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Peace at the Gate

It’s late afternoon, and I’m looking and listening out my new office window at a thunderstorm. Thunderstorms are common on the prairies, of course, and can be truly breathtaking. They are wild and unpredictable—they can last for hours, or be gone only minutes after they arrive. The rains come fast and hard, the sky booms, crackles, and sparks—lit up with the pyrotechnics of heaven.

It’s nice to see a thunderstorm. I can’t remember even one in six years on the west coast, although the power and beauty of the created world was in abundant evidence there as well, if in different ways. For all their impressive beauty, though, thunderstorms also bespeak danger. They can frighten and intimidate, reminding us of just how small and insignificant we really are. They can send us running for shelter—somewhere secure to hide from the brute power of nature.

Outside my office, right in front of the entrance to our church is a little wooden sign that says, in nine different languages, “May Peace Prevail Upon Earth.” It looks overly optimistic right now, this little sign, especially as it is mercilessly pounded by torrential rains. Poor peace, taking a beating in this driving rain, this spectacular storm.

“May Peace Prevail Upon Earth.” Peace certainly doesn’t seem to prevail very often, in our world or in our lives. From global conflicts and catastrophes to the storms that rage in our own hearts and minds, and of those we care about, peace so often seems a scarce and evasive commodity. “Peace” is one of those words like “hope” and “love”—they roll off the tongue easily and beautifully, but seem so far from reality, always eluding our grasp.

The Apostle Paul tells the believers in Philippi that the peace of God will “guard” their hearts and minds, in the midst of circumstances that could easily lead to anxiety and distress (Philippians 4:6-7). Times like ours, in other words. Any time and every time.

So often, peace is a “something” that we want. We want and pray for peace in the Middle East or the streets of London, peace in our relationships and workplaces, peace of mind. Peace like a commodity, an object that will fix things once we possess it.

But I’m wondering about the idea of peace as “guard” today. Peace as a gift of God, to protect and guide through the storm. Not to replace the storm, necessarily, although God knows we could use that too, but to shield us through it. Peace that keeps us standing and facing the right direction, even in the midst of chaos and confusion.

Peace that stands at the gate of our hearts and minds, a little sign, a few words of hope and promise, while the sky explodes and the rains pound down.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Wicki #

    Great to hear you are enjoying your new “view.”….and all that comes with it! I also do miss the thunderstorms….thanks for the musings on peace, rain, and storms. God is good and full of peace in all times.

    August 11, 2011
    • Amen. Good to hear from you, Paul!

      August 12, 2011
  2. Tanya Duerksen #

    Loved it Ryan. Thanks.

    Tanya

    August 11, 2011
  3. Perhaps peace is more of a choice than we realize. A couple of years ago, best as I could, I embraced the works of great Catholic mystics looking for some answers. I was weary of the quiet depressions and not so quiet angers, that had enveloped so much of my outlook.Clearly my ability to influence outcomes was minimal, located mostly around the particular circumstances of my life, and even then not always so. Whle I have to admit that much of the theories of contemplative understanding escaped me, this much I understood. I had been praying and worshiping at or too our God, contemplatives prayed and worshipped in the presence of God, with God.

    A simple assent on my part initiated the process. God did not manifest Himself miraculously in vision. I simply believed in His presence, truly believed he was there and immediately thereafter, He was.

    The presence of God is peace. More beautiful is the realization that you are loved beyond understanding and capable of returning this love if you desire too. Too Him, too yourself, too others.

    The storms still come and go, as you say they are not replaced, but the peace of God’s presence sustains us.

    The negro spiritualists were right all along, in the peace of God’s presence, we shall overcome.

    August 12, 2011
    • Thanks for this Paul. There is wisdom and truth in what you say here.

      I have been reading the Psalms over the last little while and have been struck by the seamless manner in which the psalmists go back and forth between describing things as gifts from God and attributes associated with the very presence of God. It’s quite beautiful, and communicates something similar to what I hear you saying here. Peace is a gift from God to us, and the very presence of God is, itself peace. Maybe just two ways of saying the same thing.

      August 12, 2011
  4. Yes, with all my heart I believe this to be true. The very presence of God is peace. Then it logically follows that God must be present in what we do for peace to reign. This won’t happen among unbelievers, how could it? it is believers who must stop holding God at arms length and truly invite Him into our hearts, our lives, our actions.

    Jesus is here. He has never left us. The kingdom is always now.

    August 12, 2011
  5. I think a lot of people in churches, especially social activists, worship the goddess Pax. They seem more hungry for peace than for God. Peace is good certainly. I am grateful to live in a peaceful community. But when Jesus foretold of wars and rumors of wars, he assumed conflict would be a normal thing in human society. I like your notion of peace guarding our hearts even in the midst of life’s storms. I memorized Philippians 4:6-7 during my college years, and in times of stress those words always come back to me.

    August 12, 2011
    • Yes, I think what you say is true, Chris. Often we get our order wrong (i.e., peace first, God second, rather than the opposite). It is popular to love peace, especially here in Canada. God, not so much.

      From a Mennonite perspective, I would say that even though Jesus assumed conflict would be normal, he seems also to have assumed that his followers would model a different way, an alternative to the default violence we see all around us. An emphasis on peace is good and appropriate for followers of Jesus, in my view, as long as we don’t forget the one we are following.

      August 12, 2011
  6. Very true, Ryan. Blessed are the peacemakers. I preached a series of sermons this spring on the Sermon on the Mount. Lots of challenging teaching there, and a way of life beyond human ability. Sometimes I like to take refuge in the Psalms, where it is permissible to hate one’s enemies, but then eventually you have to be a follower of Jesus again.

    August 13, 2011
    • Love that last sentence, Chris! Describes my approach quite well, too :).

      August 13, 2011

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