The Search for Peace

Note: On this 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror-inspired attack on American soil, I share excerpts of the sermon, The Practice of Peace, that I preached whilst rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, on September 16, 2001, the Sunday immediately following 9/11.

These words, at most, continue to express what I believe to be God’s way and will in what I perceive to be our dangerously wild world.

These words, at least, bespeak how I strive to live, which, in the truest sense, is always the most I daily can do.

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In our quest for a restoration of wholeness, tensions – those simultaneous, powerful counter pulls and pushes of thought and feeling within society and within our individual selves – abound.

On one side, we yearn to live in a free society “of the people, by the people, for the people.” A society where our words and actions are not overly circumscribed or overtly constrained by law.

On another side, in such a society not only are the just and righteous free, but also the unjust and unrighteous. And we have been reminded tragically that terrorism is no longer in some land far away, but daily festers and can flare up on our doorstep. Hence, we long to feel safe, to be safe, which, if past responses to tragedy are any indication, often requires the imposition of restrictions on our freedom and privacy.

On one side, we desire to get to “the other side” of our grieving; to reach, once again, that state of normalcy and personal safety.

On another side, we recognize that when we get there, our senses of normalcy and safety will be illusory. We always are personally vulnerable, our choices notwithstanding, to changing circumstance and uncontrollable chance.

On one side, there are those who, amidst crisis, seek the sustaining hand of God with a faith that continues to hope in the constancy of divine care despite all appearances to the contrary.

On another side, there are those who have no use for God. If religion, a theological enterprise concerned with the relationship between divinity and humanity, can be seen in any way to have been a trigger for this tragedy, then one might fairly ask what good can come out of religion? Indeed, what good is God? Or who is this God in whose name such violence was inspired? Or what is the human hubris that fashions a vengeful face of God?

We search for peace.

Jesus speaks of “peace not as the world gives.”[1] A spiritual peace that points to the end. For it is the peace of eternal salvation, of Jesus’ abiding presence, of an unassailable, inseparable connection between earth and cosmos, humanity and divinity, now and forever.

However, I look not to eschatological end-times, but rather at our now-times, in search for a pathway to this peace.

This peace has nothing to do with the avoidance of trial or the absence of tribulation, but rather with our acknowledgement of our troubles.

This peace has nothing to do with our bringing an end to our tensions and a beginning of some sentimental spirit of well-being, but rather with our facing and wrestling with all that torments us, both from without and from within.

This peace has everything to do with our reaching constantly around the barriers we erect to keep out all that disturbs us, reaching across boundaries of difference internal and external between our faith and our fears, our hunger for security and our acknowledgement of countless circumstances beyond our control. Around barriers and across boundaries racial and cultural, philosophical and theological, and, yes, between America and the world.

This peace has everything to do with our constant embrace of “the other” beyond tolerance in a bond of mutual acceptance, understanding, and respect, even celebration.

This peace has everything to do with a vision of radical diversity and inclusivity.

This is the peace of God that passes all understanding.[2] For it makes no sense to embrace difference, particularly at times of turmoil and tragedy when our human instinct is not diversity and inclusion, but rather seclusion and exclusion.

Is the pathway to this peace comfortable? No

Is it even desirable in accord with our human druthers? No.

Yet, in the words of the hymn, this is “the peace of God that is no peace, but strife closed in the sod.”

Yet, also in the words of that hymn and in the words of our hearts, “let us pray for but one thing — the marvelous peace of God.”[3]

© 2021 PRA

#thepeaceofGodthatpassesallunderstanding #thepeaceofGodthatpassesourunderstanding


[1] John 14.27

[2] Philippians 4.7

[3]From the hymn, They cast their nets in Galilee, The Hymnal 1982, #661, verse 4.

4 thoughts on “The Search for Peace

  1. Thank you Paul!! May our search for peace continue!!!
    Love

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  2. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for revisiting your post-9/11 sermon today – I’m already thinking of it as “Paul’s 9/11 sermon on the paradox of peace.”

    You wrote:

    “This peace has nothing to do with the avoidance of trial or the absence of tribulation, but rather with our acknowledgement of our troubles.

    This peace has nothing to do with our bringing an end to our tensions and a beginning of some sentimental spirit of well-being, but rather with our facing and wrestling with all that torments us, both from without and from within.”

    As I read these and your words following and as I explored the hymn you quoted, “They Cast Their Nets in Galilee,” with which I was not previously familiar, the iconic words of John Lewis, “good trouble,” came immediately to mind. The kind of peace you describe precipitates good trouble, I think, and I also think, paradoxically it must arise from good trouble and from our willingness, i. e., our faithfulness, to get into good trouble.

    The third verse of “They Cast Their Nets in Galilee” is so enlightening to me about the peace of God:

    “Contented, peaceful fishermen,
    Before they ever knew
    The peace of God that filled their hearts
    Brimful, and broke them too.”

    Once again, the paradox. The peace of God fills the heart “brimful” but breaks it too. Perhaps it is only a heart that is broken that can experience God’s peace? Perhaps it is only a heart that is broken that can set aside the superficial human understanding of peace to accept the rich burden of God’s peace?

    I have pondered a great deal in my life what the phrase “the peace that passes all understanding” must mean. I have imagined a quiet, a solitude, a depth of calm that is beyond anything that would be possible in a human life, and I still think that must be one aspect of God’s peace, but your words and ideas have brought me an understanding that absent the willingness to follow and accept the “trouble” and the pain that comes from relinquishing an unfettered, superficial understanding of peace, no authentic peace, no peace of God, is possible.

    There is so much to think about here, Paul. Thank you so much for sharing this sermon again. It will inform my days going forward from this anniversary, and I will think again and again of what peace I want for myself, for this country, and for the world, and how to go about finding it.

    With much gratitude and love,

    Karen

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    1. Thank you, my beloved sister, always and, now, here, for your scintillating commentary. Yes, for me, peace, true peace, God’s peace calls for, indeed, I have come to believe, requires our brim-filled broken-heartedness. For only in that state of our awareness that we are broken and cannot save ourselves from trouble of all kinds and, in a word, that we are poor in spirit can we yield ourselves to (so, to be at peace, to be at one with) that power greater than ourselves. This peace is not comfortable. Perhaps, as I seek to suggest, it is not desirable in human terms. However, it is the only peace, I believe, worth seeking, attaining (for the promise is in the believing), and, thus, possessing (indeed, being possessed by).

      Love, always and in all ways,
      Paul

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