When I first heard that Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” I had no idea how much work that could be.
Now, I understand that peace involves justice. Working for justice, for equal opportunity for all God’s people, “setting captives free,” as Jesus envisioned his own mission, is a never-ending work. It is tiring and overwhelming, so I’ll try to be brief and say just two things.
First of all, I see the spiritual path, the divine path, as the way of dialogue, always. Dialogue is staying in the conversation, in as calm a manner as possible, trying to understand the other party, and ultimately making concessions or compromises if needed.
Dialogue deals with nuances in speech and gray areas. Dialogue involves a lot of respectful listening, resisting the immediate rebuttal or counterpunch.
It may sound like Peacemaking 101, but it is worth repeating that dialogue is not debate. Debate, even a healthy one, tries to win, tries to prove right and wrong. Debate often involves extreme language, and sometimes, unfortunately, gets ugly with insults and personal attacks.
Debate is divisive by its very nature. To win the debate, you have an “opponent” whose arguments you have to prove to be inferior or wrong.
To bring in sacred writings, one great example is the story told by Jesus of the Good Samaritan. Jesus crosses the religious divide to indicate that one in the despised Samaritan group was the one who was a “good neighbor.”
The one who many of Jesus’ fellow Jews would consider inferior was the one who did the godly thing, bandaging the beaten-up man, bringing him to a local hotel, and writing a blank check so that all his needs would be met!
The point is that Jesus saw the good in the Samaritans. We would do well to follow his example and see the good and potential for good in “all God’s children.”
We will do well to look for the common ground in us all. Especially during pandemic times, we will do well to remember that all of us are suffering losses in various ways. Dialogue and conversation about common suffering should be enough to arouse more compassion, love and peacemaking with every neighbor.
Moving on to my second point: As much as we need to keep working on peace with justice, we also need to take a break from it all. We need to find ways to be more centered, to find peace deep within.
The Christian church has traditionally used the word “retreat,” a retreat to a place in the mountains or by the seashore, where we can walk quietly, meditate on nature and listen deeply for what the spirit is saying to us.
If not centered in the spirit of peace, it is too easy to let justifiable anger devolve into demonizing and attacking. It is then hypocrisy if peace activists resort to violent means or words in the struggle for justice.
To bring in sacred writings again, the gospel accounts relate that Jesus often “went away to a lonely place” for prayer. Psalm 23 describes how the divine “Shepherd” wants to lead us beside “still waters,” and Psalm 46 reminds us to “Be still” and find in God our “refuge and strength.”
A lesser-known psalm, 131, says, “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child with its mother.”
One devotional writer in the United Church of Christ, in lamenting all the anxiety and overwhelm we feel these days, commented that perhaps we have a spirit that “needs to crawl into the lap of a mothering God, close its eyes for a spell, and feel the holy heartbeat quieting its chaos.”
What a beautiful analogy for our solitary, meditative, restorative times.
I’ll leave it there, and find some rest in the sun and cool waters. I trust that quiet restorative time will give new energy to continue with many peacemaking dialogues.
The Rev. Ross Varney is pastor of Belleville Congregational Church in Newburyport.