I’ve struggled with it.
I sometimes suspect that the word peace is used to shush rightful responses to real harm. I’m tempted to think peace is for reality deniers. And besides, being a broken human, I certainly can’t live peace.
This month as I pondered a word for the year, “peace” kept rising in my heart. “Peace I give you,” Christ said the night he was executed. “Not as the world gives.” This implies that peace and conflict of the worst kind are are not mutually exclusive.
Clearly that kind of peace is supernatural. It can’t be achieved; it must be received. In this world of vengeance and vitriol, I must ask the Giver to help me live in peace.
First century Rome wasn’t exactly hospitable to the early Christians, but St. Paul, that persecutor who slowly became a peacemaker, wrote to the church there, “If possible, as much as it lies with you, be at peace with all men.”
All of them, even the ones causing conflict in the church; even the ones trying to stamp out their faith. So this peace is not for reality deniers; quite the opposite. It is for those who understand that the source of conflict is in the brokenness of original sin, and that the spiritual battle to love our enemies is the real front.
While I was still thinking about this, I happened to read The Genesis Problem, a 2011 essay by Bishop Robert Barron which helped me recognize that peace is written into the order of creation. We are actually out of sync with reality whenever we move away from Christ’s peace.
In The Genesis Problem, Barron links the Genesis account of creation to Jesus’ message of peace in the Sermon on the Mount. This often-overlooked connection can help us see God in a new light, and in that light, become the peacemakers he called us to be.
Barron begins begins by reminding us that the opening chapters of Genesis are not to be read as a scientific text. (He points out elsewhere that science as we know it was invented out of the Christian worldview some 14 centuries after the last biblical document.) Genesis obviously isn’t analyzing data from experimentation and evidence; that’s not not its purpose. Genesis is poetry; its first chapter is a theologically revealed account of creation’s unfolding. On those terms, as C.S. Lewis would say, Genesis is “true myth.”
“In almost every mythological cosmology in the ancient world,” Barron begins, “God or the gods establish order through some act of violence. They conquer rival powers or they impose their will on some recalcitrant matter.”
But in the phrase “let there be light,” he continues, Genesis reveals God as giving rise to the universe “through a sheerly generous and peaceful act of speech,” and “this means that the most fundamental truth of things–the metaphysics that governs reality at the deepest level–is peace and non-violence.”
The metaphysics that governs reality is not violence; it is peace.
Here Barron connects Genesis with Jesus. “Can you see,” he urges, “how congruent this is with Jesus’ great teachings on non-violence and enemy love in the Sermon on the Mount? The Lord is instructing his followers how to live in accord with the elemental grain of the universe.”
I’ve never seen the two connected in quite that way but it makes perfect sense. Jesus, fully God and fully man, would take peace and non-violence to its highest perfection in both word and deed, offering us not merely an example, but access to his gift of supernatural peace. St. Paul, writing to the Philippians, called it “the peace that passes understanding.”
This peace speaks the truth in love; it can be vibrantly oppositional to those violently opposed to God’s ways. But it knows the difference between God’s passion to set things right and our own self-righteous anger: “The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
Jesus made peace in a strange way, by dying, philosophy professor Peter Kreeft says in Following the Call, an eclectic reader of reflections on the Sermon on the Mount. ”He gives it ‘not as the world gives’ because [it] is a different sort of peace. It is not the peace we expect, not a sort of comfortable niceness. Jesus was not nice…Jesus was a fire.”
We often worry that to live Christ’s peace is to be doormatishly submissive to others. A reflection I read recently pointed out that Jesus was submissive, “but only to the will of the Father.” That explains both his death and his fire. Love is both.
Christ is calling us to live in harmony with our true Source. When we’re angry or snarky or petty or argumentative, we’re going against Christ, against the elemental grain of the universe.
When we ask for Christ’s peace to help us love the person who is in our way or hurting us, even the person in opposition to Christ’s truth, we’re moving with the Giver, who spoke “Let there be light” and there was light.
More often than not, when I’m able to respond to the difficult situations in my life with Christ’s love, things begin to change between me and those I find difficult. Someone who hates the Christian faith is more open to hearing me out. The ones I tend to argue with find me hearing them out and understanding grows.
So knowing already that I won’t be able to live up to it, peace is my word of the year. I’m a verbal warrior at heart, so if I’m ever able go with the grain of the universe, I’ll know the Giver granted it.
And I’ll look for the creative signs that show it was all his work.
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You might also enjoy Make Me an Instrument of Peace. Like My Stella Guitar. It first appeared in the Denver Post when I was a Colorado Voices columnist. No longer available on their website, it is reprinted with their permission.
Father Jacques Phillippe’s Searching for and Maintaining Inner Peace is a small powerhouse of spiritual wisdom. It is also available on Audible and is beautifully read by Sr. Miriam Heiland on the Hallow App.
Braver Angels, “a national movement to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic” is seriously worth your time if you’re hungry for civil conversation between political opponents. You can learn a great deal about the issues when interlocutors care more about respect, communication, and issues than they do about mocking the opposition or building a personal brand. Check out their website and podcast (favorite episode here). Guaranteed to open your mind, no matter where you see yourself on the political spectrum!
Photos by Aaron Burden and Conrad Ziebland on Unsplash.
3 thoughts on “Why Peace is my Word of the Year”
But Barron also said that pacifism was unrealistic. I’ll try to find the video and post it.
Bishop Barron https://www.thebostonpilot.com/opinion/article.asp?ID=186657 off handedly says “I’m not advocating pacifism.” Good article anyway.
Thanks! That’s right: he’s not an absolute pacifist; there are tough distinctions to be made in this fallen world for sure. I loved the post you shared too; his articles always teach me something! It was great to hear from you!
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