Peace: A Spiritual Longing
June 1, 2011
enduring formation traditions of humanity speak with one voice
about the desire and need for peace as a condition for living a
spiritual life. They inspire us to pursue peace in the various
articulations they present to our minds and hearts. They remind
us of our deepest longings, alluring us with the possibility of
true and lasting peace in this life.
Thich Nhat Hanh
for example offers the following understanding of peace from his
Buddhist spiritual tradition:
Peace is all around us –
in the world and in nature –
and within us –
in our bodies, and our spirits.
Once we learn to touch this peace,
we will be healed and transformed.
It is not a matter of faith;
It is a matter of practice.
For Hanh, peace is already there – or
here! – in the world around us as well as within us.
We have only to reach out and touch it.
But it is up to us to do so.
The peace we long for is not an impossible quest.
By means of the right kind of practice we can attain
peace and experience for ourselves that it is a source of
healing and transformation.
To live in peace, our trust must be
We do not achieve
peace simply by believing in it.
Peace is practice.
The various elements in the lines of Hanh’s prayer inspire faith
in the interconnectedness of reality.
In reality, peace is all-encompassing, suffusing all of
life and available to us at all times.
representative formulation of peace, this one from the Catholic
Christian tradition, Catherine of Genoa traces out for us “The
Way of Peace.” Catherine
views peace as the culmination of a process of personal
formation. She lays out a
series of stages along the way to peace, reminiscent of the
stages of spiritual transformation.
Her prescriptions are therefore a guidance to souls.
God conducts the soul along an extraordinary road:
When the good God calls us in this world, he
finds us full of vices
and sins, and his first work is to give us the instinct to
practice virtue; then he incites us to desire perfection, and
afterwards, by infused grace, he conducts us to the true self-naughting,
and finally to the true transformation.
Peace increases in us as this process
unfolds. The soul
that is “naughted” and transformed “no longer works, or speaks,
or wills, or feels, or understands . . .”
In this state the soul begins to experience pure peace:
“It seems to her that both soul and body are immersed in a sea
of the profoundest peace . . .
the sweetest peace, of which she is so full, that if her
flesh, her bones, her nerves were pressed, nothing would issue
from them but peace.”
The transformation Catherine speaks of begins in this
lifetime but is only completed in the next.
To grow in peace in this life we must overcome our
inclination toward sin and spiritual isolation.
Purification in the first stage gradually gives way to
simplification of desire, or what is often called purity of
heart. Our true
spiritual identity emerges as we wean ourselves from ego-willing
and learn to rest in God.
The restless heart more and more seeks peace and harmony
in all dimensions of life.
Embodied peace is the goal in both of these traditions.
Body and soul, a person
becomes peace. Every
fiber of our being craves
and issues the gift of peace.
Transformed by peace we become the embodiment of peaceful
Our longing for peace is innate.
It is also an expression of the power of peaceful
experiences in our lives and of their residues in our
longing for peace that tends to increase with the years is thus
rooted in indelible experiences of profound inner and outer
harmony and their consonant effects on our spirit.
St. Augustine’s insight about the essential restlessness
of the human heart alerts us to our fundamental spiritual lack.
The awareness of restlessness, of dissonance, fuels our
desire for peace. It
propels us to set out on the journey toward greater peace of
We desire peace as the alleviation of painful problems
that torment us, and of conflicts beyond our means to solve or
resolve. We hope for
the possibility of a peace that is stronger than pain and loss;
the kind of peace which helps us to trust and to see that
sorrow, cruelty and injustice do not have the last word in this
Transcendent peace, however, is not a species of
we close ourselves off to the world, will we find peace – or
True peace is not the absence of conflict or difficulty.
It resides in the real world.
The peace of mind we long for can be established in the
midst of the realities of our actual life.
We are called to find the way of peace amid the
sufferings of the life we are now living.
This calling includes the ability to put a halt to the
sufferings we unwittingly create and perpetuate.
By learning to bear life’s sufferings we will discover
the promised peace beyond all telling, a flourishing of peace in
inner calm, tranquility, self-possession, and courageous
involvement in our present circumstances.
(To be continued)