The Work of Peace
PEACE often seems like a passive condition, something that occurs in the absence of conflict or violence. Yet world events show that peace requires work if it is to be strong and permanent. This work isn't the exclusive province of governments; it involves each of us. The writer of Hebrews in the Bible makes this very clear when he tells us, ``Follow peace with all men.'' The implication is that we each have a responsibility to work for peace in our hearts and in our relations with others. In fact, the Biblical writer encourages us to be active in our efforts to experience peace.
This accords with Christ Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew's Gospel, where he specifically talks about the relationship between intent and actions. Jesus makes clear that it isn't enough to say we want to be good or to be outwardly nice while hating someone or something in our hearts. We need instead to be diligently striving to live in accord with God, divine Love, and to be expressing this spiritual affection to others.
In her Miscellaneous Writings, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, specifies what needs to be done. She writes, ``Self-ignorance, self-will, self-righteousness, lust, covetousness, envy, revenge, are foes to grace, peace, and progress; they must be met manfully and overcome, or they will uproot all happiness.''
The foes to peace that Mrs. Eddy describes not only affect relations between persons. They can also lead to international conflict. For instance, the lust for power or for control over another nation's resources can lead to war. The desire for revenge not only touches families and friends; it can also poison relations between nations.
As we think about the elements that lead to conflict, we find that our concerns are not so much with weapons and armaments as with habits of thought, attitudes, mental tendencies. It is this outlook that has so much influence on the direction a nation takes both with its economy and with its actions on the international stage. And we see the effect of these elements in our own lives as we make the choice between living in peace with others or fighting little skirmishes each day.
Conflict, by its very nature, suggests that there are warring factions whose desires cannot be satisfied except through battle. Its root is the belief that man is material and that each of us has a separate mind that is potentially opposed to everyone else's. This belief is illustrated by something as tragic as one person killing another person. But family feuds, enmity between neighbors, cutthroat business practices, are all examples of this essentially mortal view of man, as well.
If this mortal view were in fact irreversible, we would have little hope for united action for peace. But Christ Jesus made clear that man is actually spiritual, the offspring of God. In addition, he taught that man is inseparable from God, forever in harmony with his divine Maker. If we look at our relationship to God from this standpoint, we gain a very different perspective on life and its possibilities.
In place of warring personalities, we see a creation that is united in its relationship to one God, one divine Mind. Since this Mind is infinite, no one can be cut off from its goodness and intelligence. We also begin to gain more freedom from the personal conflicts that lead to war.
For example, the understanding that there is only one Mind, coupled with our willingness to obey this Mind, gives us the moral strength to overcome ignorance and malevolent will. The realization that God is Love, as the Bible tells us, and that we are His offspring enables us to overcome self-righteousness, a mistaken desire for revenge, or jealousy over another's good. When we make the spiritual commitment to peace, we discover that these negative emotions really don't have any appeal to us. Instead, w e are working our way toward the consciousness of who we actually are: the sons and daughters of God. And as this knowledge of our true being becomes clearer, we find that we feel an impulsion to ``follow peace with all men.'' We no longer attempt simply to ignore conflict with others, but are actively moved to resolve it.
In my own experience, I have found that as I have become more committed to loving my fellowman, and specifically to wanting peace to be a reality in my life, I have been much less able to ignore inharmony. Just before a conference not long ago, someone I knew criticized me. This made me feel angry. There was pressure at work, and what I had failed to do didn't merit attack. As a result, I replied more harshly than I really wanted to.
After she had gone into the meeting room, I was troubled by this encounter. I knew our differences could have been resolved in a more peaceful way. Throughout the day, whenever I thought of this individual, I prayed for an answer that would enable us both to feel at peace.
It became clear to me that I needed to talk to her and explain my situation. Yet finding her again among all the people at the conference didn't seem possible. As I prayed, I realized clearly that there is only one Mind and that this Mind is governing all. I knew I could trust this Mind to guide me not just to the right things to say but also to find this person. Suddenly, as I glanced around the auditorium, I realized the woman was sitting just a few rows away from me. After the meeting, we were able t o meet and resolve the difficulty in a fair and happy way.
This is a simple example of the work of peace. But each step is important. It is a way of eliminating the tensions between people (and ultimately nations) that build up and lead us into war. When we are actively working for peace by overcoming every conflict with others, we find that peace is anything but a passive state. It is, in fact, an active and effective antidote to war.