The greeting cards arrive extolling, “Peace on Earth.” They come as messengers, revealing the longings of other hearts. And for a moment they remind me that I too yearn for peace to flood my soul and to encircle our fragile world. Then I consider the violence, injustice, pain and tragedies that surround us. My heart breaks for our dying oceans and all the species that have perished by our thoughtlessness. In the brokenness and chaos of our time, can we hope to live in a way that honors our longing for peace on Earth?
A contemplative path invites us to be fully open and present to what is, just as it is, in each moment. That is not easy. The instinct to look away from the violent and destructive is strong for us; the urge to flee, fight or freeze is wired deeply into our reptilian brains. We fear that, when we look into the face of tragedy, we will despair. Yet when we open our spiritual hearts and minds to what is, we find that the Sacred is there in the midst of sorrow and loss.
It is a pure gift we sometimes sense so clearly: We are lavishly loved as God’s creation. In this love, we sense compassion for ourselves and a freedom to offer it to others. We see more clearly that we belong to a web of all living beings, and we can stand in awe, amazement, and humility as we glimpse this incredible gift that is given to us. Opening our spiritual hearts deeper and wider to hold the pain we witness daily actually frees us for the love and compassion that is invited in each moment.
I know that I cannot will myself into connection with God through intention, but I can open to awareness that the connection already and always exists. Contemplative practices help to deepen that awareness. I may sit in simple silence, meditate, walk slowly, reflect on scripture, or use some other practice that reminds me to stay open, present and connected. When my busy mind overtakes my spiritual heart, as it does all too often, I can pause and renew my intention to be available for God in this moment.
Contemplative living, available to all of us, enables us to hold immense sorrow, allowing our hearts to break open to greater fullness in witness to the pain and suffering in the world. In this vulnerable yet powerful space, we realize we are not now nor have we ever truly been in control and we cannot shape the world into something of our own making. We sink instead into the sure knowledge that we can only depend on deep Wisdom that points enduringly toward greater love.
When we listen, alone or in community, inviting an ever-deeper connection to the Holy, we may be gifted with glimmers of understanding of what is ours to do. The entire path may not be clear to us; often we see only the invitation to a small next step that we may not fully understand. We may never see results, and yet we trust with our deepest knowing that we are in some small way a part of the ongoing creation of the Creator. We willingly plant seeds of prayerful action in trust for the harvest of future generations.
When the God of Love fills us, we can look deeply at life as it really is and there is no need to turn away. When our spiritual hearts are wide open, we can take a stand day after day for causes that seem beyond our capacity and work for results that may not bear fruit in our lifetime. We trust we are living in a vast, interconnected web of compassionate unfolding. For me, this is the promise of peace on Earth.
Leah Rampy is executive director of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. Based in Washington, DC, Shalem is the leading center for ecumenical spiritual formation and continues the lineage of the Christian contemplative tradition. Its programs center on contemplative teaching and practices that open the mind and awaken the heart to the living Spirit. Follow Shalem on Twitter @ShalemInstitute and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/shalem.institute