Hopefully, as you sit here this morning in this beautiful place, among Friends, you feel a sense of ease and peace. For these few moments we share together, there’s nothing else to do, nowhere else we need to go. We can just settle into the quiet, listen for God together, and feel filled up by peacefulness. Depending on how busy our days typically are, that kind of rest may feel like a treat. For just a little while, the burdens lift from our shoulders, our muscles relax, our breathing comes easier. We can just be here, now, and let the past and the future take care of themselves for a bit.
Peace is as important as oxygen and sunlight if we want a healthy and happy life. It’s an unobtrusive quality of God that is always here, always shining softly no matter what our circumstances may be. The trouble is, our minds are constantly active, scanning and noticing every new thing on the horizon. We watch the world and identify other people as friends or foes, trying to keep ourselves safe.
And even if we discover how to live with a measure of peace in our lives, we still invariably do what humans do—we get distracted. Our attention follows shiny objects and glittering promises; we devour sensational stories and get swept up in personal dramas. We continually rush off on mental wild goose chases, trying to solve problems out there in the world without first learning how to listen and attend to the closer needs of our souls. Thankfully, God can help with that.
The image of peace that Isaiah gives us is a beautiful picture of a world that has been redeemed and healed by God’s love. All nations stream to the Lord’s temple on the highest of mountains. They come to be taught by God, so they can walk in the paths of peace, leaving any misunderstandings to God to sort out, turning their weapons of war into tools for growing and feeding the beloved community.
This vision isn’t about who is smartest or strongest, who has the best tools or the wisest prophets. Isaiah tells us this is all about God—God’s discernment, God’s peace, God’s guidance, God’s harmony. By coming together at the temple on the highest mountain of the world, seeking God’s truth, the people are led as the way opens, and the result, what they all create together, is a beautiful, peaceful world.
I like the way Quaker Thomas Kelly writes about this in his book, The Eternal Promise. He suggests that in times of fear and conflict in our world, when we feel anything but peaceful,
“No giant figure of heroic size will stalk across the stage of history today, as a new Messiah. But in simple, humble, imperfect people like you and me wells up the spring of hope. We have this treasure of seed in earthen vessels—very earthen vessels. You and I know how imperfect we are. Yet those little demonstrations of love and goodwill…deeds done in the midst of suffering…stir hope that humanity as a whole will be aroused to yield to the press and surge of the Eternal Love within them.”
Remembering and acting from the eternal love within us…that is Thomas Kelly’s path to peace. Kelly and many other Friends across the centuries have responded to the world’s cries for peace in unique and lasting ways, bringing more equality, justice, reverence, and harmony to people and systems the world over.
Even though God may eventually lead us to impact the peace of the world on a larger scale, most of us learn about peace much closer to home. We already have three qualities—our awareness, our self-honesty, and our ability to choose—that can help us sort out and direct our experiences so we create more of what we want and less of what we don’t.
Awareness simply means what we’re paying attention to. When we’re not really aware of our attention, we’ll just follow whatever loudest or shiniest or most annoying. But it’s possible to use our awareness to notice our attention and to bring it back to something that creates a better experience.
For example, if things are moving too fast and we feel overwhelmed and worried about the world, perhaps we’re just getting swept along in the flow of unhappy events. When we become aware that we’re stressed, or worried, or feeling discouraged, we notice that we’re out of sync with a sense of peace. We feel disconnected. We may be putting more stock in whatever is frightening or worrying us in that moment than we are in God.
George Fox gave us wonderful way to use our awareness to seek out peace in any circumstance. He wrote,
“Looking down at sin, and corruption, and distraction, you are swallowed up in it; but looking at the Light that discovers them, you will see over them. That will give victory; and you will find grace and strength and there is the first step of peace.”
Seen this way, it isn’t the worrisome headlines or the latest corruption that gets our full attention, but rather our awareness is of the Light that brings those hidden things to the surface. The force of truth exposes the error, so it can be met and healed and resolved. That’s God at work, even in what seems to be the chaos of our time. And that awareness is a path to peace.
Self-honesty is another tool that helps us find peace within and without. Carl Jung was a psychologist in the early 20th century who taught that we project onto other people the things we don’t want to see in ourselves. This means that whatever we’ve blocked from our self-awareness—maybe we’re short-tempered, judgmental, or jealous—we’ll see continually in the world around us. That probably creates upset for us and maybe conflict too, but it isn’t there simply to torture us. Instead, those mirroring experiences help us grow by giving us an opportunity to see ourselves more clearly, learn where we are wounded, and begin to let those hurting places heal. Our ability to be honest and gentle with ourselves goes a long way toward helping us to live more peaceful lives. More peaceful on the inside, and more peaceful on the outside.
Quaker John Calvi is an author and healer who wrote a book called, The Dance between Hope and Fear. I love what he writes about this important ability to be honest with ourselves in the name of compassion:
“Our capacity to love our neighbor is diminished because we don’t do such a good job of loving ourselves…As we look at the task of peacemaking in these times when the war drums are beating so loud and the potential for bad news is so fierce, we want to be absolutely careful and gentle with ourselves, and sometimes this is a concept that is very difficult. Maybe we didn’t grow up learning it at home. But, I would like to suggest to you that the more mercy you have for yourself, the more mercy you will have for the next person. The more patience and tolerance that you have for the aspects of yourself for which you are not comfortable, the more patience you are going to have for the next person.”
Along with this idea of self-honesty comes an extra bonus: what I think of as the freedom of imperfection. Many of us spend a lot of energy trying really, really hard to do everything right, as much of the time as possible. If any of you have tried that approach, you may have learned, like me, that perfectionism is a recipe for failure—and major stress. As we get more comfortable with the idea of God’s grace, we need—less and less—to be perfect. It slowly begins to dawn on us that it is a wonderfully messy and imperfect thing to be human and be loved by God.
In 2001 Lloyd Lee Wilson, author and former general secretary of Friends General Conference, wrote
“Slowly we learn that we are all broken, all less than perfect, and that God loves us, each one, wonderfully even so. Slowly we learn that the real love for one another we crave is not the ideal love of my personal façade for your façade, but the imperfect intent to love that my flawed self can offer to the real you.”
Once we become aware of what we’re paying attention to when we’ve lost touch with peace, and we’re honest with ourselves about what’s going on and what we’re feeling, we can purposefully make good choices that move us toward what we want to create and experience in our world. If we feel all knotted up inside and we see where our frustration is coming from, we can invite God into the situation and choose to act in a way that will bring peace.
And when the light of Christ is shining in our circumstance and we see it, all we have to do is choose the next loving thing. If we’re in a conflict with someone, choosing the loving thing might be to turn our spears into pruning hooks or trade our swords for plowshares. Maybe we pray for them or wish them well. Maybe we let things go or simply refuse to think badly of them. If we’re feeling anxious about our world, the loving thing might be to spend time in prayer or call someone we love or think about all the good that people are doing—every hour of every day—all around us.
If we’re upset about injustice, doing a loving thing might mean getting involved, lifting up the issue, writing a letter or making a call. It also might mean sitting in silence, holding the idea of a just, loving, peaceful world in our minds and hearts.
Whatever we feel led to do with the truth God shines into our awareness, we have the creative power and potential to act on it. When we choose to act in love, we can intentionally use our energy to help bring about a world of peace, where we won’t need to “train for war anymore.”
What We’re Left With
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes that Christ himself is our peace. The light of Christ is with us continually, illumining and meeting our needs, bringing the wisdom of self-awareness, and the grace of healing to the hurting places we still have inside.
And in the same way, the light of Christ can heal our splits externally too, bringing us all together—citizens of one world, children of one God, members of the same cosmic household. “In him the whole structure is joined together,” Paul says. “[It] grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into the dwelling place for God.”
That is the peaceful world God envisions for us—a beautiful and sacred place, the highest mountain of creation, where we are loved and guided and joined by God. No swords or spears needed. Just peace. Just fellowship. Just love, the whole world over.
In closing, I share a quote from Mary Lord, who is a former Friends United Meeting board member and a peace advocate with AFSC and FCNL:
“The Spirit wants our peacemaking efforts to succeed. If we are willing to follow our leadings—to be followers of God rather than trying to lead God—we will be brought to what we need to do and given what we need to do it.”
And that truly is the path to peace.
- OT: Isaiah 2: 2-4
- NT: Ephesians 2: 14-22
TODAY’S CALL TO WORSHIP
“If God ever spoke
God is still speaking.
If God has ever been in mutual and reciprocal communication with the persons God has made,
God is still a communicating God
as eager as ever to have listening and receptive souls.
If there is something of God’s image and superscription
in our inmost structure and being,
we ought to expect a continuous revelation
of God’s will and purpose through the ages…
God is the Great I am,
not a Great I Was.
-Rufus Jones, 1948