A Way to Peace

No matter what is occurring in the world or in our lives, we can choose to be peaceful, to be the peace we seek.  To achieve this, we would do well to invest in personal times of stillness and silence.  These times of contemplation, meditation, prayer and reflection are gifts of peace we give, first to ourselves, then to others.

Emmet Fox (“Your Daily Visit with God,” © 1952), reminds us:

“We all know that . . . God alone . . . is our peace — although nearly all of us tend to forget it from time to time.  We forget it when we begin to neglect our daily visit with God.  Now, when you think that you are too busy for your daily visit . . . what wonderful thing are you doing that is more important?  There is nothing that you could possibly do with that time which would bring you greater benefit than perfect peace.  As a matter of fact, if you have something very important and urgent to do, your visit will make that very important thing go through much more easily and successfully.”

In the Name of Peace

Advent, a season of preparation and reflection, continues with a focus on peace — within the world and within ourselves.  As we journey toward Christmas, we prepare for the birth of the Christ Presence and anticipate a peaceful future.

Perhaps we also notice: Sometimes, one person or event can inspire another.  As Jesus’s older cousin John the Baptist did when he traveled through the Judean wilderness, proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven was near (see Matthew 3:1-12: “Preparing the Way”).  He declared that another prophet would follow him, and he prepared the people by baptizing them in the River Jordan, offering physical and spiritual purification as they anticipated a new Heaven on Earth.

John, a bombastic, biblical “bad boy,” liked to challenge people and argue about how others chose to follow God’s law.  He concentrated more on the law’s letter than its spirit.  Mystically, John the Baptist can represent that part of us which wants to fight about what’s correct, rather than working to ensure peace.  John within us is a strong intellectual, though seldom a compassionate, peaceful presence.

During Advent, as we consider peace, we can choose whether we want to be more like John or like the one who’ll be called Prince of Peace.  Rather than blaming, finger-pointing and arguing with someone about who’s correct, we can choose to see the situation differently, change our behavior and transform our lives.  We can remember: People change only when they’re ready and some situations are out of our control.  So, we can choose whether we want to be “correct.” Or whether we want to be peaceful.

As we reflect on how the Prince of Peace will live, we may wonder how he remained steadfast and faithful in the face of harsh conflicts and challenges.  We may doubt that we ever could do as he did.  Though perhaps we can be inspired by a modern-day peaceful presence, Noble Peace Prize recipient and former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Mandela, who survived in prison for 27 years, from 7 November 1962 to 11 February 1990, chose to focus on what he could transform — himself first.  He said:

. . . the first thing is to be honest with yourself.  You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.  . . . Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.

As we consider peace, we can remember that Mandela cherished the ideal of a harmonious, peaceful, democratic and free society with opportunities for all people.  When he was freed, he said:

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.

And despite all he experienced, he also said:

I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.

A beautiful dream.  One, I pray, we hold for our nation, too.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Handle Gently

Sometimes, current events reveal deep fears and hidden anxieties about the status quo and the state of things to come: Brexit, the Dakota pipeline protests, the U.S. elections, escalating hate crimes.  If we read between the lines, we usually discover that false peace has been shattered.

Sometimes, we declare: “Enough is enough.”  We draw the line in the sand, stand in our power and say, “No.”  This position usually requires trusting in an outcome we may not yet see, as we determine how much gentleness, compassion and wisdom is needed to bring reconciliation and true peace.

I think of Thomas Paine’s ardent declaration: “These are the times which try men’s souls.”  Though many times can try our souls.  The “trying times” are those which invite us to deepen our faith, to work our spiritual muscles at the core, as we decide what we truly believe and how we want to behave.

As I contemplate recent events, I also process information from a University of Florida conference keynote on meaning-making and purpose.  The speaker noted that Gen Z (1995-2010) is the most anxious of all generations, often drowning in feelings of hopelessness and overwhelm.

Everywhere, pain is palpable.  This past week, I heard the mournful cry of a wheelchair-bound veteran who believed his service was for naught.  I saw the glazed faces of mourners at a memorial service, for a man who died too young.  I felt the sorrow, the aching in my own community, at our annual Remembrance Sunday service.  I watched people weep, many openly.

Right now, the world feels heavy, with the weight of people who are angry, disheartened, disgusted and afraid.  As in the first stages of grief, day-to-day living can feel like moving through life in slow motion, as if trying to wade through a pool of molasses in body armor.

In the days, weeks and months to come, some of us may reflect on what Jesus, Gandhi, MLK, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, or the Dalai Lama might do.  Though for now, I contemplate the words of Jesus’s brother, James (3:13-17), from his brief letter which many Bible scholars believe was written for churches attempting to overcome their own trying times.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom . . .  the wisdom from above [which] is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of compassion and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. For a harvest of virtue is sown in peace by those who make peace.

This time, as we sow, let us be wise and tread gently.  Let us be willing to pause and listen to the outcries.  Let us be willing not only to feel the pain, but to grieve and move through it.  Let us encourage deep reflection and support true healing, instead of settling, yet again, for empty promises, lofty platitudes, quick fixes, and band-aid solutions.  This time, finally, let us harvest the fruits of true and lasting peace.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

God Doesn’t Fix It; We Do

Peace has been the theme for the second week of Advent. And what a week for it, as yet another mass shooting claimed the lives of people in San Bernardino, California, and violence continues to erupt in various places around the globe.

The shouting “to do something” has gotten louder, though not more peaceful. Both sides of the aisle (pick your venue) argue vehemently about their beliefs. On one side they declare: “Let’s Pray.” On the other side they declare, as did one New York Daily News headline: “God Isn’t Fixing This.”

Both sides are correct. And during this Advent season of preparation, which anticipates the birth of one who will be called Prince of Peace, all of us have an opportunity to understand some truths about God and prayer. No, God isn’t fixing this. And yes, prayer works.

It’s true. God isn’t going to fix this – or anything else. Despite what some may believe, God won’t appear from the sky like Superman or Wonder Woman. God isn’t a Superhero rushing in to save us from ourselves. Neither is God a Master Puppeteer, capriciously pulling our strings. And no amount of praying, beseeching, crying, cajoling, bombing, or shooting is going to change God.

However – and it’s a big however – we can change, if we choose to – even when we don’t particularly like or agree with circumstances around us. Change is our choice, now, and as much as it was, long before Jesus was born. The common denominator is us. We’re the ones who can change – or not. So, when we pray, we don’t pray to change God. We pray to change ourselves, to align ourselves with God, Divine Creator and Source of All, Infinite Compassion, Unconditional Love.

Our prayers for peace, understanding, guidance, prosperity, or anything else aren’t ever about getting God to “do” something. God doesn’t choose for us. We choose. And in prayer, we understand which choices are best for us, based on our own spiritual understanding.

Every prayer we pray can guide us, because prayer activates the divine power within us – the same divine power which Jesus and all spiritual masters and mystics have. So, in prayer, we don’t ask God to fix, do or choose anything. Rather, if we remain in a place of surrender, our prayers often provide clarity. This allows us to see the road ahead and to act at our highest level of spiritual development and understanding.

During Advent, as we await the birth of the child to be called a beacon of Peace to the world, we also prepare ourselves. Because this child isn’t one child; this child is all of us.

The Presence of God within us is preparing to be born, as beacons of peace – in our world, now. This peace begins in prayer, aligned with God, one step out in the world at a time – as us.

In this Advent season, may peace be with you, Blessed Reader and may you also be peace.

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.

Peace is the Way

Several years ago, I bought a bumper sticker which said: “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” For days, I couldn’t decide where to place it on my car. After much contemplation, I tacked it on a bulletin board instead, believing I needed the reminder more than other drivers did.

“Peace is the way” seems an even more important reminder when events catapult some of us into believing – however momentarily – that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Because one of life’s greatest paradoxes is that no matter how hard we may work to be peaceful, we cannot get to peace if we aren’t peaceful first. As Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh says, we not only need to say: “Let there be peace on earth and let it being with me.” We also need to say, “Let me begin with peace.”

I believe that this is the same wisdom Jesus the Christ, the Wayshower, taught in the 1st century, when he told the disciples, according to the Gospel Writer called John (14:27): “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.”

For a moment, imagine the disciples’ reaction, which the John Writer doesn’t include. As they witnessed world events, the increasing power of the Roman government, the hypocrisy in the synagogues, the disparities between the haves and have-nots, the disciples likely wondered what Jesus meant.   Perhaps they spoke among themselves, as many of us have, wondering how they could avoid feeling troubled or afraid, wondering what kind of peace his peace is and how to employ such advice.

Jesus did not give as the world of his time – or ours – gives. Because Jesus lived as a peace activist, not a peace re-activist. He continually invited his followers to overcome their fears and worries. Rather than react to the world around them, he urged them to consider an alternate way of being and living. The peace which he – and numerous other mystics and spiritual masters – taught is primarily a spiritual peace, one which we experience when we align ourselves with God. This peace prevents the world from robbing us of our serenity and our compassion. This is the peace we feel at the depth of our being, the peace which passes all understanding, even when the news is bleak.

The Truth is: Peace isn’t only about what occurs in the world. Peace is also how we choose to live. And the way isn’t only the path we choose to travel. It’s also how we choose to behave, pray for and treat others – especially when we can’t for a million years understand them, or their actions and choices. When we truly understand this, then perhaps we can feel more faithful on our life’s journey, trusting that as we make peace our way, peace unfolds before us, right where we are.

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.