Peace is such a popular word, we use it frequently as a Christmas greeting, we use it daily when stressed, and we use it in response to war.
The strangest thing about peace is that there is always an expectation that it will come from an external source, “I send you Peace and Joy,” or “Give me some peace!” or “We want peace!”, or “Let us declare peace!” This kind of peace comes with a price: the price of compromise and protracted negotiations. It usually calls for a peace treaty, not only between governments but also in personal relationships - a contract that imposes conditions of agreement.
When we really understand what peace is we realize that this view of peace is superficial. To deepen our understanding of peace we can explore its meaning in the Bible where we find terms life Prince of Peace or Lord of Peace. Why is Jesus Christ referred to as the Prince of Peace or the Lord of Peace? His path to the cross was less than peaceful. Only when we ask the question: is peace given to us? or is it up to us to find this peace? can we begin to discover the true meaning of peace.
Eirene is the Greek word for peace and indicates freedom from disturbance, stillness. Shalom is the Hebrew equivalent and means soundness. This means that peace means to be still, to be sound, to experience inner harmony. This is a personal experience, not something that comes to us through others. We harmonize all that is discordant within us. Indeed, we can say that the noblest response is for us to be peaceful in the face of adversity, and the lowest response would be to expect someone else to do something so that we experience peace.
Imagine what it would be like if people took up the responsibility to achieve harmony within themselves, to be still, to achieve their own peace whenever their peace was disturbed.
I have written about this process before where I suggest that each time our equilibrium is disrupted we can place ourselves in the upper room. To achieve this we create the imagination of the disciples meeting in the upper room after the crucifixion, and Christ appears among them. It says that he walked through the wall (because the doors were locked), and the disciples experienced intense fear. To help build a vivid imagination read the story in the Gospel of St John, Chapter 20:19-31. Three times Jesus says, “Eirene humin,” “Peace to you” which essentially means remove the disturbance within you and reinstate soundness.
If we try to do this when something fearful happens to us we know how hard it can be. The human condition is one of fear (which we will explore another time) and therefore we need all the help we can get to deal with fear. I have suggested that whenever we experience inner disturbances that we create in our minds an image of Jesus standing before us saying, “Peace to you.” This reinforces our own ability to reinstate inner harmony. By repeating this practice over time, it will become second nature and be of great assistance whenever we are alarmed. When we do this with success, we know that we have to create peace within ourselves. If we wait for it to approach us from outside we will never experience it.
This is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read about peace and love.
“In May 1945, immediately after the end of World War II, George Ritchie, a young American soldier, found himself with a group of American physicians in a German concentration camp near Wuppertal.'" They offered medical assistance to the thousands of former prisoners who were close to dying of starvation. In the midst of this unimaginable misery, Ritchie encountered a man who made a profound impression on him. He stood out among the other prisoners because, in contrast to them, his bearing was bolt upright, his eyes clear, and he had a virtually inexhaustible energy.
Since he spoke five languages fluently, the Americans appointed this man interpreter, in the course of which he was tirelessly busy helping people for 15 to 16 hours a day. He radiated an atmosphere of love and compassion from which others drew nourishment. Ritchie called this man, a Polish Jew, 'Bill Cody'. To Ritchie's astonishment he had apparently spent many years in this camp, during which he lived on the same starvation diet as all other prisoners and slept in the same disease-infested barracks. But unlike the others he did not look like a living skeleton.
Each group in the camp seemed to regard him as their friend. If a quarrel erupted he was called to arbitrate and mediate. He also continually talked with the former prisoners, who were so locked into hatred that they wished to shoot every German on sight, and urged them to forgive their enemies. When Ritchie comments that this will not be easy for them after all they have experienced, Cody tells him his own story, as follows:
We lived in the Warsaw ghetto, my wife and I, our two daughters and our three small sons. When the Germans reached our street they put everyone against the wall and opened fire with their machine-guns. I begged to be allowed to die with my family, but because I spoke German they put me on a forced-labour crew. He pauses for a moment and continues: At that moment I had to decide for myself whether to hate the soldiers who were responsible for this or not. It was in fact not a difficult decision. I was a lawyer. In my practice I had seen all too frequently what hatred can do to people's body and spirit. Hatred had just cost the lives of the six most important people in my life. This is why at that moment I decided that for the rest of my life—whether this was a few days or many years—I would love everyone I came in contact with.
Ritchie suddenly realized that this—love for everyone—is the force that had kept this man, Bill Cody, so healthy and fit despite all the misery and deprivation he experienced.”
Quoted from “Time for Transformation - through Darkness to the Light” by Margarete Van Den Brink and Hans Stolp.