Peace. What is peace, really? We often think of peace as the absence of war or disturbance; we define it as the freedom from conflict. Peace in this sense cannot be understood apart from some kind of problem. Is this real, genuine peace? Can one define peace without referencing war or conflict?
The ubiquitous peace sign--traditionally, the index and middle fingers spread out to create the letter V--is a symbol for victory. Its origins date back to the early 20th century during war time.
These are merely externals.
Many religions, especially ones of the contemplative nature, speak of an internal peace. Is an internal peace contingent upon the external? Anyone who has ever been alive can tell you that if we were to wait on the storms of life to abate to reach a state of equanimity...we will live our whole lives and never acquire an inner peace. Does this mean that religion is merely an opiate, like some claim? I say, yes and no. Unfortunately, it can be used by people as a form of escape from this world, to make them feel better. There's a difference between this escapist-comfort and a medicinal-comfort (one that succors the disease of sin and gives meaning to life). You may ask, what's the difference, when you get right down to it, religion comforts, therefore it's the opiate of the masses? But I ask you, what religion doesn't bring some kind of comfort? What value system doesn't? Doesn't an atheist find comfort in believing that there's no God, that they feel there's no afterlife, no judgement, no supreme being that they'll be held accountable to? Doesn't the secularist find comfort in hobbies? TV? Booze? Books? Who are they to judge if a Christian or Buddhist finds some comfort in prayer and meditation? A person espouses beliefs because it gives some meaning and an over-arching narrative to one's life. There's a difference between a religion that enlightens and brings awareness and one that darkens and deludes.
I have a problem with the latter, the escapist-comfort. This blog will argue against this mind set often. Too many Christians believe what they believe because they'll one day escape the evils of this world while the earth burns and the evil-doers damned. But this is no different than peace from externals.
I write this post as a catehumen. This blog is dedicated to my journey to Eastern Orthodoxy. My previous posts dealt mostly with the intellectual and spiritual struggle (and I'll continue this), but as I near chrismation and look back over the years to write this blog, I've noticed that in all of my theological rovings I rarely felt an inner peace. There was several times I had a glimpse of it but I soon was tossed back into the tumult that we call "life." It wasn't until I started catechism that I started to notice an inner peace. Now, don't get me wrong, I have not obtained the inner peace that the Fathers speak of, I believe that I'm only just beginning to acquire it, I have a long way to go.
This peace I write about is not the same as the peace I mentioned at the start of this post. External peace is the absence of conflict, whether on the national and global level, or on the personal and communal level. This absence of conflict is an absence of risk: no war, no death; no strife between spouses, no chance for divorce; no conflict at work, no chance of getting fired and not being able to support your family. The absence of these conflicts we believe is a genuine peace, but if the problems arise again then we loose our peace. This is just self preservation. At the root of this is pride, self interest. We say, if only _____ in my life were to change, then I can have some peace. Or we try to control people and events to conform to us, to make things easier for us (for me). Or we lazily await for something, whatever it is, to happen. A genuine inner peace is not necessarily contingent upon these externals. Through prayer and participating in the life of the Church--through Christ!--we arrive at in inner peace despite the chaotic, strident, maelstrom of the world. All of this becomes a renewing of our mind, and this will overflow into every aspect of our lives. However, we are not numbed to the pains of others, we are more aware; we're able to recognize the disease of sin because we ourselves daily struggle against it. We will truly be at peace with our fellow man, and this peace with others (externals) cultivates the inner peace, it's cyclical. Matthew the Poor says this:
Peace is an inner state of the heart and mind. But Christian peace is not a mere psychological condition; rather, it is a 'relationship.' Christian peace flows from believers' relationship with God and with other people. It's impossible for a person to have a good, peaceful relationship with God and not enjoy peace with others. So if our relationship with God or others suffers, our peace will flee from us. Every person who does not feel a full, deep, eternal peace within him will find his relationship with God distorted. There is a hard verse, which I am reluctant to quote, but here it is: "There is no peace for the wicked" (Is. 57:21, NKJ). Any deformation in our relationship with God, or friends, or family, or colleagues, or even with enemies, causes our peace to flee. That is why Christ focused strongly on man's relationship with his neighbor...He desires peace to sink deep within us; for without this, He cannot reign over our hearts.
Matthew tells us that we must have a deep down eternal peace (internal) that comes from being at peace with God and ALL people, including our enemies. But this doesn't start with these externals changing, it starts with us changing.
Seraphim of Sarov's famous quote: "Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved."
That's why the Church doesn't wave it's hand around formed to a victory-peace sign, Look at us, we're for peace! Instead we surrender the V to the thumb and sign ourselves in prayerfulness, knowing the only true victory and path to peace is to take up our cross. Kyrie Eleison