The Way of Peace
May 23, 2011
the gift of transcendent peace requires of us that we become
more intimate with ourselves, with the world, with others, and
with God. We do
this first of all by deepening our attunement to or consonance
with our founding life form.
A very paradoxical phenomenon of human life is that in
the course of our lives we often more consistently move away
from, rather than towards, our deepest originality.
This dissociation from our true originality and coercive
attempt to re-create ourselves requires an act of suppression or
repression of our founding life form.
This profound self-alienation makes reminders and
intimations of our founding life form, our own deepest identity,
a source of anxiety and fear to us, a disturber of our peace.
In his book In
the Valley of the Shadow, James L. Kugel writes a reflection on
a personal life experience which occurred some ago while he was
Professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard.
In 2000, Kugel was diagnosed with a “particularly
aggressive form of cancer.”
He was told that it could not be cured, but it could be
treated, with a life expectancy of a few years at best.
When he left the doctor’s office Kugel describes an
experience of “a certain state of mind.”
He says that the “background music” of ordinary life
suddenly stopped, leaving him in a state of total silence.
Everything we ordinarily think about (our concerns, our
duties, the future) all fell away.
And when all these thoughts and feelings (born of the
illusion we will live forever) fell away, he was left in total
silence with a sense of his own smallness: not smallness in
relationship to anything else, just the experience of his
absolute smallness in the world.
This is a description of the falling away of our own
“pride form,” that which in ordinary consciousness we confuse
with our foundational identity.
It is the falling away of that life which is the product
of our own efforts and imagination.
background music of our ordinary consciousness is playing, any
sense of our smallness is an affront to us, and a source of fear
and anxiety. This
is the source of violence in us.
It is the fear of our smallness, impotence, and limit
that coerces us to violence.
But when we move toward instead of distancing from our
smallness — that is, our unique founding life form which is
small but significant and loved — we become more intimate with
ourselves and thus begin to experience the peace of being truly
If distance leads
to dispositions of coercion, manipulation, and control, intimacy
moves toward love and “submission.”
The fruits of this love and obedience are appreciation
and appropriation of our smallness, an awareness of where we
really fit in the world, and thus, an ongoing discovery of what
is our true work in the world.
We begin to become whole and complete, to know shalom,
when our designs
begin to be replaced by those of the Mystery.
In the Divine Comedy Dante puts it this way:
“In his will is our peace.”
So, as a 3rd century Rabbi that Kugel quotes
puts it: “Make His
will your will, so that your will may be His.”
In the experience which Meister Eckhart refers to as
“remaining within,” we know and can live out our life call and
life work that as our life ends we may be able to say, with
Jesus, “I have finished the work you have given me to do” (John
This is living
out of a life of prayer, a prayer that is the most intimate of
actions. It is
bringing our whole will, our whole self before God that we may
inter-form, that we may learn the truth of things, and that we
may be available to a fuller expression of our founding life
form in our heart and character.
This submission to God’s will in us leads us to more
fully give form to and receive form from the world instead of
our trying to control or manage it.
Violence springs from our attempts to make the world
correspond to our will rather than our submitting to being
directed by God through our field of formation.
van Kaam writes that what prevents peace and joy from
taking root in our hearts is not primarily our missing things we
would like to have but rather our coercive strivings for them.
It is our coercive strivings “that make us hoard things
and hurry time.
This is what keeps us from savoring the surprises of life the
mystery inspires us to enjoy.” (Transcendent
Formation, p. 253)
Coercive strivings keep us from living and enjoying what
the day brings to us and, by extension, the life that is given
to us. Peace and
joy come from receiving, appreciating and enjoying whatever is
given to us – none of which is the result of our effort.
Peace is the Lord’s
gift to us, but to receive the gift requires of us that we
mitigate the power of our coercive strivings on our life and
world. Van Kaam
suggests that one of the primary ways to do this is to grow in
awareness of how we attempt “to make situations fit coercive
longings instead of flowing with them as formation
(ibid., p. 254) Hospitality
is the disposition which will help us flow with situations in
such a way that they become “formation opportunities” rather
than threats to be controlled.
In Gethsemane the disciples are unable to “stay with”
Jesus and to share in and suffer through the experience which he
and they are having.
In the resurrection story of the disciples on the way to
Emmaus, we see the opposite experience as the Risen Jesus is
recognized by the disciples because they have besought the
stranger to “stay with” them. It
is by staying with, in openness and unknowing, in faith and
trust, in hope and love, that the Way becomes known to us.
Our compulsions, our coercive strivings, are always
trying to avoid aspects of life, to escape the strangeness of
our life and the mystery at its core.
Scriptural hospitality is the opposite of coercion – it
is creating a space for the stranger and the strange; in its
openness and receptivity it the opposite of violence.
In the Garden of
Gethsemane, the disciples “tune out” despite Jesus’ appeal that
they stay, watch, and pray with him.
In such a difficult and painful situation most of us
would probably do the same.
We often tune out of the unpleasant aspects of life in
this way. We
can physically or psychologically sleep, blocking out what is
part of our life situation that seems too difficult to bear.
But, very often, we fail to stay awake to life by our
futile attempt to remake the situation or person to fit our
This is ordinary, daily violence.
It is most of all the violence of refusing the formation
opportunity, the will of God in the moment.
It is also the root of all other forms of violence.
Our formation field and the World have the Divine Mystery
as their radiating center.
Peace comes to us, individually and communally, in our
hospitable openness to reality and the conforming of our will to
the Way that is God’s will.
We know the way because we have the transcendent potency
of our founding life form, a potency that is, in itself, the
gift of peace that Jesus and God have given us.