[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on March 21, 2015.]
Perhaps it matters just as much how I acquired the little book on peace as anything.
I was on a bus with a new friend, and she’d just learned some details about my life as a mother that I usually hold very close to my heart.
“I wasn’t sure why I brought this — it’s an extra — but I think I know now,” she said as she reached into her purse, producing a tiny book she suggested might be helpful.
I noticed the title, “Searching for and Maintaining Peace,” and then the author, Jacques Philippe, a new favorite because of his short but deeply penetrating, enlightening writings.
But by the time I had a chance to open the book, a disturbing issue had arisen in my life that prevented me from finishing. I closed it one night shortly after starting, unable to absorb peaceful thoughts when resolve in that situation still seemed so elusive.
Truthfully, my reality of peace is that it flows through the center of my soul like a quiet river. But that doesn’t mean every day is peaceful, or that I can access that deep-seated peace at a moment’s notice.
The reverberations beyond the center can easily feel disquieted. And so, like many, even when peace is a constant presence, it is also something I constantly seek.
Thankfully, I was able to return to Philippe, who begins his book with this truth: “Our day and age is one of agitation and inquietude.” Indeed.
But he doesn’t leave us there. He leaves us with a great hope; that relief will come, as well as eternal life, “when one has learned, little by little, how to conserve, in all circumstances, a profound peace of heart.”
It’s very simple, though perhaps hard to live out with the distractions of the world and its many temptations. According to Philippe, it comes down to Jesus’ words in John 15:5: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
Jesus isn’t being an overbearing tyrant here. He is giving us a gift — the pathway to peace. When we realize that we depend on God for everything, and live that out day by day, we can be truly at peace.
Philippe says understanding our dependence on God will lead us to also understand the fundamental spiritual question we need to answer: How can I allow the grace of God to operate freely in my life?
In order to have peace, we need grace, and grace comes from God alone. To receive the necessary grace that leads to peace and respond to life in a peaceful, generous way, we must allow God into every decision, every circumstance of our lives.
And yet how inclined we are to doing things our way. Our human nature leads us to quickly claim dominion over our own lives, and we find it hard to open our clenched fists long enough for the God of life to work in us.
Philippe uses the image of the sun on a lake to help us see the interplay of peace and grace. If the surface of the lake — our soul — is peaceful and tranquil, God — the sun — can more easily be reflected in it, and grace will be manifest more fully.
“On the other hand, if our soul is agitated, the grace of God is able to act only with much difficulty,” Philippe writes.
In 1 Kings 19, we read that “God was not in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the whisper of a gentle breeze.” I love this image; it reminds me that God will go easy on us, even when we are inclined to resist.
Philippe’s “small treatise on peace of heart” ultimately reveals that the world’s version of peace will not do. Having the beautiful home, the perfect children who have it all together and
the enviable job are not what ultimately bring peace.
“Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; a peace that the world cannot give; this is my gift to you,” Jesus says in John 14:27.
Peace is a gift of the soul, and something that we can all access if we turn to the giver and say, “I am yours. Do with me what you will.”