Advent Three: Practicing Peace
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow. The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm. Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the LORD. – Isaiah 11:6-9
During this season of Advent I’ve been reading sections of Isaiah for my devotions. Isaiah frequently expresses our great hope for peace, as you’ll see in the passage above. We yearn for that day when people will live at peace with God, one another and with all of creation. Perhaps these passages have resonated so deeply with me because they stand in such sharp contrast to the lack of peace in our communities, nation and world. While I believe that God is the One who will ultimately renew all of creation and make this world a kingdom of peace, I also believe that we are empowered by the Spirit to play a role in being peacemakers.
So, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, how do we practice peace in daily life? Here are a few practices to consider:
Contemplation. I have become increasingly convinced that we cannot have true peace in the world until we have peace within ourselves. By “peace in the world” I’m not talking about the cessation of war, though I long for that too. Real peace, shalom, is more than the absence of conflict. It means wholeness, completeness, wellbeing and harmony. Most of us are running through life so quickly that we do not take time for stillness and reflection, and so our insides are like a snow globe that is constantly shaken. And that frenetic energy is too often reflected in the world around us. Practicing contemplation (often called meditation, mindfulness or centering prayer) is a powerful pathway to practicing peace daily. No practice has done more to create shalom in me than contemplation. Click here to learn more.
Mental Diet. The daily practice of contemplation inevitably makes us more aware of our thoughts and emotions (it’s stunning how unaware we often are!). We begin to realize not only how often we feel anger, hurt and frustration, but also how regularly we feed those emotions. We tell ourselves stories about people’s intentions. We write new endings to our stories in which we inflict the pain or win the battle. We rehearse these stories over and over which only feeds them, like putting more logs on a fire that’s burning you. Feeding our anger and our hurt only keeps us living in unreconciled relationships. Practicing praying for our enemies and those who have wounded us is a profoundly powerful discipline that changes our mental diet. It heals us and opens our hearts to reconciliation. Who do you need to pray for right now?
Blessing. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe that simply expressing an intention somehow changes the world around us. Which is why I practice blessing. As I make my way through the world – driving, walking, shopping, dining – I focus my attention for a moment on someone, whether friend or stranger, and pray, “Lord, bless her or him with peace and joy”. That’s it. I think about it as planting little seeds of peace and joy into the soil of people’s lives, having no idea what will grow. Try it and you’ll discover two things. First, you’ll be surprised at how often the individual suddenly turns your way and smiles. Seriously, it’s almost creepy! Second, you’ll notice that this simple practice begins to change the way you see people and the world around you. The truth of the Kingdom, that we are all connected in ways we cannot begin to fathom, begins to dawn in our hearts and causes us to fall more deeply in love with God’s broken and cherished world.
Jesus calls and empower us to be peacemakers. How can we do anything less when we follow the Prince of Peace? I urge you to practice these simple disciplines in daily life. Dare to believe that God is at work changing the world through you!
Want to go deeper? Read the ELCA’s Social Statement on Peace. Click here.
Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN.