"Peace is not something you wish for, it is something you make, something you are, something you do, and something you give away. ” ~ Robert Fulghum
On the first Sunday of the month, which is Communion Sunday, we pass the peace in my church. This is a common practice in many Christian churches although the way it takes places can differ from church to church and denomination to denomination. When I was growing up in the Catholic church, this was a process in which we would turn to the people to the sides of us, behind us and in front of us and say "peace be with you" and shake their hand. If the person was family, maybe we would hug or kiss them as well.
In my current Protestant church, the passing of the peace is a more gregarious affair. Depending on how familiar we are with the person, we either shake their hand or hug them. There is a lot more hugging, or rather embracing, than hand shaking compared to most other churches; at least ones that I have attended. We either say "peace", "peace be with you", "hi, how are you", or whatever else feels appropriate. People rarely stay in their pews and they wander all over the place. It is truly an exchange of peace and good will in a Christian community of people. It is one of my favorite times of the month at my church.
Today I was passing the peace to a family my fiance and I have been spending some time with lately outside of Sunday service. The family consists of a grandmother and her four grandchildren. As I let go of the oldest child's hand after wishing him peace, he said to me, "Chris, what does peace mean?"
Leave it to a ten year old to throw me off balance.
Such a simple, yet profound question.
Of course, this entire passing of the peace at church takes all of about five to ten minutes so I didn't have time, at that moment, to sit down and discuss it with him but I simply said that peace meant calmness. It was really all I could think of as a response at that moment. I am not sure if he understood exactly what my response meant in the midst of of the flurry of peace passing activity, but that is a conversation that we can have more in depth at another time.
It got me to thinking though. Don't we all know what peace is or the meaning of the word peace? I mean seriously, isn't it obvious? If you look in any commonly used dictionary, you will see several different definitions for the word peace. You know what I think though? I think that most of the time, peace means something different for each of us. I think the paths we take to get to that state of peace is also different for each of us.
To that ten year old child, peace may mean having the comfort and security of a grandmother who tucks him in at night and loves him unconditionally. Peace for him may mean knowing who the adults are in his life that he can count on. Maybe it means to him knowing that as he grows older, he has a church community that is a home to him no matter what obstacles life hurls at him.
For me, peace means many things and takes on several different forms. It is a state of mind, of spirit, and of soul. Peace is when my spirit is full or when my mind is calm. The best is when both happen at the same time. A difficult thing for me, or anyone for that matter, to achieve these days. Peace is also when my body, soul and spirit are at peace with whatever havoc may be going on physically with my body at any given moment. A very difficult task to accomplish indeed.
Many people say that peace is being in harmony with other people. To me, that is not always the case because I have come to find that I have no control over other people, how they think about me, and especially what they do. So my peace, or harmony, comes from realizing this and also in realizing that the only person I have any control over is myself. Therefore when I think and act in a way that is true to myself, I am at peace.
I am at peace when I am able to pull myself out of the stress and anxiety of the misfortunes that life may throw at me and am instead able to appreciate what are considered the small things in life such as the feeling of my dog's breathing as she sleeps quietly with her head on my chest. Or maybe the serenity of being in my house on a fall afternoon when the sun streams through the large glass windows and the loudest sound I hear is the birds playing outside on the deck.
I find peace with myself when I am able to not be preoccupied with the "what ifs" and the" I can't" thoughts that often invade my brain. When I am able to put the negative thoughts away and instead replace them with positive thoughts and the thought that the only limitations I have are those that I put upon myself.
Peace with myself is when I accept myself as I am right now, right at this moment.
Just as importantly, peace is something that we can give to someone else. It can be simple and cost us nothing. When we extend ourselves and our love to another human being in an act of giving or generosity, we give peace. It may be in the form of a meal or a phone call. A listening ear or our time. In some way, when we ease someone else's burden, we give another person some peace of mind.
Giving peace to another person may come in the form of not judging them and accepting them for who they are in their moment. No questions. No criticisms. Just love. So that they may feel free to feel less stress and anxiety; to be at peace with where they are in their life journey.
So maybe my answer to my ten year old friend was accurate after all.
Peace IS calmness.
Where do you find YOUR peace?
Photo: Courtesy of Chuck Myers (http://myerscreativephotography.zenfolio.com/)