Quick: When you read the word “peace,” what do you think of?
If you could take more time, how would you define peace?
If you could take even more time, what plan would you draw up to promote peace around the world?
A few days ago, a friend of mine gave me a card small enough that it could fit in my wallet. The front read, “Peace begins with me,” written in simple letters with multiple blue circles drawn around the “me.” The back proclaimed me a hero with the following sentiment:
It might have been your smile.
It might have been a real, connected conversation.
It might have been as simple as you really seeing me or you really being you!
That is a hero in my book, in a world that can feel … disconnected.
The back also asked me to initial the card and to pass it along to the next hero that I meet. The cards are distributed by Peace Begins with Me, which according to their website is a “humanitarian, non-profit organization dedicated to education, inspiration, and collaboration in the area of inner peace, knowing that, because we are all connected, inner peace is the way to global peace.”
At least for me, this is a slightly different way to think about peace. When I hear the word “peace,” I tend to think of global conflicts, genocide, and cease fires. When I try to define peace, it is only in the negative, that is, as a lack of violence, rather than a positive state of being that involves how I view and treat myself, others, and our world. If I had to make a plan for peace, I would say I can’t do very much, since it needs to involve treaties, free elections, and truth and reconciliation commissions.
But this organization makes the claim that peace begins much closer to home—with ourselves. It makes the claim that each and every one of us has something to do with creating peace in the world. It wants us to practice living with integrity and intention, so that we can live as ourselves and so that we can let others live as their selves.
What does peace in relationship with the self involve? I believe it is grounded in a compassion for the self. Instead of beating ourselves up over real and perceived faults, we are called to accept and respect who we are as children of God. I believe it is grounded in knowing ourselves well, so that we can speak and live what is in our heart. Practicing the art of knowing ourselves truly and honoring that self helps us flex the muscles we need to treat the Others in our lives, those who are different from us, with the honor and respect they also deserve as children of God.
The idea of working toward a peaceful self resonates in an interesting way with this week’s Gospel reading from Luke. Jesus, our “Prince of Peace,” says that his coming will not bring peace but rather division, division in households, division between fathers and sons and between mothers and daughters. While the gospel does not mention this, Jesus’ presence in our lives can also bring division to our very selves, and this is not necessarily a wholly bad thing. As the apostle Paul describes in Romans 7:15: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” As followers of Christ, we have the desire to live as Christ lived; we want to follow in his footsteps. Yet in our humanity, we find ourselves falling short and doing that which we do not want to do.
For example, as the new school year approaches and I prepare to send my oldest son to kindergarten, I have thought about how my buying habits reflect or do not reflect my Christian identity. I would like to purchase clothes that I know are made in safe working conditions by workers being paid a living wage. But then I find a good deal on uniform clothes and I put out of my mind thoughts about how it is possible that this store can sell me pants for seven dollars and shirts for only five. I am an inner house divided, wanting to be thrifty but feeling how this conflicts with my commitments to social justice. And in this space of discomfort, I feel God calling me forward toward new ways of being (and shopping) in the world that can bring more peace.
This gap between what we want to do and what we do is what continues to pull us forward on our spiritual journeys, as we strive to conform ourselves more closely with Christ. As we work for greater symmetry between our beliefs and our actions, between what we know and what we do, we work for peace in ourselves.
What does the phrase “Peace begins with me” mean to you?
In what areas of your life do you feel like a house divided, wanting to do one thing but doing another? What can you do to bring more inner peace to your life?