus’s birth, is about solving all the many conflicts, difficulties and problems that arise out of all our myriad and so very often differing beliefs.
In other words our ways of “making” peace have become more often than not about preventing or ending all our many perceived and imagined conflicts and differences in all their various ways of appearing, including but not limited to domination, subjugation, pillage and war, by building mostly static ideological (artificial) structures in the form of agreements, contracts and understandings (more beliefs) within what is always this fluid ever-changing reality that all life on earth actually shares.
Is this the kind of peacemaking to which Jesus was referring?
Between civil unrest, the pandemic and extreme political divisiveness, 2020 has not been a peaceful year. Even if you do not profess to be a Christian, it seems fitting to begin the new year meditating on peace.
In the Christian calendar, the new year begins on the first Sunday in December with the first four Sundays prior to Christmas known as the season of Advent. Advent in Latin means “coming”—a time during which Christians prepare for the coming of the Messiah’s birth. This is a spiritual preparation rather than a secular one, focusing on four themes—Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
Many denominations of Christian faith practice the lighting of candles on an Advent wreath decorated with evergreen branches. Three of the four candles are purple or blue representing fasting and repentance. A fourth pink one symbolizes joy. Each Sunday, the candles are lit in succession culminating in the lighting of a fifth candle known as the Christ candle on Christmas Eve. This last candle is white expressing “purity, light, regeneration, and godliness.”
If you grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, as I did, you probably watched Charlie Brown’s Christmas special. In it, a confused and befuddled Charlie Brown asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus replies, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” In the most innocent and sincerest voice, Linus quotes from the gospel of Luke chapter two:
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Verses 11-14
Just what sort of peace did the birth of the Christ child herald?
Following the verse that began this essay, Jesus goes on to say:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:9-12
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:44-45
These verses make it seem like our peacekeeping efforts will likely be in vain.
On May 1, 1992, Rodney King said, “People, I just want to say, can’t we all get along? Can’t we all get along?”
Can we get along? I don’t know. From what I have seen on social media, the answer is no.
Notice Jesus doesn’t say there will be peace on earth or peace between humanity. In fact, the verses from Mathew quoted above suggest that when you try to make peace, you will be persecuted and reviled; just because we try to make peace, it is not guaranteed. In fact, it sounds as if, things will get worse. So why try?
In Matthew 20:34-36 Jesus says:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
… but in John 14:27 he states:
“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.”
If Jesus didn’t bring the ‘peace’ he gives us, and we can’t make it, then how can these seemingly contradictory understandings of peace be reconciled? Or perhaps they do not need to be. Perhaps what Jesus was attempting to teach us is we cannot make real peace between different beliefs.
Jesus’s words in these regards are actually pointing to how we may, if we choose, begin to realize that all our beliefs are just beliefs, that they are not what we are, and not what the real world (Creation) is.
Rupert Spira describes it as follows:
“The peace that is inherent in us—indeed that is us—is not dependent on the content of experience, the circumstances, situations or conditions we find ourselves in. It is a peace that is prior to and at the same time present in the fluctuations of the mind. As such, it is said to be the peace that passeth understanding.”
-Hazrat Inayat Khan states it in kind:
“There are two aspects of individual harmony:
the harmony between body and soul,
and the harmony between individuals.
All tragedy in the world. in the individual
and the multitude, comes from lack of harmony
And harmony is the best given by producing
…. harmony in one’s life.”
If we awaken to the Peace that is us, then we can act with kindness and compassion towards those who are identified with their beliefs. Jesus said to walk the second mile, turn the other cheek, give not only your shirt but your cloak as well, love your enemy, pray for your enemy, let your light shine, be humble, be meek, give generously, show mercy.
While Jesus was teaching and living his message, he also confronted the pharisees, sadducees, and various others who opposed him, with the Truth. He overturned tables in the Temple, he broke the “rules” by healing on the sabbath, he called out the teachers of the law as snakes and vipers.
At one point in his ministry before he sent his disciples out into the mission field, Jesus gave them these instructions, “When you enter someone’s household, say, ‘Shalom aleikhem (Peace unto you)!’” He further explained that some people will not receive the Shalom—peace, tranquility, safety, well-being, welfare, health, contentment, success, comfort, wholeness and integrity–you extend, and when this happens, “let your Shalom return to you.”
What does all of this look like here and now? How does this translate on Facebook and other social media platforms where everyone struggles to have their beliefs confirmed? I don’t know. I do know that everything we do and say must come from the peace “that is inherent in us” just as it did for Jesus. Nothing he did ever came from anywhere other than Peace.
The following hymn by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson seems a perfect place to end.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me;
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
With God our creator, children all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.
With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow;
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
Written in tandem with John.