From the desk of...

Peace

Advent, week two.

During this second week we are reflecting on the theme of peace. It seems to come right when we need it the most – December can be the exact opposite of peaceful!  At the Martini house we have been making an effort to find peaceful moments as often as we can, but sometimes the rush of daily life ( a minor blizzard, or two…) gets in the way.

One peaceful family habit we have tried to focus on since October is a meaningful moment of gratitude before dinner every night. We started taking turns reading out of an old family book of daily graces (“A Grateful Heart” – thanks Mimi) and the tradition quickly became so popular with every family member that we sometimes have to have multiple readings.

Day by day the different quotes, prayers and readings seem to echo the significance and concern of our current daily life.  When my turn came last Saturday, on the eve of the “peace” candle, this is what I read:

“By being attentive, by learning to listen (or recovering the natural capacity to listen) we can find our self engulfed in such happiness that it cannot be explained: the happiness of being at one with everything in that hidden ground of Love for which there can be no explanations… May we all grow in grace and peace, and not neglect the silence that is printed in the centre of our being.  It will not fail us.” (Thomas Merton)

The imagery in this passage (“silence printed at the centre of our being”) was so striking to me that I spent some of my Sunday afternoon reading more about Thomas Merton, and discovering a bit of a kindred spirit.  While many aspects of his life and writing are fascinating, the part that connected most with my thoughts about peace was his exploration of the depth of human experience and wealth of perspective available through a collaborative understanding of various faith traditions.

His philosophy is not just inspiring – in our current culture it is essential.  How can we be at peace with ourselves, how can we create peace in our world, when we are overwhelmed with fear and misunderstanding?  Even as we reconnect with our own spiritual roots and traditions we can draw on the mystical traditions of other religions in order to better understand ourselves, as well as our relationship with others and with God (or the “reality that is present to us and in us: call it Being…Silence.” (Thomas Merton – again – brilliant…)

 

Merton’s idea of peace in silence reminded me of another quote I return to often, from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata:

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

Two weeks ago, when coming back from a school field trip with Miss G., I sat with a friend on the bus to the ferry and talked about how we find time for peace in our busy grown-up lives.  “You have to go to it,” she reminded me, emphatically.  “It can’t find you unless you make time and space.”  In her life peace comes in the silence of nature, and she makes time to seek it out every day…

Seeking out a peaceful moment, a peaceful thought or a peaceful time in this modern world is increasingly a challenge.  Being a peace seeker, a peace keeper, a peace maker, has become almost counter-cultural.  (Inspired by another amazing article about Jonathan Lear’s book Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation.)  Peace, however, is imprinted at the centre of our being.  We must not neglect it, and it will not fail us.  Where do you go to find peace?  Is it in the silence of nature, like my friend from the bus, or in the transcendence of music?  Is it in the warmth and comfort of home with your loved ones, or in the rush of energy that comes with dancing, running, sledding, flying?  Can you get yourself there today?

 

“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.  And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.” (Max Ehrmann)

(Art by primary students from Norma Rose Point School)

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From the library...

Understanding (Peace)…

One of our favourite family pastimes is hanging out in the library.  I have carried this tradition from my childhood, when the library was the centre of all learning and discovery – endless aisles of ideas, culture, knowledge – where the entire universe was waiting to be discovered.  We still visit often and are always rewarded with new inspiration.  On a recent visit I pulled this book (“Shh! We Have a Plan”, by Chris Haughton) off the shelf because the art was wonderful.  I have since read it over and over (to my own children and to many others) and have added it to my ongoing book cart as it seems I will need to have my own copy…

The book tells the story of four characters on an adventure.  There are three “hunters”  and one younger character with a different approach who is chastised often by the elders for not following the plan.  It is a story of transformation, and of the simple wisdom in being oneself in spite of opposition.  It is a story of building understanding by listening and gentleness instead of forging on with a plan that isn’t really working.

   I thought of this story many times in the last month or two, whenever things weren’t really working.  I thought of it often during moments of conflict and during moments of misunderstanding.  I have wondered why more people don’t see the simplest ways of communicating and cooperating; when I have been most disappointed in the chaos created by arrogant human failings this little book has brought some hope.  (That’s a lot to say about a children’s book, isn’t it?  Are you listening, grown-ups of the world?  Are you listening, world leaders?)

 Even more recently, while reading an article on the dire state of our political world (violence, repression, economic dominance and military might…) I read a quote from Gandhi that made me think of the importance of this beautiful book too:

“Everywhere wars are fought and millions of people are killed.  The consequence is not the progress of a nation but its decline… Pride makes a victorious nation bad-tempered.  It falls into luxurious ways of living.  Then for a time, it may be conceded, peace prevails.  But after a short while, it comes more and more to be realized that the seeds of war have not been destroyed but have become a thousand times more nourished and might.  No country has ever become, or will ever become, happy through victory in war.”  (Mahatma Gandhi)

I had read this book several times (and I encourage you to do so too!) before I noticed an inscription at the beginning…

 “Peace can only be achieved by understanding.”  Understanding can only be achieved by communication.  Communication can only be achieved by patience and never with judgment… Have we gone too far on our human quest for power and control?  Can we learn to value cooperation and kindness?  Can we learn to trust and love enough to change the world for the better?  How far into the future can we see?

  

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From the desk of...

Advent… (Peace)

Another week closer to winter, and another week closer to Christmas. This second week of advent is so much busier than the first: presents to buy and wrap, cards to mail, groceries to get and long lines to stand in… Energy levels drop and anxiety levels rise.  We are  cranky with each other.  Yesterday was a tough day around here, and the strain was beginning to show.  One of my favourite people sent me this quote today:

“Nobody can live for any length of time within a family or a community without hurting others and without getting hurt.  The challenge is to have the resiliency to live with that. (St. Therese of Lisieux)

It seems fitting that the virtue for this week should be peace.

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I have written about peace before – recently at Remembrance Day, and some time ago as part of a complicated evolution of childhood memory into adult understanding- but mostly I am no closer to unlocking the secrets of peace…

There is so much fear/anger/hatred/sadness in the world. How do we make sense of being peaceful people in the face of real unrest? How do we manage to become not just peace keepers, but peace makers?

Above my desk I keep Max Ehrman’s “Desiderata” – I have quoted from it here before, and have many childhood memories of my mother quoting it to me – and in the very beginning there is this line:

“Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

Is that the answer? Do we need to find a moment of silence to feel the peace that is waiting for us? How can we afford a moment of silence when there is so much to be done?

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For the first time this year my children and I have started a new tradition of decorating the bare branches of our beloved maple trees.  It has been quite funny because our late fall weather has brought us some blustery gusty winds and each morning we find the ornaments blown around on the front lawn.  This week it has been our habit to spend five minutes before we leave for the day gathering up the ornaments and reattaching them to the branches.  It’s not quite silent but it’s quiet enough that we can hear the birds chirping in the trees as they go about their own morning chores. This morning, in that moment of almost-silence I had a tiny little epiphany…

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Before I can make peace in the world with anyone else I need to find my own peaceful place…I need to make peace with myself.

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Such a tiny little moment in a kinetic whirlwind of a week, and the act of standing in my own soggy front yard, surrounded by wind storm debris and listening to the birds and my children playing, I felt just a little bit more at peace with myself and just a little bit more alive.  For today, that is just what I needed.

“The important thing is to somehow begin.” (Henry Moore)

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