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“Peace I Leave with You”:  The Gift of Transcendent Peace

May 16, 2011

peaceAt the heart of the teaching of all of the world’s spiritual traditions is the call to peace.  The longer we live the more we realize how elusive this call is.  Experience teaches us that the peace that is the absence of conflict seems impossible to attain through the efforts of our executive or managing wills.  Outer harmony is only possible out of an experience of inner harmony, and this inner harmony is something that we cannot willfully impose, but rather that we must receive as a gift.  Thus, it may be that the path to peace is one that requires of each of us a renewal of mind and heart, a willingness, as Zachariah said upon the birth of his son John the Baptist, to receive “the tender mercy of our God,/ With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,/ To shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,/ To guide our feet into the way of peace.”  (Luke 1: 77-79)  “The way of peace” is a way on which we must be guided; that is, true peace is a transcendent gift.

     As we are reading during this Easter Season, the outstanding gift of the Risen Jesus is peace.  In the resurrection narratives, Jesus invariably enters into a situation of anxiety and fear and first utters the Hebrew greeting “Shalom.”  In the world of Jesus’ time, as in the Jewish world of today, greetings and departures are marked by the blessing of “Shalom,” peace.  But the word Shalom carries with it a much fuller connotation than our English word peace.  The verb form of the word, shalam, means “to make whole or complete.”  So, when a person has somehow created some deficiency in another, that person is responsible to make up the deficiency, to restore whatever has been taken or lost, to make whole again.  The noun form means literally a state of wholeness or completeness, without deficiency.  Shalom is, thus, one of the basic underlying principles of the Torah.  The great Talmudic scholar and philosopher of the 12th century Maimonides teaches:  “Great is peace, as the whole Torah was given in order to promote peace in the world, as it is stated, ‘Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace.’”  To wish another “Shalom” then is to wish the wholeness and fulfillment, the human flourishing, of the path of Torah (the Law), or the way.  One will know peace to the degree that one lives the Law, that one’s will becomes the same as God’s will. 

     The words of our title, “Peace I leave with You,” are drawn from the 14th Chapter of the Gospel of John.  The Jesus who speaks in these chapters of John is clearly the Risen Christ. The dialogue of these chapters is thus a dialogue between the Jesus who is now living and our own spirits and souls.  This is clear in the fact that Jesus, as the narrative frames it, in bidding farewell to his disciples with the word “Shalom” does far more than wish his disciples peace, wholeness, completeness.  As Risen Lord, he gives that gift to us.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  (John 14: 37)

     The Chapter begins with Jesus recognizing that our hearts are troubled.  But he asks us, despite feeling troubled, to trust in God and to trust in Him.  Isn’t trusting in God and trusting in Jesus the same thing?  Why then would Jesus distinguish them?  The remainder of the Chapter begins to show this to us.  “I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too.”  (vs. 2-3)  There are a lot of comings and goings in this Chapter.  But isn’t that our experience of Mystery in life.  Jesus is leaving in the form he has taken, but will come back to us as Spirit that we may know that our life is where his life is, that is in God.  “On that day you will understand that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you.” (v. 20)   

     Fr. Adrian van Kaam says:  “My originality is hidden with Christ in God.”  (On Being Yourself, p. 173)  That is, that which is innermost in us, what van Kaam calls our “founding form,” is always at one (complete and whole) and at peace because it is in Christ who is in God.  When Jesus calls us to “trust in God and trust in me” as the way to peace, he is calling us to a life of deeper intimacy with him by way of the founding form of ourselves and others.  Our founding life form, or Christ form, is not an object we can see or feel.  It is rather a call and a direction, which manifests in how we live our lives, in our works.

“You must believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason. I tell you most solemnly whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works, . . .  (vs. 11-12)

Peace is to manifest the life and will of God in our lives and in our works.  We know wholeness and peace when we are working (that is living) in attunement with the love-will of God, a love-will that we know to the degree we live in consonance with our founding form.

     Van Kaam points out that the English word intimacy comes from the Latin word intimus, meaning “innermost.”  That which is innermost in us and others is our founding life form or life call.  To be intimate with our own founding life form, which is to be at one with Christ and with God, means our life work will increasingly mirror that form.  Our inmost call becomes more and more available to our awareness and communication potencies, and so is more fully manifested in our word and work.  This growth in intimacy becomes growth in trust with our Divine source.  Jesus lived his life in such an intimacy that he could say:  “I do only what I see the Father doing.”  (Jn. 5:19)  For us it will always be a case of hopefully increasingly consonant mirroring of our founding life form in our heart, character and works over time.  Intimacy and trust never come easily to us.  There is always present a conflicting pride form to our Christ form.  This is why, as Maimonides said, the Torah is given, a way of life is given, in order to promote peace in our lives.  We must follow the “way of peace,” a way that Jesus says we know.  We “know” the way, but, as our founding life form, it is “not directly available to awareness and communication.”  In short, we know the way, but we don’t know that we know it.

     Receiving the gift of transcendent peace thus requires of us that we become more intimate with ourselves, with the world, with others, and with God.  And we do this by deepening consonance with our founding life form, the Christ form within us, which is our unique “way of peace.”  

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Last updated: 11/25/10.