Peace during 2020

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The United Nations designated September 21 as International Day of Peace in 1971. Many people around the world today are designating space apart and time to offer up prayers and actions for peace. We traditionally think of peace as an absence of violence (i.e. no wars) or as a mindset where things just don’t bother us.

On this important day, let’s take steps to a deeper understanding of peace. The year 2020 has been like anything we could have imagined – a global pandemic, the disasters due to climate change, a grave economic crisis, an election cycle unlike anything we have seen before, and the ongoing fight for racial justice. We don’t know when things will end, and we are wondering what “normal” might be in the future. Peace seems about as far removed from our lives as we could possibly imagine.

Yet, peace is this very thing we need at this time. There are two types of peace we can work towards each day. The first is that inner sense of peace. This does not mean not worrying about things, or just feeling happy, or being in denial about what is going on around us. True inner peace is about being connected with the ground of our being. It is about knowing our deepest selves. It is about understanding our connection to the universe and all creation – each plant, the air we breathe, animals, and every human on the globe. It is being fully present in the moment – not rehashing things from the past or cycling through future scenarios. Peace is fully about the present and being connected.

We can find this inner peace in a variety of ways – prayer, meditation, being outdoors, reading something which is sacred for us, creating art, connecting at a deep level with another human (even if it’s virtually).

And in tapping into this inner peace, even if for just a few moments a day, it empowers us to work towards peace in this world. The saying is that there is no Peace without Justice. That is so very true. We are called to work for justice if we want peace in this world. We are called to hear the voices of those who are oppressed and marginalized. We are called to care for our planet and the creatures on it. We are called to make certain no child is hungry or mistreated. We are called to work towards a society which cares for all people equally and equitably.

Our beloved saint, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, lived a life of working towards peace, because she was a champion of justice. So much that I have in my life, and the opportunities I have – as a woman – are possible because of the way in which she peacefully and with love was always a champion for justice.

On this day of Peace, my prayer for you is that you will find a few moments of peace, and those moments will empower you to keep working towards peace and justice for our world.

The Prince of Peace in today’s world…

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The traditional Moravian beeswax candles for our Christmas service

The first Thursday of December is when Salem College holds its annual Christmas Candlelight worship service, which has been a tradition since the beginnings of our school in the late 1700s. As College Chaplain, I am privileged to provide a meditation. Our world right now is so particularly shattered by hate, violent rhetoric, fear and misinformation, that it begs to be addressed, especially during this season of advent. Below is the message I gave last week –

We come together today for this annual worship service to prepare for the celebration of Christmas. And Christmas is all about honoring the Christ Child. During this season, there are many names we call the Christ Child – the Light, the Messiah, Emmanuel, the Prince of Peace. This afternoon, I would like to focus on what it means to prepare for the coming of Peace.

Peace is something we talk a lot about in this world, but it is so elusive. The name Salem itself comes from the Hebrew word Shalom, which means peace. The Moravian founders of this area sought to build a peaceful society in the midst of a world that seemed so far from it. At the heart of this sacred ground of Salem – peace should reside.

Just as the early Moravians knew, just as Sister Oesterlein (our first teacher) herself knew, this world is not peaceful. In recent months, we have been particularly reminded of that. Violence pours forth in so many parts of the world – whether the streets of Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Kenya, Nigeria, or other places not deemed as news-worthy. Violent, mass shootings have become so commonplace in our own country that many of us aren’t as shocked as we should be, and think that all we can do is pray. Institutionalized racism is still a core fabric of our society – 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement – racism is present, whether it’s obvious, subtle, or unrecognized by the people in power. People who don’t fit what society deems the “norm” are seen as less than and less worthy.

And we all know the saying “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” – and we know the lie that fills that phrase. Words of hate, fear, division and ignorance do hurt us. Peace is that intangible thing we talk about, especially at this time of the year, but which we struggle to grasp. Before we can even define what Peace in our own lives, and Peace in the world, truly means – it slips through our fingers.

The child we gather to hear, sing and pray about this afternoon was someone who lived in a time of great violence and upheaval. He knew that Peace was something greatly desired in his world of unrest, hatred and fear. And when he talked about Peace – it wasn’t a sanitized version, where everything was clean, neat, happy, and uncomplicated. It wasn’t just the absence of violence. It can be too easy for us to buy into this – to sit in our nice clothes in a beautiful setting with the comforting aroma of beeswax candles and think this is Peace.
This – this that we experience here today – this is what propels us to work for Peace. Peace is real – it’s authentic – it’s messy. We come together not because this is Peace – but because this gathering lets us glimpse the possibilities before us. As we see the goodness in our sisters and brothers – we want to carry the hope and promise of true Peace with us tonight and tomorrow and the day after – we want the world to reflect what we see in small part here.

There is an old saying that holds true – If you want Peace, work for Justice.
Jesus was someone who didn’t just sit around and talk about lofty ideals. How he lived – his actions spoke far louder than words. He reached across lines of division – whether it was religious or cultural or political or socio-economic – and brought people together in unity. He insisted they operate with respect for the other, and place others before themselves. He modeled that Peace does not come from a place of power, but from a place of servanthood, of understanding, of walking in someone else’s shoes – especially if they are shoes in which we’d rather not walk.

I encourage you today – take the glimpse of the beauty and peace of this afternoon – this wonderful hint of a better world that is before us at this moment – I encourage you to carry it forth to a world filled with violence, division, fear and hatred. Take steps – both big and small – to work for the abolition of violence in all its many forms, to work for justice – so that peace may prevail. Breathe in the Peace around us, and release that breath of peace to the world. One place, one person, at a time – let peace begin with each one of us, as we seek to go forth and change the world for the better.

Peace be with you. Amen.