I got stuck on peace last week. Unable to come up with my own pithy sentence about peace I googled “literary quotes about peace.”
Of one hundred different statements about peace all agree in attitude: Peace is desirable; conflict is disturbing. From one hundred quotations by influential leaders four stuck to me. (This was not easy to do. It took me days to decide.)
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
“Yes, we love peace, but we are not willing to take wounds for it, as we are for war.”
“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
C. S. Lewis
“My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far today, I have finished 2 bags of M&M’s and a chocolate cake. I feel better already.”
― Dave Barry
Googling one hundred quotations about peace sounds a bit obsessive, doesn’t it? But let’s not go there. I’d only defend myself by saying I was looking for antidotes to the clash of conflict in the news and on the street.
My exercise began as a light diversion and ended in a maze. Here’s why.
I began with “Was peace a feeling or a behavior?” Seeing disagreement among spiritual and social leaders, I shifted to How many categories of peace are there? and then to Does anyone agree on what peace is?
Maybe similes and metaphors would provide clues. I googled this fragment: “Peace is like a…”
In 2001 Leif Enger wrote a best selling novel titled Peace Like a River, a title inspired by the hymn It is Well with my Soul. The novel’s ingredients for conflict include kidnapping, murder, and death in order to illustrate that no situation is beyond the miracle of redemption.
In 1971 Paul Simon wrote Peace Like a River during the era of Viet Nam protests. The first line says “Peace ran through the city like a river.” The lyrics speak of enduring beatings and waiting. “I’m reconciled/ I’m gonna be up a while”
In 1873 Horatio G. Spafford wrote the lyrics for the hymn It is Well with My Soul.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
A group named Goospel Soul Children offers the African-American Spiritual recognized by its promising words “I’ve got peace like a river…I’ve got joy in my soul”, which can be downloaded as a ring tone.
A Ringtone! Now we are getting somewhere.
Instead of “Ring, Ring, Ring, Someone’s Calling” you can hear “I’ve got peace like a river; I’ve got joy in my soul.” The nuance would be entirely different, even if it were your estranged brother calling for a loan or your spouse calling to ask you where the hell you are.
I’d like to upload a few ringtones to some characters who have crossed my path. How about these: “Slow down, you’ve got to make the morning last” for the guy who cut you off on the parkway. John Meyer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” for the mattress salesman who just pulled a bait and switch. Michael Buble’s “It’s a Beautiful Day” for the endless complainer at the gym.
A ringtone would be a silly approach to tragic, seemingly insurmountable conflicts. The Egyptians are erupting in the streets (It’s a Beautiful Day). Senator Cruz wants to unfund our health care law (Slow Down, You’ve Got to Make the Morning Last). Schools lack funds to open on time (Waiting on the World to Change).
And then something horrible happened in the midst of my goggle diversions. Syrians were dying from chemical attacks. I lost heart. Peace? How?
The African-American spiritual’s line “I’ve got peace like a river” isn’t frivolous. It emerged from the brutal fields of American slavery and resonates with scripture.
Oh that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea. Isaiah 48:18.
Between Isaiah’s warnings (8th century B.C.), the emancipation proclamation in 1863, and today’s headlines — achieving peace, even identifying it, has proven to be illusive. It’s the elephant in the room.
We usually must move along to keep up. We don’t have free hours to research thoughtful verses about peace. We are lucky to sit still long enough to absorb a backyard view of flowers, birds, and shade trees, much less relax along the bank of a meandering river.
We want peace, in any form, as a behavior, as a feeling, as a hope, for three seconds or forever. We are advised: peace begins within oneself and requires right choices; peace is not possible alone, without God, without communion with others, without love, without consideration.
I’m thinking it might do to start small, maybe finish something. I’m not a fan of m&ms and chocolate cake, but I could iron some shirts, grout the shower, and finish this post. We’ll see how that goes.
Then maybe I will be ready to move on to something more challenging, like not interrupting my husband while he’s talking. Listening to others without reacting — don’t think I saw a quote or ringtone about that one.