We hear a lot about “Peace on Earth” this time of year. In song, in holiday readings and movies… maybe even in our hearts. After a year like the one we just had (not that I believe it’s going to magically resolve on January 1), Peace sure sounds like a welcomed relief. But how can we find it? What does it look like? And, in times like these, would we know it if we saw it?
I’ve always been connected to the idea of “Peace.” As a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s, I was well aware of the popular culture ideas of the definition of Peace as the opposite of war (which at the time meant our unpopular involvement in Vietnam). I sang with gusto songs about having peace like a river, singing in perfect harmony, and letting peace begin with me. When I learned to play the guitar, one of the first songs I learned that wasn’t part of my weekly lesson was “One Tin Soldier,” which became an anthem of mine whenever I was asked to play. For those of you who don’t know the song, it told the story of two communities – one on a mountain, which had an invaluable treasure buried beneath a stone. The valley folk coveted that treasure, and invaded the mountain kingdom to make it their own. They killed their neighbors, and dug up the treasure, but found only three words beneath the stone – “Peace on Earth.” Ironically, the song formed the soundtrack for one of the most violent movie franchises of the ‘70s.
As I got older, I joined like-minded people in spreading the message that it’s better for us all if we set aside our differences and work together. For example, I have been a member of Peace Action Maine, and worked for a summer at Seeds of Peace camp, an organization that brings together teens and adults from warring countries to help them to work together for a goal of finding common ground. My career as a mediator allows me to help lead people on a micro level to find understanding and help them to mend their relationships and have more peaceful interactions.
These endeavors touch upon the other common meaning of the word Peace as a state of quiet, serenity and tranquility. It alludes to feelings of relaxation and freedom from care or worry. When a blog topic occurs to me, usually the first thing I do is Google a keyword, and just poke around at the different references and ideas that appear when I do. As regular readers of my Blog know, I’m a word nerd. I know that the roots and origins of words are important. So when I search for a word, the responses often lead me somewhere I didn’t know I was heading when I started my search.
For example, the Hebrew word for peace, šālôm, translated most often by the Greek word, eirēnē, has a wide semantic range, much more complex than the simple idea of tranquility; including the notions of totality or completeness, success, fulfillment, wholeness, harmony, security and well being.
According to the bible, which was written in Hebrew and Greek, Jesus said to his followers toward the end of his life: “I leave you my peace, my peace I give you.” But in every day life Jesus spoke neither Hebrew nor Greek, but a Galilean dialect of Aramaic. In Aramaic, “peace” (shaloma) is the idea of complete, perfect harmonization with the Divine – being one with all that is. So, in other words, Jesus (known traditionally as the “Prince of Peace”) was making a statement that he was leaving for his followers the part of himself that is in harmony with god – allowing the possibility for them to be similarly one with the divine. A brief but interesting analysis of the biblical idea of Peace may be found here.
Being “at Peace,” and having as part of oneself harmonization with what’s greater than us – what some of us call the “Universe,” sounds like a worthy goal. However, in truth we as human beings are anything but a peaceful species, in any sense of the word. Our approach to the world has historically been closer to the valley people in the song – you have what I want, and I will take it from you, by force if necessary. This “fend for yourself” attitude has fluctuated in popularity over different points of our history, but it always seems as if the stronger part of who we are as human beings is one of selfishness, aggression and bellicosity – doing what we need to survive as individuals rather than working together toward a common goal, fostering a deep inequality. This all stems from a perception of the world as finite, engendering a fear of lack. Why else would we hoard toilet paper during a pandemic? Even though there are certain peaceful individuals and groups of individuals among us, the majority has proven time and time again to be those who are out for themselves. We’re not very good at singing in perfect harmony, despite occasional forays into cooperative experiments. It’s just not in our nature.
So is “Peace on Earth” an impossible goal? Not necessarily. I’m not a Christian in the traditional sense, but I think Jesus was on to something. Almost all world religions teach the advantages of being selfless, and seeking “Peace,” as difficult as that may be for a species whose biological bent is toward self-preservation, often at all costs, and in any way that organism deems necessary. This practice – for it takes a lot of practice, to be sure – is usually focused on finding that inner peace of which Jesus spoke – that internal harmonization with something larger than oneself. Once we make peace with ourselves, with our upbringing, with our faults and foibles, with our place in the world, and learn to truly love what we see, we can understand that whatever happens, things will always work out for the best. Since we are worthy of the best the Universe (“God/Goddess,” “the Divine,” “Spirit,” or however you see the concept of what’s out there that’s much bigger than us) can give us, all we need to do is wait for things to play out. Since there is enough for all, and we are all in line and entitled to that abundance, there’s no need to push others out of the way to get what we want and need. No need for fighting, wars, for polarization, tribalism/nationalism or other ideas that keep us separate from one another and keep us from Peace on Earth.
So how do we reach this state of inner Peace? Through self-reflection (which may involve counseling), meditation, relaxation and breathwork, and affirmation of our abundant Universe, our place in it, and the promise we are afforded just by being born. Perhaps, for some of us, by tapping into that gift that Jesus imparted before he passed out of this world – his Peace, or harmonization with the divine. Perhaps through the tools given to us through other spiritual traditions, such as kirtan, yoga, chanting and so many more. There are as many paths to inner peace as there are human beings, and no one size fits all. But it’s eminently achievable.
Let there be Peace on Earth… and let it begin with me.
(you may purchase my Dove suncatcher here)