Inner Peace in a Burning World
Rev. Ben Perry
“I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (RSV)
Reflection: What does it mean to cultivate inner peace in a world that’s burning? I don’t have a neat answer to this question, but I do have a fervent conviction that personal equanimity is not God’s calling in this moment — particularly for white folks like myself. This year we have seen and participated in major protests against prevalent and repeated violence directed toward people of color, but in order for change to truly come, we need to do work far beyond those protests. “No justice, no peace!” cannot just be our public cry; it must be our private creed as well. There may be a time for seeking inward solace for its own sake, but that time is not now.
That said, we are no use to anyone if we become so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the world’s injustice that we remain mired in despair or become numb. So, the task of tending to our inner life is still an essential one, but only insofar as it makes us more useful in healing a shattered world. Far too often, “inner peace” becomes an excuse for spiritual solipsism and a betrayal of the God we serve.
Our relationships are the key to navigating this inherent tension. Immersing ourselves in loving, justice-oriented communities gives us resources to turn to when the weight of public violence becomes too much to carry alone — but they also provide an important source of accountability to ensure that we do not recede into quietism. Indeed, this should not be a surprise: It’s the kind of life Jesus modeled for us. Jesus was deeply intentional about cultivating a peaceful heart amid Roman oppression, but his interpersonal relationships ensured that his prayer, meditation and contemplation did not remove him from communal life. His friends called him to weep over Lazarus; his disciples accompanied him when he destroyed property protesting in the Temple. His loved ones surrounded him as he lay dying on the cross. Christ calls us to the peace found in community — an active peace that thirsts for justice and tends to wounds inflicted in its pursuit of internally and externally overcoming a world of injustice.
Practice for Peacemakers: We can never truly feel the pain of other people. But today, try to be open to the stories of oppression communicated by people who experience less privilege (or different kinds of privilege) than yourself. Listen to and read the testimonies of those who have lost loved ones to hate crimes, police brutality, or to the prison system and mass incarceration. And allow these stories to change you and motivate you to be fully engaged in your community and in the world.
Prayer: God, fill our hearts with a peace that cannot rest while our neighbors are killed. Tend to our hurt without calming our passions. And speak to us through our communities, that we might follow your call into the streets.
The Rev. Ben Perry is the minister of outreach and media strategy at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter: @FaithfullyBP
This year’s Season of Peace Resources are designed to help participants explore practices for building peace on every scale. From the personal level to global issues, these reflections and prayers will help grow the faith and witness of the whole church. Throughout the 29 days of the 2020 Season of Peace, we are invited to reflect upon:
Week 1 September 6–12: Peace Within
Week 2 September 13–19: Peace in Relationships
Week 3 September 20–26: Peace in Community
Week 4 September 27–October 3: Peace in the World
Final Day October 4: Holistic Peacemaking
Every once and a while everything comes together. Very timely!
Thank you for your thoughtful and empathetic message. I only recently discovered the Presbyterian Church during the pandemic; and, quite by accident. Two years ago I was invited by a friend to attend a Christmas music event at a local community church. It was lovely. So recently, seeking solace during this period of overwhelming strife, I looked up the church to see if they had services. I live in California and we are seeing record breaking heat, fires with ash everywhere. On top of this: Covid-19, the pending election, political theatre, business closures, job losses, evictions, racism, social unrest, police killings… it’s too much. Unfortunately, the local churches are closed, but through the Davis Community Church’s on-line resources, I found your “A Season of Peace” and have been enjoying these email inspirations. As an African American woman, I have experienced the range of emotions from sadness and despair, to anger and then hope. The blessing is that I found this local church that speaks to my spiritual need at this time (even with closed doors). I have been listening to the online services. And, I look forward to the Season of Peace posts. Thank you for your thoughtful ministry and call to action. This gives me reason for optimism and yes, Peace. Dian