What does Peace mean to you?

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.’” Luke: 2:1-14

Today is the second Sunday of the Advent season, and the focus of this day and the week that follows is Peace.

So, as I’ve been preparing to give this lesson, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about peace. What do we mean when we say ‘peace’? If you ask most people, they will agree that they want peace, that peace is a good thing. But if you dig deeper, you will find that people have very different ideas as to what that peace looks like.

In the Bible, the word ‘peace’ appears 231 times in the New Revised Standard Edition. And in looking at these entries, I noticed some patterns.

In the Hebrew Testament, when an author talks about peace, most often, he is talking about:
– physical safety
– not having to worry about being attacked by an enemy
– having a safe environment in which to thrive and grow as a people
– being able to trust in divine justice

In the Christian Testament, when an author talks about peace, most often, he is talking about:
– an experience of order and predictability in our day-to-day lives
– living in harmony with our family, friends and neighbors
– an inner serenity of mind and heart

And in looking at the world as it has progressed since Biblical times, I can also think of other definitions of peace that fit our time.
– the freedom to use my gifts and talents to the fullest
– the freedom to fully express our uniqueness and diversity
– a healthy and thriving planet

So, today we are going to explore seven different concepts of peace.

I – I stay alive
The most basic form of peace is physical survival – the assurance that I will be able to meet my basic survival needs for food, water and shelter from one day to the next.

For many of us who are lucky enough to live in a highly developed society like the United States, we have the illusion that this is a level of peace we get to take for granted.

Water comes out of the tap. Food is plentiful at the neighborhood grocery store. I have a job that gives me enough money to buy that food and to pay my rent or my mortgage.

And yet, as the current world-wide economic crisis worsens, we begin to see that this is a fragile peace. Even in these lucky societies, there are people who have lost their jobs, people who are homeless, people who are struggling to meet their basic survival needs. And in societies that are not so lucky, this struggle for basic survival is a day-to-day reality.

We also see this struggle for basic survival show up in other ways – in the victims of natural disasters like hurricanes, fires or earthquakes, or in people who have received a diagnosis of a serious illness.

So, if you ask someone in these circumstances – What does peace mean to you? – the answer is simple – I don’t have to struggle so hard just to stay alive. I can count on having food, water, shelter, warmth from the cold, and clothes to wear. Peace means I get to take those things for granted.

Have you ever experienced a time in your life when you longed for this kind of peace?

II – We are safe
The second form of peace is a feeling of safety – the absence of immanent danger for ourselves and our loved ones.

We see this definition of peace show up for people living in high crime neighborhoods, in neighborhoods where gangs are in control. We see it show up in cities that have been the victims of terror attacks like the recent attacks in Mumbai, India. We see it in cities like Baghdad that have been caught up in sectarian violence and warfare.

We also see it in individual homes where domestic violence – spousal abuse or child abuse – occurs. We see it in schools where kids are bullied.

For people in these circumstances, peace means – I can relax. I can let down my guard. I can trust that I won’t be attacked. I can breathe. I can take for granted that my home is a safe place to be, that my neighborhood is a safe place to be, that my school or my job is a safe place to be.

Have you ever experienced a time in your life when you longed for this kind of peace?

III – I have power
The third form of peace is the peace that comes from empowerment – a sense of being strong and capable and in charge.

We see this definition of peace show up for people who are learning to stand up for themselves, who are learning to take charge of their own lives. We see it show up in teenagers as they step into adulthood.

We see it in people like soldiers and firefighters and police officers as they protect and serve their communities. We see it show up in people who take risks and feel confident in their own skill and strength.

We also see this form of peace show up for people in a less savory way. Some people experience life as a jungle in which only the strongest survive. It might be hard to acknowledge, but even gang members and Afghani warlords and sectarian fighters in Iraq have a definition of peace – and that definition is “I win”.

And lest we feel too complacent – oh, I would never have that definition of peace – ask yourself, have you ever been in an argument with someone where you just couldn’t let go until the other person admitted defeat? Ouch.

So for some people, peace means power – I know that the world is a dangerous place, but it’s OK because I can protect myself and my family. Peace means I can take for granted that I’m strong and capable.

Have you ever experienced a time in your life when you longed for this kind of peace?

IV – We have order
The fourth form of peace comes from a sense of order – we live in a society governed by law and a clear moral code. We have a system in place that guides us in how to behave and how to live together in mutual support.

We see this show up in people who have grown weary of the jungle mentality of life, people who are tired of fighting to protect themselves. People seek order as a relief from anarchy. They search for a purpose in life beyond mere survival. They seek to understand suffering.

Many people find this form of peace in their religious beliefs. Their religion provides rules for living together in harmony and a sense that these rules are being enforced by a higher power. There is a sense of order and justice as well as mercy.

For people in these circumstances, peace means – life is no longer chaotic. Life is orderly and safe. God is in charge. I know the rules and if I try in my heart to follow them, I will live a life of joy and purpose. Peace means I can take for granted that everyone will play by the rules.

Have you ever experienced a time in your life when you longed for this kind of peace?

V – I thrive
The fifth form of peace is a sense of thriving – I live in a world that I can help shape and form through my own intelligence, gifts and talents.

We see this definition of peace show up for people who have experienced a little too much order and are feeling stifled by it. For these people, the certain answers of someone else’s religion are not satisfying, and the last thing they bring is a sense of peace. These people need the freedom to question and to explore.

This definition of peace shows up in entrepreneurs who are eager to create their own success, not through strength and violence, but through cleverness and drive. We see it in the curiosity of scientists who are pushing to expand human understanding of the physical universe.

Sometimes this definition of peace gets distorted into a desire to accumulate the tangible symbols of success – wealth, a big home, a nice car, the latest gadgets and so on.

In general, for people in this stage of life, peace means – I am free to make full use of my God-given gifts and talents in creating a good life for myself. I am independent and autonomous. Peace means I can take for granted that I am free to pursue my dreams.

Have you ever experienced a time in your life when you longed for this kind of peace?

VI – We are one
The sixth form of peace out-pictures as a sense of one-ness with all humankind – we live in a world where our differences are respected and even valued.

We see this definition of peace show up in people who have tired of the competition inherent in the endless pursuit of success. These people have often achieved the outward symbols of success and found that it does not satisfy their longing for meaning. They begin to seek meaning, not in competition, but in deep heart-centered relationship.

These people come to recognize that the world is full of diversity and that good can be found everywhere, if you will only look with an open mind and an open heart. They grow weary of the artificial walls that separate us.

If you ask one of these people – What does peace mean to you? – they will answer – peace means that we respect and honor each other. We recognize that, at the most fundamental level, we are more similar than different. We are all created in the image and likeness of God. God expresses itself through us and as us. Peace means that we can take for granted our right to express our diversity.

Have you ever experienced a time in your life when you longed for this kind of peace?

VII – I care and serve
The seventh form of peace comes from compassionate service to others – I cannot be at peace when I know that those around me are not.

We see this definition of peace in people who have achieved enough of an experience of inner peace that they are able to turn their focus away from themselves to see the suffering around them. They begin to feel a longing to bring peace to others wherever they can.

For these people, peace means – I am a peacemaker. In order to fully express the activity of God as me, I nurture my own sense of inner peace, and I live in compassionate service to the world.

Have you ever experienced a time in your life when you longed for this kind of peace?

So we’ve explored seven different definitions of peace. And, although I don’t want to imply that this is a comprehensive list, I do think we’ve covered some of the key concepts of peace.

But one question remains – Why is it so important to look at different definitions of peace?

Its importance lies in the nature and purpose of human existence. I believe that each human being is an expression of God, made manifest as the unique life of that individual. Each person has the inherent ability to express God through his or her life. I know, many people get caught up in fear and anger and fail to live up to their own divine nature. But the potential is there none the less.

I believe that each of us is created to know peace in our lives. This does not mean we will not experience pain or difficulty. Pain is an undeniable fact of life. However, when we know our own divine nature, when we know ourselves to be expressions of God, we can experience peace in the midst of life’s hardships.

Further, I believe that each of us here to be a peacemaker. We are not meant to live in isolation. The very nature of the universe is one of a deep inter-connectedness of all things. We find fulfillment in compassionate connection – in helping each other find peace.

In order to help each other find peace, it is crucial for us to realize that peace means different things to different people. Even more, it means different things to each individual at different times in life.
If we truly wish to be peacemakers, we must be willing to allow people their own definition of peace. We must not try to impose our definition of peace onto others.

So, in this Christmas season, as we are filled with wishes for Peace on Earth, let us embrace peace in all its forms.

I invite you to spend a few moments now in quiet reflection.

Allow your body to relax. If you notice any area of tension in your body, imagine that area immersed in a golden glow of warmth and light and allow the tension to seep gently away.

Allow your mind to become still. Let go of any thoughts or concerns about your day. Simply become aware of your breathing – the rhythmic inflow and outflow of your breath.

Now allow your attention to drop deep inside yourself, to that still place where you most deeply experience your one-ness with God.

And into that stillness, bring this question: What does peace mean to me right now?

Allow yourself to sit in silence for a few moments as you simply listen. Listen for the wisdom of God that lives within you – in the silence.

And now, as you return your attention to this time and this place, I invite you to share any insights you received with someone close to you.

2 thoughts on “What does Peace mean to you?”

  1. Love your web site, Lauri! It’s really great. I especially like the part in your bio where you talk about being a lifelong learner. Congrats on all of your accomplishments!

  2. cool. this is very similar to what i have been writing for my research paper for tom’s ethics class. guess there is one mind!! haha!

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