Sunday, November 13, 2016

Peace on Earth

An experience from 8 or 9 years ago has been on my mind quite a bit this week.

We were living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Church wasn't part of my life at the time, but some good friends raved about their church.  It sounded really unique and in line with our beliefs, so one Sunday, my husband, six year old daughter, and I decided to check it out.

As we drove up, the little white building with a blue roof stood out against the pinon trees and the mountains.  I'd driven by it a few times, but I had never even realized it was a church.  Following suit with the non-traditional appearance, the service was also out of step with my other church experiences - casual, funny, inspired.

As the service was coming to a close, the kids came in from Sunday school and everyone started confusingly scrambling around.  In the shuffle, I lost my people, and after a few minutes, I finally realized that this game of musical chairs was actually everyone beginning to form a circle around the sanctuary.  I ended up in the circle holding hands with two people I didn't know.

The pianist started playing "Let There Be Peace on Earth" and everyone began to sing.  Not really knowing the words to the song all that well, I just listened, and after a verse or so, I realized that they were singing, "Now, there is peace on earth, and yes, it begins with me."

And it just really hit me.  I was overwhelmed with unexpected tears, and my hands were awkwardly occupied by the two strangers on either side of me.  I didn't pull away to wipe the tears; I just let myself be held in this state of vulnerability, tears on my face, listening to a song proclaiming a reality that I so badly wanted to be true.

And I felt this almost magical sense of being able to muster a belief in that moment that both inside and outside that funny looking building, there really was peace on earth.  I felt no violence, no injustice, no war.  All that felt really true was peace, and that moment was cathartic for me.

Afterwards, I started noticing some things.  I noticed my long held and deeply conditioned view that good needed to fight violence and evil in the world.  And I realized how very far from the reality of peace on earth I felt when I held that point of view.   When looking at it as a fight, peace felt like centuries or millennia away, maybe just completely impossible.  How could we end the immense amount of injustice in our world by chipping away at it, one little bit at a time?

But the experience I had felt like a contradiction of that view.  In that moment in the church, peace on earth didn't feel far away or unattainable at all.  It felt like a reality I could contact, a reality I could strengthen and feed by visiting it, feeling it, believing in it.

After that day, I also started to notice my own thinking around violence.  I noticed how I could easily get caught in thinking that I knew the good guys from the bad guys, what was right and wrong, who was responsible, other people's intentions.  Even in situations for which I had absolutely no first hand knowledge, I saw how easy it was for me to slip into a perspective that I had it figured out and I was on the right side.  I noticed how this whole mental pattern was feeding a war within myself.

As I felt some familiar pangs of that war this week, I've been longing to find a way to the feeling that I had in the church that day.  I've been searching myself for the memory of how to use my own faith to experience peace on earth.  To believe in a peaceful human race, now.

I got caught in a couple rounds of my own mental hamster wheel, thinking that my work to get there was in convincing other people to see this or that.  Then I remembered the other part of what hit me that day in the church: peace starts with me.  It starts with my own actions, words, and thoughts.  It starts with suspending judgement, with being mindful of how I'm casting characters in my mind.  It starts with holding love and hope, even when I don't know what the hell is going on.

I have no idea what is going to happen from here.  I can only watch the story unfold, playing my part when there is a part to play, and hopefully doing so with at least one foot firmly placed in that realm of peace on earth. 

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