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Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All?

This is the second week of Advent. This is "peace week."

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

I've been struggling with this post. I thought it would come easily, building on hope - because I think if you have hope you can be at peace, but with everything going on in the world I'm not sure that is true. Where is the peace for the Jews, Palestinians, and Ukrainians? Where is the peace for the woman in Texas fighting to abort her profoundly handicapped fetus to protect her own health? Where is the peace for the guy down the street from me who is so mad at someone walking a dog that he put a profane sign in his yard - to add to the profane sign on the back of his truck? Where is the peace for those of us who drive by who didn't let our dog poop in his yard? Where is the peace for the African American community in the US who worry every time a child walks outside? Where is the peace for schoolchildren in the US who are trained what to do if a shooter comes into their school? Where is the peace for the starving people of the world? Where is the peace for the Central American communities suffering through drug wars and gang violence? Where is the peace at the southern border of the US? Where is the peace for those who are falling prey to fear mongers among us?

Whoo- whee. Peace seems to be hard to come by, unless one buries one's head in the sand, which probably isn't a good idea in this environment.

But the angels promised peace and good will when Jesus was born! How did it all go so wrong?

That is what I have been struggling with, and now I can tell you: I don't think it did go wrong. I just don't think we have been listening, or seeing. We think we are because we go to church, spout Bible verses, and "believe." We sing we've got Jesus deep in our hearts, but I wonder if we have actually gone to meet him there.

When I was in college I took a class on death and dying. It was actually a pretty popular class. Dr. Neal was a Presbyterian minister and professor of religious studies at my college. This class has informed my responses to my patients when I was a nurse, my parents as they were dying, and pretty much every difficult conversation I have ever had.

One of our assignments in that class was to read the book of Job - I don't remember if we read the whole book or passages. What I remember is the peace that came with knowing that someone bigger than me is in charge. God knows what has been, what is, and what will be. God may not be pulling strings for our individual circumstances, but God knows. I find that very reassuring. There is a way out of our struggles, but we need God to lead us and that is something that God is very willing to do, if we will let God.

Last week I mentioned the book, The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope by Kelly Nikondeha. I haven't finished it yet, but it is very good. One of the interesting things is Ms. Nikondeha's take on the subversiveness of the birth of Christ. It was a thumb in the eye of the powers that were (Jewish leaders, Rome, patriarchal culture) for Zechariah to name his baby John, rather than after himself. It was a stick in the eye for God to send John and Jesus through the bodies of powerless women. It was unacceptable for the old woman and the virgin (which may have meant, "childless," not, "had an intact hymen.; apparently rape was common where Mary lived) to bear children. The songs of Elizabeth and Mary (and women such as Miriam, Deborah, and Hannah before them) were subversive - rather than fight, they expressed joy. And the fact that the Messiah was born as a tiny baby was also subversive - everyone expected the Messiah to be a powerful warrior and ruler.

Subversiveness is a powerful tool for peace. I think of Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Saint Francis, and so many others who refused to participate in the violence that their times seemed to call for. I think of those enslaved in the American south who found ways to love and live, despite the cruelty and atrocities that were their lives. I think of the people who forgive those who have harmed them unspeakably. These are peaceful ways to protest injustice. Perhaps, then, peace means being peaceful even when the world demands violence. Maybe it means living with integrity when those around us have none. Maybe peace is demanding justice by quietly demanding it.

But what does nonviolent protest gain us? It is my understanding that there is still profound inequality in India. I know there is still racism rampant in my own country of the United States - some of it so ingrained that white people like me don't even recognize it (though I am trying!). American chattel slavery may have ended in the 1860s, but the rich and powerful few are very creative at continuing to keep people in bondage. "Freedom" looks very different to a single mother who suffered domestic abuse and fled with her children and now must keep them clothed, housed and fed and so can't lose her job, than it does to a woman like me who has a two bachelor's degrees, a master's degree, and a comfortable retirement plan.

Where is the peace?

Interesting that when one prays, the answer will come: peace is within us, not outside us. I learned this from Richard Rohr this morning.

I have been reading Richard Rohr's Preparations for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent. One thing I have learned from Fr. Richard is the difference between dualistic and nondualistic thinking - maybe it would be better to say I am learning.

Dualistic thinking, in a nutshell, says, "If it isn't this, it is this." If it isn't black, it is white. If I am right, you are wrong. If you aren't with me you are against me. Nondualistic thinking says, "Both can be true." There are lots of shades of gray between black and white. I believe I am right, and you believe you are right. Where is the common ground between us? Let's talk about it! And as we are talking, I may not change my mind but I will understand where you are coming from and can agree that you aren't wrong, or at least that you have the right to believe what you do and maybe I am wrong. We can all be right and all be wrong, and anyway, vengeance is mine, says the Lord (Romans 12:19, KJV)`. Even Miss Manners says that it is rude to call out another's rudeness, no matter the offense.

But back to Richard Rohr. Unless we have undergone great love or great suffering, we cannot open ourselves to the deep listening and understanding to which Jesus calls us. In Matthew 11:11-14 Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist, yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and violent people take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John came, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen!

As I read these words this morning, it struck me that Jesus said the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and violent people take it by force. The kingdom of heaven? Violence? Taken by force? Then I thought that the kingdom of heaven that Jesus must be talking about is the kingdom here on Earth. Now I think maybe he was talking about himself and John. Guess I need to keep pondering. Regardless, Jesus exhorts those of us with ears to listen! I suspect he knew many of us thought we were.

Fr. Richard reflects on the fact that many ordinary, God-fearing people just don't get it:

The longer I have worked with people...the more I see that it is cultural and institutional blindness that keeps us from deeper seeing, and not usually personal bad will. We mostly think like everyone around us thinks unless we have taken some real inner journeys of love, prayer, and suffering. Without great love and/or great suffering , human consciousness remains at the fight-or-flight, either/or, all-or-nothing, level ( p. 35)

Great love is within our grasp. Suffering of one kind or another comes to every life when it will. I invite you on a journey of prayer, which is available to us anytime, anywhere. Not the wish-list prayer. The quiet, contemplative, listening, studying, asking, raging, thanking, loving kind of prayer. That is where peace is.

The world outside is violent, frightening, rude, and self-centered. It is up to each of us, with the help of God, how we respond to it. Responding peacefully is subversive because it isn't what the world expects, just like the joy of Elizabeth and Mary, the obedience of Zecharia and Joseph, and the faith of Anna and Simeon (Luke 2:25-38). Imagine if each of us responded to the world with hope and peace - how long would it take for all of us to experience the kingdom of God? I don't think it would take that long. If we would do it.

Peace is within us. It isn't outside. I don't think the world will be at peace until each of us can access the peace that is deep in our soul - the peace that Jesus speaks of. It isn't easy - many will try to take that peace away. Many will find us weird. But we will be at peace.

Be subversive. Be at peace. Know that the peace Jesus gives isn't "peace" as the world knows it. Remember that before the angels sang, "Peace on earth, good will to all," they reassured the shepherds that they should not be afraid. The angel Gabriel gave the same reassurance to Elizabeth and Mary. The world around you may be falling apart, but God's peace is within you. Don't be afraid.

Nikondeha, Kelley. The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope. Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books. 2022.

Rohr, Richard. Preparing for Christmas: Daily Devotions for Advent. Cincinnati: Franciscan Media. 2008.

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I am just new and digging into this blog.. You have asked some good questions, raised some good questions and gave a good answer. But hope? I have given up on hope in my life. Hope is nothing but a fairy tale that usually has a bad ending - I have replaced 'hope' with gratitude. I can find that every day in my life whether it is a good day or a bad day. There is always something in which to find gratitude. That is the sole thing that keeps me going at times.

As someone who is not a christian.. can you talk about the phrase: "God-fearing".. From what I hear, God is love.. so why do christians b…

Replying to

Hi there - I'm so sorry I didn't get back to you sooner. I'm guessing you know why! I understand the "fear of God," and thus "God-fearing," to be God-respecting. Someone who is God-fearing is awed by God. In our 21st century lingo, God-fearing means afraid of God, but I don't think that is how the Biblical writers meant it.


Jody Nace
Jody Nace
Dec 15, 2023

I agree that responding peacefully is subversive because it is not what the world expects. I love the examples you provide. In my experience, when I have been in deep conflict with someone and I respond with an act of kindness, this “subversiveness” will almost always result in an end to that conflict. Thank you for deepening my understanding of the peace within us. I love your writing!


Dec 15, 2023

Very well done, Kathy!

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