The Christian faith, as I see it, is two parallel journeys. One is an inward journey to nurture the spark of the divine within us. The second is an outward journey towards the incarnation of God in the world. These can be viewed through infinite lenses, depending on what aspect of the infinite Divine we’re talking about. This week, as a part of our Advent time, we talked about Peace – finding peace within so that we can make peace in the world.
I’m going to do something I don’t normally do and offer brief, concrete advice. We try to hold answers lightly to make space for questions, but some things I think I know. You should not infer that I’m great at practicing what I preach, but when I do, I feel pretty good about the results. They are certainly easier said than done, but saying is maybe the first part of doing. So, this is how to find inner peace:
- Mindfulness. This can mean a lot of things and can come about through a variety of practices, but the goal is to become self-aware. We can learn to stand outside of ourselves and see our reactions to our circumstances as they are happening. Then we can decide what to do about it. We can move from reaction to response. When we fall headlong into rage or pity or self-abnegation, we are not in control and neither is God. When we see that falling and decide not to fall, we bring the God-out-there and the God-in-here closer together because they are really the same thing.
- Know what is your work to do. This comes out of mindfulness. As we become more aware, understanding better who we are, we will come to understand the precise role we can play in the world. We might call this a calling. Frederick Buechner describes it this way: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” This means that you can pursue your work with confidence, knowing it is yours to do. It means you can let go of the other stuff without guilt or shame because it is not your work to do.
- Surround yourself with people who love you. It is hard for anyone to stay mindful and focus on their work if they are surrounded with people trying to throw them off course. This doesn’t mean cutting ourselves off from people who are distracting or diminishing. It just means you need to spend a significant amount of time around people who lift you up and help you out. This also does not mean that the people who love you won’t challenge you. Quite the opposite. They will challenge you to stay true to who you are and join you in the expectation of the work that is yours to do. Love means helping you to be the most who you are, seeing you with the eyes of God, not as a character in their story, but as the author of your own.
So that’s my formula. If we do all these things, we will be on the path to peace, not just inner peace, but peace in the world. People who are mindful and know their own work are the best at helping others to be mindful and the best at supporting the work of others because their egos aren’t tied up in knots over what is not theirs. There is a calm, a peace, a wholeness – shalom – that is contagious. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t exactly know how that spirals up into world peace, but I know that the alternative is to spiral down into division and conflict as every ego grasps for control, for possession, for dominance. So let’s begin the inward journey and see how that prepares us to make peace.