The Peace of God

There is no political solution to the religious problem—there is no solution at all. This was Jesus’ realization in the wilderness and in Gethsemane: There is no solution.

The religious problem is the problem of religion, of all religions. It is the problem of seeing, hearing and understanding. It is the problem of “everyone just getting along.”

If anything is clear from 5,000 years of recorded history, it is that we cannot get along. We cannot get along without imposing our rules on them—without making them like us. This is the problem. They do not take well to us and our rules. They take exception, raise objections, and work ceaselessly to find ways of turning the tables and imposing their rules on us.

As a species, we have tired everything we could imagine to work it out. We have tried buying them off, wiping them out, and sealing them off. We have also tried sealing ourselves off. Yet, they would not go away. They were always still there, refusing to disappear, looking always for ways of getting the upper hand and disappearing us.

How are we all going to solve the religious problem of seeing, hearing, understanding—and agreeing among all of us that the way we all see, etc. is The Way to see, etc. for everyone everywhere, over time and space?

How are we all going to get our hearts to sing as one heart? Same page, same verse, same tune? That is the religious problem, for which there is no solution.

This was Jesus’ realization in the wilderness and in Gethsemane. It wasn’t Satan who appeared in the wilderness, offering the political solution (“You can conquer all the kingdoms of the world and compel them to do as you say!”), the economic solution (“You can turn stones into bread and water into wine and give them all of the physical necessities and pleasures of life, and bribe them into doing your bidding.”), and the religious solution (“You can throw yourself off the temple and the angels will bear you up. You can dazzle them with miracles and they will rush to do your will.”). Jesus was quite capable of imagining these scenario’s himself. And of seeing the emptiness of each one.

The trouble with all of these “solutions” is that there would be no oneness of heart among the people, no common bonds, no good faith relationship within each individual, and among all individuals within the global community. It would be a sham existence, a loss of soul world-wide, as people gave themselves up for political expediency, economic well-being, religious appearances. Jesus could separate the people from their hearts, perhaps, by issuing commands and decrees, or buying them out, or hypnotizing them with the aura of his glory, but he could not give them one heart, one soul, one mind. They would have to come to that on their own—just as Jesus had to come to it on his own.

Jesus had no solutions to offer. He did not have a political alternative to, or a way out of, the situation with Roman occupation. His best recommendation was to “Go the second mile, turn the other cheek, love your enemies, and eat what is set before you.” His advice did not sit well with John the Baptist, who demanded to know, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another?”

Jesus’ “solution” was “revolution,” but revolution understood differently from the way it was thought of in his day—or any day. Jesus’ way of revolution was the way of accommodation-without-surrender to the oppressive rule of Rome. He recommended being clear about who we are, and what is of true value, and living in light of that in each situation as it arises—letting the outcome be the outcome. He went to his death as a way of demonstrating to his followers the extent to which they would be expected to live aligned with that which is of true value in each situation as it arises, and demonstrating the consequences they would be asked to face, the price they would have to pay. His disciples missed the point, seeing, instead, his death as being a substitute for their own, and not a precursor of it.

Christianity, as Jesus would have practiced it, is not about killing anyone. It is about dying. Dying to all that is important to us, and living to all that should be important to us. It is about serving the values that make us human. Yet, here is the test: Who decides what is to be done? We do! And, how good is the good we call good? How valuable are the values we recognize as valuable? Who is to say? We are! And there could be a bit of conflict of interest at work in all of our estimations!

Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers, said, “A Hindu text says, ‘A dangerous path is this, like the edge of a razor.”

Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate…for the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” And, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and those who find it are many.”

The spiritual journey is along a path that is like searching for Ariadne’s Thread to lead us through the maze, in living the life that is our life to live within the life we are living.

We live between coming to know what we know—that is, knowing what our unconscious knows, knowing what we know unconsciously and intuit with our conscious mind—and thinking we know what we are doing. And kidding ourselves is what we do best! But, what are we to do? The Dalai Lama said, “The ultimate authority must always rest with the individual’s own reason and critical analysis.” Rumi said, “If you are not here with us in good faith, you are doing terrible damage.” And good faith begins with ourselves. We have to keep good faith with ourselves, and know what we know, including when we are kidding ourselves and when we are resonating with the deep truth of our own heart and soul.

In Luke 6:1-5 Jesus is accosted by Pharisees for allowing his disciples to pluck and eat grain on the Sabbath, which Jesus justifies with a reference to David entering the Temple and taking consecrated bread to feed his men. Codex Bezae offers this addition to the text: The same day, seeing someone working on the Sabbath, he said to him, ‘Man, if indeed you know what you are doing, then you are blessed. But, if you do not know, then you are accursed and a transgressor of the Law.’ And his prayer on the cross was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Do we know what we are doing, or do we only think we know? How do we know? Yet, we have to act when the time for acting is upon us. To refuse to act because we are afraid we don’t know what we are doing is to risk the reprimand delivered to the servant who buried his talent because he didn’t want to make a mistake in investing it. No matter what we do, we take a chance on being “damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”

“What a dangerous path this is, like the edge of a razor!”

There is no solution to working it out, no recipe for doing it. We cannot disappear the problem, erase the tension, dichotomy, polarity between knowing and not-knowing, between what is good and not-good. What is good is also not-good from some point of view, and what is not-good is good from some point of view. We live within the animosity of opposites! And make our peace with our ambivalence and contradictions the best way we can.

The Dalai Lama is a fitting example of what I’m talking about. The Prince of Peace and Compassion in our contemporary world, the Dalai Lama lives out the theme of nonviolence and loving-kindness throughout each day, in all times and places. And yet, and yet… He is able to carry out his mission and message within the protection of a country with a nuclear arsenal—and his personal bodyguards carry automatic weapons. Make sense of that if you can!

The way I make sense of it is to say this is the dichotomy that is at the heart of all that we do. This is where we live. This is the reality of our life. What is true is countered and contradicted by what is also true. And there is no solution! No escape. No freedom from the tension, the dialectic, of contrary truths. “What a dangerous path this is! Like the edge of a razor!” And we cannot walk it alone.

We can hope to find our way along this path only on the strength of our connection with a community of the right kind of people—a community of people who see, hear and understand, of people who are cognizant of the rifts and divisions—the ambivalence and contradictions—at work within the heart of each individual within the community, and are no strangers to the difficulty of the task of discernment and living as those who are transparent to themselves.

A community of the right kind of people, which I refer to as a “Community of Innocence” because it has nothing at stake in its members, but exists solely to help those who belong to it with living their life—the life that is theirs to live, that only they can live, would enable us to:

Regain our balance, recover our equilibrium, restore our sense of direction and our connection with the Foundation Stone at the center of our heart and soul;

Realize and remember what is of central importance and of supreme value to us, and vital to our experience of life and being: What brings us to life and imbues our life with meaning and purpose, without which our life is an empty shell;

Enable us to us to remain mindful of our core—and to live out of it—in responding to the needs of the moment in every moment;

Remind us to be cognizant of the principles of “leverage,” and “working distance,” in the work to influence each situation as it arises toward the good that is possible in that situation, so that we lay aside our agenda (Our belief—in what should happen, for instance—our doctrine—“This is the way things are, and this is the way things should be!”—our theology—all the rationale supporting our position—our ideology—the cultural or religious values which we espouse and serve in working to make things like we think they should be), in order to see what is happening in the situation, and what needs to happen there for the good of that situation, and do what needs to be done out of the gifts and perspective we bring to the situation;

Listen to us as we talk about our experience in ways that enable us to hear what we are saying, and thereby experience our experience and reflect on it: What is happening in our life, what we are doing about it, how we feel about it, what is working and what is not working, what are the questions that beg to be asked, what is crying out to be said, what we need to explore and examine, what new realizations do our reflections lead to, etc.;

Invite us to experience and clarify our conflicts, contradictions and polarities: reconciling what can be reconciled, integrating what can be integrated, honoring and respecting the poles that require us to walk two paths at the same time, and bearing the pain of the tension between mutually exclusive and equally valid opposites;

Call us to remember who we are and what we are about—to know what we know, and practice our practice, in all times and places, no matter what: See what we look at. Feel what we feel. Know what we know. Listen to what we are saying. Do what we can do about what needs to be done. And let the outcome be the outcome;

And, go over it all each time we meet—because the world is geared to making us forget in the next moment everything we are clear about in this moment—snapping us into reacting without reflecting, without knowing, and without being who we are, where we are, when we are, however we are, no matter what.

The happy fantasy is to walk with impunity and immunity through the world. It ain’t gonna happen. The next best thing is to come to terms with the fact that “It ain’t gonna happen,” square ourselves up with it, and step forth into each situation as it arises, confident in our ability to handle whatever we find there. This is the magical mindset that allows us to live untouched by the worst the world can do with a “This, too. This, too. Now what?” frame of mind.

We have to find our way back to our heart. This is the Hero’s Journey—the path from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane—whose recurring theme is our own death and resurrection. The journey requires that we die to our idea of how our life is to be, and live out of our heart’s idea of how we should be. All of Christian Doctrine fits in here:

“Those who seek to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life (in the service of their heart) will find it.”

“It is no longer I who live, but Christ (that is, the heart’s true drift and direction) who lives in me.”

“I must decrease and he (That is ‘Heart’) must increase.”

In 1924, William Alexander Percy captured beautifully the essence of this struggle from death to life with his poem/hymn, “They Cast Their Nets in Galilee”:

They cast their nets in Galilee,

Just off the hills of brown,

Such happy, simple, fisherfolk,

Before the Lord came down.

Contented, peaceful, fishermen

Before they ever knew,

The peace of God that filled their hearts

Brimful—and broke them, too.

Young John, who trimmed the flapping sail,

Homeless, in Patmos, died.

Peter, who hauled the teeming net,

Head-down, was crucified.

The peace of God, it is no peace,

But strife closed in the sod,

Yet, children, pray for but one thing:

The marvelous peace of God!

The idea here of the peace of God being “strife closed in the sod” takes us back to the story of Adam being formed from the earth (of “the sod”), and that the “strife,” the struggle, the contention from the first is between our idea of our life and God’s, or our heart’s, idea of our life, and whose idea will be expressed in the life we live. The peace of God is the working out of that tension, that dichotomy, that polarity regarding how we will live our life over the full course of our life. There is no peace like the peace of being at one with ourselves, our heart, and the life we are living. May it become so for us all!

Published by jimwdollar

I'm retired, and still finding my way--but now, I don't have to pretend that I know what I'm doing. I retired after 40.5 years as a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, serving churches in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. I graduated from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Austin, Texas, and Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. My wife, Judy, and I have three daughters and five granddaughters within about twenty minutes from where we live--and are enjoying our retirement as much as we have ever enjoyed anything.

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