He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
This is the second Sunday of Advent, where we focus on Peace. The dictionary defines peace as free from disturbance; being quiet or tranquil. Synonyms include harmony, nonviolence, calm, or restfulness, and then as another meaning: solitude or privacy. Of course, like any other concept, peace means something different to everyone, depending upon their perspective. Peace to a Buddhist is different than peace to a General in the military, for instance.
For me, peace is the absence of conflict or disturbance, whether that conflict is spiritual, emotional, physical, psychological, political, you name it … if there is a lack of disturbance then peace must be present.
Obviously, there are many levels of feeling peace, and many more ways to lose the sense of peace, and Spirit provides a mechanism for reestablishing peace. It is what Christ did when he was out on the tumultuous sea. He commanded: Peace, be still. To quell every tempestuous thought that comes up, we can simply say, “Peace, be still.” These thoughts often arise as a result of our physical, earthly environment. Regardless of the origin, we can command our mind to stillness and the peace that results.
This is an important lesson to learn from peace: we release it from within; we choose to express it. It is not found ‘out there’. It is not gained from finding a situation or circumstance that is free from disturbance. It is found by being inwardly free from disturbance. Gandhi said, “There is no ‘way to peace’, there is only ‘peace’.
This is the peace that Christ came to share. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” The peace of Christ comes from within; it is already there. It is an inner peace, an inner calm and serenity that Christ gave us.
Our challenge is to know it and express it in times of conflict. A disturbance in our outer circumstances does not have to be reflected in our inner world. When those outer ‘dis-eases’ try to invade our inner calm, we manage them by commanding that they be still. Nothing can disturb the calm peace of our soul … without our granting the permission first.
We can detach our emotions, rise above a situation, and not give our mental energy to discord. Gandhi also said, “Whenever you meet an opponent, conquer him with love.” Our opponents are not always enticing us to war; sometimes they are simply part of our daily activities. Especially in this season, it seems that our schedules become hectic: holiday planning, shopping, and family and social commitments, can leave us feeling harried and scattered. Our festivities may drive us off our center of peace. One solution is to move into prayer; find a quiet time and seek relief in Spirit’s presence. Facing the activities of the season from inner tranquility helps us find the joy in the occasions.
When we let go of our stresses and anxieties, what’s left is serenity; as we release, we feel peace. As we let go of conflict, we are embraced by the calm of Christ. When we liberate ourselves from the bondage of how things should be, our expectations, then we enjoy the true meaning of Christmas: peace, joy, and love.
Somewhere over the last few centuries we have lost that meaning in Christmas. I’m not complaining too much, but it takes effort to keep ‘Christ’ in Christmas. I like giving gifts; it can be a wonderful way to express love. Yet, while joy and love are easily felt during the commerciality of the season, it takes effort to allow peace to express. It requires a prepared heart and mind to successfully intertwine the secular aspects of the holiday with the sacred.
But it can be done, and it is peace that bridges the gap. There may be a conflict between the earthly and holy perspectives of Christmas, but the conflict does not have to reside in our hearts.
If we know the gifts that we give to each other are symbols of honoring the Christ within them and appreciating their divinity, then the gap begins to shrink. If we can be grateful for whatever resources we have to share with others, and thank God for the love, joy, and peace of Christ in the entire process, then the chasm between the worldly and the spiritual can close entirely.
With persistent effort and awareness, we can change our perspective so that everything we do, all the celebrating and festivities are from that holy part within us. We then begin to honor the birthing of the Christ within us, the rekindling of that Christ flame within our hearts, through our giving.
We can also move from a narrow focus of peace to a more global vision of peace. Through demonstrating peace in our personal life, we begin the journey to creating peace on earth. We can remain calm in stressful situations and relinquish worry, fear, unforgiveness, and disparaging thoughts. As we choose peace in our own lives, we contribute to a world of peace.
I like the phrase: We forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because we deserve peace. Serenity leaps from our hearts into others near to us. There is a ripple effect with peace, as with joy and love. But also, with fear and anger. This is why it is so important to keep our minds focused on Christ, always re-establishing peace by aligning ourselves with Spirit. We have heard the expression, “Happy spouse, happy house.” Also true is, “Peaceful spouse, peaceful house.”
Peace, be still. It is an effective affirmation under challenging circumstances once the habit is established. We must practice affirming peace before disturbing situations arise. Many of us have habits of meeting a challenge – whether it is an argument, change, or inconvenience -- with fear, anger, disdain, resentment, victimhood, or other negative thoughts. It is at these times that we need our practice of the affirmation, “Peace, be still.” Mentally saying that phrase throughout the day prepares our minds for the turmoil of life that will arise. We deserve peace, and we can prepare our minds and hearts to accept peace when it surfaces.
As we become better at affirming peace in all situations and making peace a priority, our responses, desires, and choices begin to change. We become less irritable and more unflappable. We may not ever reach the state of peace of a Buddhist monk or a member of a convent, because they are far removed from the ordinary hectic lives that we lead. But through prayer, becoming still, and practicing affirmations we can become calmer, more peaceful, stronger, and where no thing or no one bothers us as much. Worldly desires diminish. I seem to be on a Gandhi kick today, but he said many good things about peace, including, “The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”
As we focus on peace, how we spend our time becomes more selective; we become more open to Spirit leading us. We eliminate key distractions, and Spirit begins to whisper loving ways to say ‘no’ to things we intuitively feel we should not engage.
In Mark 9:50 we are told: Be at peace with one another. Peace and harmony expand out into the world through us as we choose peace. God abides as peace in the hearts of all humankind. To be at peace with one another is to recognize Christ in each heart, in each face; it is to know that we are connected and are part of one family. As Mother Teresa said: If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
As we acknowledge this connection with Christ and each other, we begin to experience a peace that surpasses all understanding of the mind, because it is felt at the soul level. As we are told in Philippians 4:7, "...if we will allow it and prepare for it, this peace will guard our hearts and mind...."
So, on this second Sunday of Advent, I invite you this week to prepare for peace. Think of peace throughout the day; dwell in peace. Repeat the phrase, “Peace, be still,” until it becomes a habitual response. Allow the rebirthing of the Christ within you to establish a depth of peace that you have not yet experienced.
I leave you with a benediction from 2 Thessalonians 3:16: May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways.