Peace that Surpasses All Understanding

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Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything . . . And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4: 4-7

This month marks the beginning of Seton Cove’s Fifteenth Anniversary year. The Seton Cove staff and Board decided that we would celebrate this anniversary year by consciously trying to make the world a more peaceful place. But we know that a peaceful world begins with the peace found in each individual heart; hence, our theme, Becoming Peacemakers from the Inside Out: Cultivating Peace in Self, Family, and Community. We will offer multiple programs on the various dimensions of peacemaking throughout 2010, and I hope you can attend as many of them as possible. But how might one get started right now to become a more peaceful person?

The words printed above from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians provide a formula or rule that can guide one as s/he consciously undertakes the journey of cultivating a peaceful heart. When Paul says “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say Rejoice,” he is urging us to rejoice in the way things are, for there is a greater wisdom at work in the world than our minds can comprehend. As Richard Rohr explains it, God has already written the script–all we have to do is play our part.

“Let your gentleness be known to everyone” is a simple but difficult command, yet it is also a blessing because it recognizes the innate gentleness in each of us. I can almost imagine Paul saying “Slow down, take a deep breathe and let your gentleness flow out of you to soothe a battered world.” We can do this because “the Lord is near.” We are in Christ and Christ is in us. But often, like the thirsty fish, we forget who we are where we are.

Finally, Paul bestows on each of us “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” I have heard this most beautiful and mysterious blessing said repeatedly in the closing words of the celebration of the Eucharist, and I have pondered the meaning of a peace that surpasses understanding. At the same time I have been grateful and relieved to know I am not commanded to understand peace but to be peace. Left to my own understanding, I find myself constantly tripping over my egocentric devices and desires on the path to peace.  But Paul is offering us the grace of a peace that passes the understanding of our dualistic minds. This peace is a radical outpouring of love and acceptance—of gentleness, if you will. It is a peace that includes all; we are freed form our limited notions of fairness and correctness. We don’t have to decide who deserves peace and who doesn’t. This peace that surpasses understanding is all encompassing.

My wish for all of us in this Fifteenth Anniversary year is that we surrender to the peace that surpasses understanding, opening our hearts to each other with a gentleness that flows to our self, our families, our community and beyond.