Peace is commonly envisaged as a state of relaxation that follows the cessation of a period of strain. As the strain is eased, so does its legacy of stress on the afflicted person remit. Stress has deleterious effects on the body and mind. The muscles retain some degree of tension even while they are not in use, the digestion is impaired, the heart rate is accelerated, and the body's defences against assault are put on their guard even when there is no immediate threat. As a result of all those reactions, there is a dissipation of vital energy and the organs may in due course undergo organic changes that culminate in a number of common diseases such as raised blood pressure, stomach ulcers and possibly, even, some types of cancer. To be sure, none of these diseases has a single cause as yet known, arising rather from a number of circumstances acting together, but it does seem that the stressed individual is more at risk than his fellow who is relaxed and at peace in himself.
Associated with these physical phenomena there is a deeper unease: the mind cannot remain still, but is agitated and in a state of constant oscillation. It seems to be dominated by doubt and destructive thoughts. The emotional life registers fear, anxiety, suspicion and animosity. Even though there may be a semblance of silence, the mind continues in its onward race as if pursued by phantoms, the dark shadows of past regrets and future forebodings. It becomes jangled as it is caught in a vortex of inarticulate dissatisfaction, anger and dread.
In a silent retreat these menacing, destructive attitudes of mind, usually hidden beneath the plausible bonhomie of daily life, float up into consciousness. The censor of polite conversation is relaxed, and we are shown what proceeds in the depths, how dark influences of strife and betrayal muddy the still waters of the soul and lead to a general contamination of the personality. When we practise the silence that goes with a cessation of conversation, there is little to interrupt this exposure of our unconscious motives, so that great insight may be afforded into what our disposition is bestowing on the outer world which has to bear our constant discontent. The confrontation of this inner focus of subversion is aided by the still, compassionate acceptance that is such an important part of the general atmosphere of a retreat. Eventually the disorder within can be accepted, albeit with pain, and progressively assimilated into our conscious life. Then we at once know a freedom that was previously beyond our grasp and a fresh appreciation of the world around us slowly dawns. As the murky contents of the unconscious are allowed to rise gently to the surface, so the soul is cleared of much emotionally charged debris. Then the inner Christ is allowed to act unimpeded, and we can obey Jesus' injunction. "And you, like the lamp, must shed light among your fellows, so that, when they see the good you do, they may give praise to your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Then alone do we glimpse a peace that passes rational understanding, for it depends on our state of consciousness alone, and is not influenced by any worldly circumstance.
When the Christ within acts without the disturbance wrought by other, more superficial elements of the personality - whether unconscious or conscious - a glow permeates the individual which emanates as a radiance from him. This radiance is the essence of the power of the Holy Spirit that shows itself as a gift of healing. One can give healing to others only when one is open to God and to their need, an application of the two great commandments that underlie all spiritual activity. But for this complete openness to take place, we have first to be cleansed of concern, remembering that if we seek our comfort in a life of egoistical aloofness we court death, whereas a life that surrenders itself without demur to God and his gospel among the created whole, moves beyond death to a knowledge of eternal life. This self-surrender is, of course, a relinquishing of the ego that demands recognition and rewards. Once that ego becomes conversant with the law of service even to its eventual death, it reflects back to the source that gave it existence, the soul that in turn is sustained by God's Spirit. This soul by virtue of the divine presence directly within it, is immortal; once we begin to glimpse the promise of continuing life, we strain less obsessively at the glitter of this mortal life. This, incidentally, does not imply an indifference to personal well-being and bodily health without which earthly existence would be impossible, but a basic simplicity of our way of life so that we are less encumbered with possessions than previously and can proceed with the all-important work of service and reconciliation. It is in this frame of reference that we can most usefully consider Jesus' dictum about the impossibility of a rich man entering the heavenly estate.
When we are acquainted with the Christ within, we know of riches beyond measure; we no longer are driven to seek the world's wealth. The least of this wealth is material possessions - even a superficial glimpse can penetrate their imposing façade to the decay that eats away at their heart. Much more subversive are the good opinions of other people, so that we feel obliged to live up to their expectations - or what we believe are their expectations. In fact, however, most of us are absorbed in our own small domains and essentially negligent, if not predatory, in our relationships, at least until a deeper core of reality has been exposed in the course of our lives. No wonder that Jesus warned his disciples to tread warily when the masses spoke well of them, for thus had their predecessors addressed the false prophets; the speaker of truth seldom amasses plaudits for himself. This is because the false prophet flatters his disciples, and by his tidings of assurance exacts their support. The true prophet, on the other hand, brings divine judgement with him. Though he may, like Jeremiah, long for a life of inconspicuous comfort and quiet happiness even among the throng of evil doers, he cannot turn his back on the power of the Holy Spirit that impels him onwards to the pinnacles of truth, so soon to be confirmed by the march of events.
And yet, paradoxically, the tumult of abuse that surrounds the true prophet is closer to divine peace than the ferocious malice of those seeking to discredit him. For at the heart of the prophet there is God's presence fully active and guiding events in a way that transcends the understanding of all, even the prophet himself. At the heart of the populace the evil one stands in charge; he is at the helm of their affairs and his way veers inexorably towards destruction. Peace does not bring us quietness so much as intimate communion with God and with life as a whole. We may trust that even our contemporaries, despite their present hostility, will be led by the Holy Spirit in due course. This Spirit directs the mind into the way of critical self-knowledge, whose end is enlightenment and repentance that proceeds to an amendment of one's lifestyle. One can know peace in the depths of a man-made prison or in a hopelessly crippled body. There is often a radiant placidity around the blind who have accepted their limitation with gracious love, learning to regard it as a way to fulfil themselves in deep relationships with those around them. Indeed, when we have to retire from wage-earning activity, we should approach a state of peace in which we can start to confront our past life with mature understanding. As we come to terms with the fleeting figures of our active years in warm appreciation and open forgiveness, so we can await the future with the combined hope and awe that characterize a wise person. It also points to our attitude as we await Christ's full coming in glory among us at the end of our present dispensation. The peace of God is of a different order to a state of careless apathy tending to dull torpor in that it plays its part in the affairs of the world. It is concerned in the lives of the people in its vicinity. In one who lies imprisoned, whether in a dungeon or a decrepit body, the concern would be evinced in intercessory prayer for the world and deep caring for those in the person's immediate neighbourhood.
In all these instances the eclipse of executive activity together with the fading of the esteem and power one used to have in the world of affairs leads to the radiance of the soul being less obscured by worldliness and self-seeking attitudes. As the powerful created light of the sun fades, so does the inextinguishable uncreated light of the spirit shine forth with a welcoming radiance, even if it appears to be dulled during periods of depression and misfortune. Christ assumes his full stature in a soul that is cleared of the undergrowth of worldly ambition. When his presence assumes the majesty of the tree of life, his influence emanates from the person who now becomes a peacemaker, a very child of God's purpose. In the peace of God which the souls of the righteous enjoy in the life beyond death, there is an openness to the divine reality which we, working in the limitations of a physical body, can at most experience at infrequent intervals. The divine presence is unchanging, but so often do we erect almost impenetrable barriers of selfishness that prevent its entry into our lives; once these barriers are taken down, the presence is in our midst and we can enjoy all good things that flow from the Holy Spirit. This is peace, and it requires no straining on our part, only attention, acceptance and magnanimity for the sake of other people, who may be enabled to enjoy the holy fellowship with us.
It might be expected that peace of this intensity would so engage the full attention of the disciple that he would be dissociated from merely mundane affairs. Who would care to dine among humans after having attended the divine banquet! And yet the peace of God, like all other holy gifts, does not estrange us from our calling in life, raising us to a rarefied pinnacle of bliss in the clouds. On the contrary, it earths us more definitively than ever before so that we can devote our energies to the immediate task with renewed vigour and dedicated will. The Word himself became flesh and dwelt among us, during which time he experienced the full glory of the world and betrayal by those whom he loved. In the end his perfect life and the resurrection that followed his tortured death were to be the presage of the raising to eternal life of the whole cosmos. It therefore follows that the peace of God is an atmosphere of ceaseless activity for the sake of the whole created universe, an activity that is balanced, joyful and in perfect relationship with those around us. While an individual may lead in a special enterprise, no one is the master, for all are servants of God. It is, in fact, the body of Christ, a body of servants that transforms an indifferent world into a realm of vibrant, purposeful activity which ends in a transfigured universe.
The world of peace is the milieu of eternity, while the point of awareness is its focus in the present moment. Awareness in peace is the point where time intersects with eternity; it embraces the constant process of renewal by which the old and established are transfigured into a new order of creation. If our minds were quiet, ordered and focused on the present moment, we would be available to elevate that moment into a world of eternal glory. When the attention of Peter, James and John was completely focused on the transfigured presence of Christ, they were brought to a heightened awareness of the past as a prelude of the resurrection to occur in the future. Moses and Elijah, the final representatives of the Law and the prophets, had witnessed in their spiritual bodies the transfiguration as they contemplated the resurrection that was to complete the process of Jesus' life in the world and establish the pattern of his eternal presence among us.
That mind is most aware which is untroubled and at peace. A mind that wanders distractedly through a miasma of fears, regrets, anger and resentment, that loiters at the foothills of lust and avarice and paces around eddies of gossip and scandal can have no place in its meanderings for the present moment. In its feverish agitation it misses the present dispensation, it fails to recognize the divine providence at hand. And so it misses Christ in the context of the common experience that embraces all of us. Only when Christ comes in glory in the centre of our consciousness, in the soul's ground, do we begin to discern his traces in the world around us. The prerequisite of awareness is a quiet, active mind; if it is passive it is liable to invasion by complexes in the personal unconscious and psychic elements in the collective unconscious. Peace is far from a state of suspended animation in which we are open to any outside influence without discrimination. It is, on the contrary, a state of heightened awareness in which there is a needle-sharp application of the whole conscious apparatus to the minute at hand. We cannot attain that one-pointed awareness until our inner conflicts are acknowledged and are approaching resolution; then alone can we give ourselves totally to the present moment, no matter what it brings with it. As Jesus teaches, "Each day has troubles enough of its own" (Matthew 6:34), but provided we set our mind primarily on God's Kingdom and his justice, all the rest of our requirements will come to us as well. Peace in Christ is the prescription for a way of life that allows us to be fully involved in the world at the present moment without in any way being submerged in it.
The end of spiritual awareness is to bring peace to everyone in our vicinity, to the world and finally to the entire created order. When we are at peace, the Kingdom of God is not merely within our grasp but is a part of our immediate consciousness. In that state we bring the Kingdom, or at least a knowledge of its presence, to all those whom we encounter in a days work. This knowledge shows itself in a recreation of the common order of life to the spiritual order that characterizes eternity. Its effect is one of realignment: when God created order out of chaos, life out of inanimate darkness, all that he made was good. Indeed, God's creation, by its very origin, mirrors its Creator. When the sentient, rational creature who had been endowed with the godlike quality of independent action, of free will, took control, he disturbed that natural order, that inherent goodness. From the energy of the Holy Spirit that gives life and purpose to all the creation, disturbed currents arose that put life out of alignment, that disrupted the onward flow of creation so that it turned against itself. Its constituent elements, its finite creatures, broke loose from the corporate union in which they had previously rested in God, albeit without awareness. Then they laboured for an ideal of egoistical supremacy; in so doing they fell into individualistic isolation, into separative existence, each in conflict with the other. They laboured under the illusory ideal of personal mastery, thereby sacrificing the communal goodwill on which all life depends. The genesis of evil lies in the assertiveness of individual consciousness which has broken loose from the corporate whole, whose fullness is God. As Jesus says, "I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every barren branch of mine he cuts away; and every fruiting branch he cleans, to make it more fruitful still . . . I am the vine, and you the branches. He who dwells in me, as I dwell in him, bears much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:1-5).
The totality is Christ, who is also the central focus of the individual soul. When the individual breaks away from the totality, the energy that sustains him, the power of the Holy Spirit who is the lord of life and its giver, acts divisively against the whole. Though of divine origin, it now becomes a vortex of destructive activity, so being available for enormous mischief. The individual sets himself against Christ, known both as the peak of conscience and the universal whole in whom resurrection of the created order can alone take place. Only when there is a realignment of the natural order, so that the power of the Holy Spirit can be expended on a coherent scheme of life and growth, can peace he restored. This is the eternal way of spiritual progress, and in one form or another it characterizes the life of each person in the world, and no doubt in the spheres beyond our mortal experience. When the peace of God rules the soul of any one of us, the Spirit of God radiates from us and sets in harmony the disturbed emotions and perverse wills of those close to us. By the power of intercessory prayer that Spirit flows out in a milieu beyond time and space to all those who are open to our concern, effecting in them likewise a redirection of disordered emotional responses and a renewal of spiritual purpose.
It was indeed rightly said (by John P. Curran) that the condition upon which God has given liberty to man is eternal vigilance. If this is true in terms of national and international politics, it is even more fundamentally the case in regard to the peace of God that passes human understanding. Awareness is the greatest gift of peace as it is also necessary for the maintenance of that peace. When our minds are divested of disturbing passions, they can be fully about God's business, even as Jesus was as a boy of twelve in the temple at Jerusalem. We are fully free when we are about the divine work, for then we are raised in stature to Christ himself, doing our apportioned task in the fullness of our unique identity while strengthened by the power of Christ, who now directs proceedings unequivocally from the soul's centre. When, to quote St Paul, the life we live is no longer merely our own life but the life that Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20), we attain the freedom to work at the height of our powers, at the zenith of our creativity, at the acme of awareness of the divine presence. To be constantly about God's business is to be at peace with the world, no matter how disturbed it may be. Only then can one be truly oneself and acutely aware of the passing moment.
When we are at peace within ourselves we can be aware of another person's plight. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan the priest and the Levite who passed by the man who had been assaulted and robbed were, in all probability, so preoccupied with their own business, so lost in their tortuous thoughts, that they were unaware and consequently unavailable to the demands of the greater world around them. There is a self-centredness based on unease and uncertainty within us that renders us oblivious of the needs of other people. The more we try to impress others, the more we betray our inner impotence. We are, in fact, in such a situation coveting the support of other people without in turn giving anything of ourselves to them. We attain that full awareness of unique identity when Christ within has integrated the elements of the personality so that we function as a complete whole. Then we have lost concern for ourselves and can flow out as an integrated person to anyone who needs our assistance. Our personality becomes the door to the vibrant inner life of the universe and also the portal to the needs of the world around us.
"Peace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world cannot give. Set your troubled hearts at rest, and banish your fears" (John 14:27). The things of this world cannot give us peace; the more we possess, the more attention is needed to protect them from the inroads of decay and the covetousness of those around us. The attributes of the personality, our gifts and attainments, on their own serve to separate us from others. We protect them against the threat of eclipse by those more proficient than ourselves, while they render us increasingly vulnerable by virtue of the jealousy they so easily foment. The presence of Christ within alone can bring our possessions and gifts into their right perspective: they cease to be a means of self-assertion and become instead a blessing to the whole world. "Full authority in heaven and on earth has been committed to me. Go forth therefore and make all nations my disciples" (Matthew 28:19). People are made disciples of Christ when he is allowed to reign as undisputed master in their souls. Only then do they respond to his call and enter fully into the corporate unity of his presence, the true body of Christ. Only then can the universal Church established in his name perform its life-giving work of leading all people into the knowledge of his presence, into mutual fellowship, and into service for the entire created order. For we enter into complete fellowship one with another only when we are so free of self concern that we can give of ourselves without reserve to the world and can, in return, receive the world into ourselves. In this act of pure exchange the Word within, the inner Christ, transforms the personality of us all from mere mortal dross to eternal radiance. The least of our fellows is seen to embody the Word by whom all things are made.
Peace is a state of being ourselves in whatever situation we may find ourselves. We can be authentically ourselves only when we function at the peak of our ability, a peak indicated by the action of Christ within us. When Christ is known in our present situation we pass beyond possessions to dominion. Then we are one with God to the extent that our mortal condition allows it - and, with the incarnate Lord, can give of ourselves to anyone we may meet on the road of life. The more we give, the more we receive of God's greatest gift, the Holy Spirit, which in turn flows out from us to all the world.
To be constantly aware, we must be at peace within ourselves and ardently concerned for the world outside. When our deepest desire is to give that peace to those around us, as Christ did in the final period of his ministry among his disciples, we have passed from solitary, individualistic isolation to an identification with all life. Then we do indeed become an instrument of God's peace. Just as Jesus brought order into the chaotic lives of those who were open to his ministry, so we too bring an inner calmness and resolution to all whom we serve. The secret of a truly living relationship between two people is a mutual self-giving that looks for nothing in return. And this indifference to personal satisfaction can be attained only when Christ rules over the heart and mind. With that presence in our midst all other favours and rewards are irrelevant, indeed they become increasingly deleterious to our well being. Christ in us is our hope of a glory to come (Colossians 1:27). And when he is authentically the director of the soul, he takes his place among us also, directing all those in our vicinity into the way of peace and awareness. He, who is the undisputed master, is also the lowliest servant of us all. "Another time, the tax-gatherers and other bad characters were all crowding in to listen to him; and the Pharisees and the doctors of the law began grumbling among themselves: "This fellow", they said, "welcomes sinners and eats with them" " (Luke 15:1-2). But whoever dined with Jesus had his first experience of the heavenly banquet prepared for us all at the end of time.