Peace, Be Still [Advent 2014]

FullSizeRenderThe scattered nature and lateness of this post could be due to many things. Final papers to write, final papers to grade, presentations, Christmas baking, gift shopping, and a headcold that just arrived full-force. But mostly, it’s due to confusion.

I’d been thinking about Joy for the last week or so, and I’ve just found out that Joy is actually the third Sunday of Advent. Probably. This makes sense, since Jesus isn’t here yet so Joy can wait, but come on. I haven’t thought about the others at all.

Particularly Peace.

To be honest, I didn’t know that much about peace until I made friends with Friends. Before, I thought it was maybe the easy way out, a fool’s hope, an over-idealized way of looking at the world. And yet, while the latter two may be true, peace is not easy. Peace is a hard thing.

I remember when this was made clear to me. My sophomore year of college, I took a class about those who spoke truth in their culture, prophets and radicals. We read the diary of a Quaker preacher, John Woolman. His views on peace and simplicity were extreme and challenging. My professor, who I loved and respected, talked about his own tension with pacifism. He said he didn’t know what he would do if someone burst into his home and threatened his wife and children. He said he hoped he would chose nonviolence, because that is a major component of his faith, but he did not know. He couldn’t say.

After my initial shock that this man was human, I realized that a pacifist’s views on war are only a manifestation of a deeper truth that underlies everything he or she does, buys, consumes, produces. It’s easy to hold a political ideology. It’s when real life happens that pacifism is harder. It means choosing the path that creates the least pain for those in the most pain…and often this path is the most painful.

Our world is exploding, figuratively and literally. Between Ferguson and New York City, Syria and China, Ebola and ISIS, our own country’s torture of political prisoners, our world is bleeding out. Our hearts are bleeding. And that is on the national level; every day in our own homes, we long for the peace we cannot feel, that we fear cannot exist.

Peace has always been hard to find. We’re not necessarily unique in our violence. It’s just that it’s always coming from different places, which is troubling and unsettling. Our safe places are becoming unsafe; our safe people are becoming dangerous. All people are dangerous. It’s not a way to live, but it’s the way it is.

Someone on Twitter said, “If you ever wondered what you would have done during Civil Rights, now’s when you find out.” I wonder that, and I wonder if I would have been strong enough to follow Jesus during the days when he was on this earth. To value peace and justice enough to stand strong for what I believe, which is all lives matter, all people deserve justice, and all people deserve peace.

There have been signs in Ferguson that say “No Justice, No Peace.” They’re tied together, those two. These are not just times; these are not peaceful times. I feel the waves, I feel the currents pulling at me. I don’t know how to be still, be at peace, when so much in the world requests my attention, requests that I not be comfortable.

Two years ago at this time, I talked about being somewhere between peace and joy. I quoted Anne Lamott who quotes Wendell Berry who said, “It gets darker and darker and then Jesus is born.” I love this quote with all of my heart. I feel like it’s my life over and over again. Darker and darker and then Jesus is born and I can do it once more. Another day.

The only way I can land is that Jesus is the only one who calms the waves. That tiny baby we are waiting for is the one who, as a man, stretched out his hand and said, “Peace, be still.” He will do that, he did do that, he’s still doing that, but I don’t think he would want us to be still and complacent.

I think he wants us to be still and live our lives as people of peace. To listen in stillness to the voices of the oppressed and the ones awaiting justice. To be people who work for peace and justice. To be brave enough to believe that peace is possible. To cry over the world’s darkness, but then remember that Jesus is born. Because of that, and only because of that, we can find peace.

Peace, be still. And work for peace.

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