Having a peaceful heart is always a choice
Do You Hear What I Hear?1
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
Ringing through the sky shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song
High above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea
As we light the second candle on the Advent wreath, representing Peace, Rev. Joanne asks us “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
There are many things we expect to hear during the Christmas season – spiritual and religious music, secular music, the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, the laughter and delight of children as they receive their gifts. But if we listen more closely, there is much more for us to hear, if we would take the time to actually listen.
Part of the reason many people enjoy holidays so much is the predictability of traditions. This time of year we may decorate a Christmas tree, make Christmas cookies and sing Christmas carols. But during this season of merriment and celebration of family and friends, we often gloss over the biblical story of Jesus’s birth, or neglect to consider it altogether; we forget the true meaning of Christmas. We are too anxious to watch football, go shopping, and attend office holiday parties. We become too “busy.” A child is born? oh, yeah . . . Did you see that catch, wow! Virgin birth? um, yeah, I remember that . . . Hey, take a look at this new phone I bought on sale. Angels singing . . . about something, I’m not sure what now . . . Hey, pass the appetizers and let’s go take advantage of the open bar the company is paying for.
When we neglect to reflect upon the meaning of Jesus’s birth, we are missing an opportunity to understand the symbolism in the story and to integrate those lessons into our lives. Rev. Joanne points out the parallels between the story of Jesus's birth and that of baby Moses and the Pharaoh of Egypt; both the Pharaoh of Egypt, and Herod, King of the Jews at the time of Jesus’s birth, had learned of a prophecy that a child would be born who would be king and overthrow their rule. Both rulers declared that all Jewish baby boys of a certain age were to be slain to prevent that from happening. Both Moses and Jesus went into exile until those kings had died. Both Moses and Jesus wanted to free their people from foreign rule. Both Moses and Jesus were expected by their people to be leaders who would forcefully free them from their overlords.
We know how the stories of Moses and Jesus are told in the Bible. Forty years of wandering in the desert for Moses’s people, and no less than the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans (although that was approximately 35 years after Jesus’s death) and nearly another 450 years before the fall of the Roman Empire. That is not how the Jewish people drew up the gameplan on the blackboard.
But the lesson for us is not that resistance is futile, or that much suffering must accompany any gain. No, the lesson is that we must not ignore that bad things can happen to us, but to hold the consciousness that peace is possible. To do that we must not deny that darkness is real, but in the face of that to ask, “How can I be a Light?”
Rev. Joanne shared a wonderful quotation about peace from Fr. Richard Rohr. Fr. Richard is the Founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, an organization whose mission is to open the door for a critical mass of spiritual seekers to experience the transformative wisdom of the Christian contemplative tradition and nurture its emergence in service to the healing of our world.2 It merits an extended citation:
The darkness of this world will never totally go away. I’ve lived long enough and offered spiritual direction enough to know that darkness isn’t going to disappear, but that, as John’s Gospel says, “the light shines on inside of the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it” (1:5). This is our own belief in paradox and mystery, the Christian form of yin/yang.
We must all hope and work to eliminate suffering, especially in many of the great social issues of our time. We work to eliminate world hunger. We strive to stop wasting the earth’s resources. We peacefully fight to end violence. We don’t ignore or capitulate to suffering, yet we must allow it to transform us and the world. Suffering often shapes and teaches us and precedes most significant resurrections.
Christian wisdom names the darkness as darkness and the Light as light and helps us learn how to live and work in the Light so that the darkness does not overcome us. If we have a pie-in-the-sky, everything is beautiful attitude, we are going to be trapped by the darkness because we don’t see clearly enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. Conversely, if we can only see the darkness and forget the more foundational Light, we will be destroyed by our own negativity and fanaticism, or we will naively think we are completely apart and above the darkness. Instead, we must wait and work with hope inside of the darkness, even our own—while never doubting the light that God always is, and that we are too (Matthew 5:14). That is the narrow birth canal of God into the world—through the darkness and into an ever-greater Light. It seems we must all let go of our false innocence to find that “God alone is good” (Mark 10:18).3
So what does “Peace on Earth” actually look like? No wars? No famine and starvation? Racial equality? Gender equality? Income and wealth fairness? Healthier, longer lives for humans? The real possibility that our children will be better off than we are?
For much of human history the default setting for most people was to have many children in the hopes some would live to adulthood, work hard every day of their life, then die around the age of 40. As recently as 1850 (that’s really like the day before yesterday compared to all of human history), more than 80% of people in the world lived hand to mouth at a subsistence level of existence. Now that figure is less than 10%.4 Any number greater than zero is too high, but it is a huge improvement.
The number and scope of wars has diminished greatly. Since the 16th Century, when actual global conflict was nearly universal and non-stop, there has been a downward trend in aggression. The two World Wars in the 20th century are notable exceptions, but each in its own way reshaped the map and the collective consciousness of people all over the world regarding the desirability of continuous war.
Although there is still much work to be done with respect to racial and gender equality and harmony, at no time in the past was racial harmony better. Also at no time in the past did women have the freedoms and societal influence that they do now, especially in the West.
Modern medicine, sanitation, and advanced agricultural technology have improved the quality of people everywhere. Food is now so abundant that there are more people on planet earth who are overweight than underweight. This is by no means only in “rich” western countries.5
So if humans have made all of these remarkable improvements, what is yet to be done? Rev. Joanne reminds us that even though there may be wars or no wars, famine or abundance, fairness or injustice, if we listen, we will hear God calling us to be peace regardless of outer circumstances. But what can I, one person, do in the face of such large global issues? Unity teaches that individual action affects the collective consciousness of our species, and if we pay attention we will be able to discern where we, individually, are called “to be the peace we want to see in the world.”
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus Philippians 4:7
Throughout your days this week, take several short breaths to breathe slowly and consciously. Allow yourself to feel your connection with all life and all time. As you move back into the activity of your day, take that sense of calm connection with you.
As my spiritual practice this week, I will take to heart the idea that individual actions effect the collective consciousness. I will look for opportunities to commit “random acts of kindness.” I will be mindful in my speech, and be aware whenever I am having thoughts of lack, separation, or doubt and gently deny (in Unity terms) that they have any power over me, then affirm abundance, oneness, and knowing that God is a force for good in my life.
1Do You Hear What I Hear?, Lyrics – Noel Regney; Music – Gloria Shayne.
2Center for Action and Contemplation. www.cac.org
3Adapted from Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr: Daily Meditations for Advent (Franciscan Media: 2008), 22-24.
4World Bank Group report on global poverty, 2015.
5World Health Organization, Obesity and Overweight study, 2018