Let the Earth Keep Silence
Two Types of Spiritual Peace
Ironically, when we discern that the peace we enjoy is rooted not in God, but in privilege or in avoiding conflict, such discerning insight is likely to cause us to feel like our "peace" is suddenly lost. Indeed, I suspect one reason why so many people—including many sincere and devout Christians—work hard to ignore or avoid the overwhelming reality of economic and social injustice, environmental degradation, and other types of conflict in our world, may simply be because of how painful it is to face such issues, especially when doing so causes us to question our "analgesic" sense of serenity. Once that questioning takes root in our soul, the "false peace" quickly loses its power to lull us into its false sense of comfort.
That may seem lamentable, but it also can be seen as a profound and beautiful invitation: an invitation to trade the false peace of social privilege and conflict avoidance for the more profound peace of God, the peace that passes understanding. This peace, which Leech describes as arising from "rootedness in God," is less about sweet calm feelings and is more about an equipoise that finds inner reliance on God. Such reliance knows God to be a rock that enables us to place our trust in God, enabling us to be present even in the midst of the pain and suffering that seems so overwhelming. Being rooted in God doesn't make pain, suffering, dread, anger, and other powerful feelings and states of mind go away. But it does offer a new perspective, a higher vantage point that can enable us to remember that even the fiercest suffering and most egregious injustice is never the final word.
"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer," proclaimed Albert Camus. His insight, within the language of contemplative Christianity, might look like this: in the midst of conflict and suffering, I remained rooted in a deeper and higher source of love, joy, and peace, even a peace that passes all understanding." What might Paul have meant by that phrase: that such a peace defies logic? Seems absurd by the standards of worldly practicality and expedience? It's a peace that doesn't seem to make sense, but nevertheless it is there, offering hope and guidance even in the most horrific of circumstances.
Niebuhr's prayer reminds us that serenity, while essential to the spiritual life, is really only about a third of what we are called to do and to be. Our serenity must be leavened with courage (to fight for what is right) and wisdom (to help us pick our battles with discernment and care). The peace of God does not remove us from conflict and courage, discernment and wisdom. Paradoxically, the more Godly the peace may be, the more it immerses us right in the midst of conflict and suffering. For that's the best place to be if we want to share that peace with others.
Carl McColman is a Lay Cistercian, a blogger (www.anamchara.com) and the author of The Big Book of Christian Mysticism.