As I said in my last post, our meeting's fall small groups just started up last Wednesday night, and I chose a group that is focusing on reflecting on and sharing about our Sunday morning worship times. Part of that class is homework: we are supposed to write a reflection before we come to the Wednesday night group. So I thought I'd share that reflection with you, especially since today is the International Day of Peace, and that's what we focused on last Sunday.
Celebration of the International Day of Peace
Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the peacemakers”
Worship this week focused on peace at all levels. There was not a sermon, but there were options of various things we could do during the sermon slot. We could walk the Peace Trail and read quotes posted there; we could walk a labyrinth set up in the gym; we could sit in the sanctuary and meditate on queries or quotes; we could walk around the sanctuary and read quotes posted on the walls; we could write or draw on a peace flag.
I chose to walk the trail. It was a beautiful day and I love being out in nature, especially when I'm intentionally trying to pay attention to God. I should do this more often! I found myself being a little bit annoyed at people (from our congregation!) who were just chatting as they walked along the trail. It was OK if it had to do with the theme, but otherwise it got on my nerves. I had to just let that go, and I thought about the fact that one of the ways we build peace is through relationships—so hopefully these people were building relationships that create more peace in the world.
We were encouraged to pay attention to an image or word that surfaced during this time. For me the image of walking, holding a little hand came to mind. I do this often these days, but was not at the moment—E was happily in his “place of worship,” as we refer to it at NVFC. But I thought about how everyone should walk like they're holding the hand of a child, whether it's literally true or simply figurative.
Why? I wondered. Well, when you walk with a little child's hand in yours, you are drawn into the child's world, which is often a world of wonder, attention to detail, and many, many questions. It also requires you to slow down, which necessitates patience, a sense of play, and interest in what's going on around you. Holding the hand of a small child also often means that you are helping them. You have their safety in mind, you're watching out to make sure they're not hurt or endangered, because you love them.
I thought walking through life with this kind of perspective would be helpful to anyone and make the world a more peaceful place. The last part, about thinking of the safety of the other and making sure that we're being helpful, can turn condescending, but I think if we have that sense of protective love rather than paternalism, that it can also be a beautiful way to think of other human beings.
Another noticing I had was that I really appreciated having a couple of ladies from China walking the trail, with Scot explaining things to them and introducing them to people. Although some people got on my nerves for talking, this did not. I thought this was an excellent way to foster peace. These women are here learning English and finding out about American culture. I'm glad they're finding out about Quakerism! And I think it's just this kind of international relationship-building that can create the most peace worldwide.
I also thought about the verse Romans 12:17, which says, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” because it was posted along the trail. I thought about how this doesn't mean we live without conflict with everyone. Sometimes it will look like we're creating conflict because we're not willing to let it just be covered over. But living peaceably often requires a rejection of the smooth adoption of the status quo. When we do that it looks like we're just being ornery, or we're just troublemakers—rebels without a cause or something. But when there truly is a cause, it is necessary to create conflict in order to live at peace with all people.
It's so hard, though, because it's so easy for me as an American to just live in a place that looks like it's peaceful, and yet it's a false peace. I'm not living at peace with others, because the things I have and the lifestyle I lead make it impossible for others to have enough.
Reflecting on this thought later I realized I often make the automatic connection between peace and the amount and dispersal of available resources. This is partially true—fighting over resources causes a great deal of conflict in a non-productive way. But part of these resources are not physical, some of them are emotional, as in situations of abuse, etc. And really, we can fight no matter how many or how few resources we have. Living at peace is more about our inward state, although it often also has to do with our outward state.
In order to live peaceably we must have humility: to see the world through other people's eyes, to love one another so much that we'll keep each other out of harm's way to the extent we would our own child, to walk through the world never losing that childlike sense of wonder.