Editor’s Note: Westhampton holds a Fall Festival each October, which begins with a town-wide interfaith service. Katie and Chris LaFond have been part of planning and officiating that service since 2019. The following is the reflection that Chris offered at this year’s service, on October 16, 2022.
As we were preparing for this morning’s interfaith service, the topic of Peace came up. I’ve thought a lot in the last week about peace. There are a lot of assumptions that we have about the idea. But what really is Peace? As I often do, I went running to the Oxford English Dictionary, and I found something really interesting.
All of the major entries under “peace” start by defining it as a “freedom from” something.
- Freedom from civil unrest or disorder
- Freedom from quarrels or dissension between individuals
- Freedom from anxiety, disturbance (emotional, mental, or spiritual), or inner conflict
- Freedom from external disturbance, interference, or perturbation
- Absence of noise, movement, or activity
- Freedom from, absence of, or cessation of war or hostilities
This surprised me somewhat, since today, I think, many of us have engaged in groups or organizations where the idea of peace is far more active than passive. I think about all the effort that goes into things like international peace accords, and it seems to me that peace is far more than just “freedom from” things.
If I were to ask you today what you think of as “peace,” what would you say? Would you also tell me that it’s a freedom from disturbance, anxiety, or conflict? Maybe in the workplace? Or in the neighborhood? Would you tell me that it’s those precious 10 minutes after the last kid is in bed, and all is quiet before you have to collapse into bed yourself. Maybe you and your partner have a quiet cocktail or a cup of tea first to … you know … “help the peace along” a little? Maybe you experience it as the calm after the storm, the sunny morning after the hurricane when you see that the damage is superficial.
Or maybe peace is an inner state that we can cultivate and carry with us wherever we go, regardless of what is going on around us. The lyrics to the well known hymn are “let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.” As I was trying to capture these thoughts, my house was a shining example of not-peace, as if to be sure that I was experiencing the lesson that I was preparing to attempt to share with others. One kid needed help with homework, another insisted on doing a big art project in the same small room I was in, the sewing machine on the desk next to me was loudly engaged with making some necessary materials for one of our community rituals, and the dog was whining to go out. Sometimes peace is being able to close the door and be alone. But maybe peace is also what I bring to the chaos that is often daily life. Do I bring more chaos? Do I bring calm?
“Let peace begin with me” sounds good. But what happens when your neighbor isn’t so interested in peace? What do you do when others antagonize you or your kids? How do you teach your children to deal with the school bully? Maybe sometimes, peace is putting up a fence, or reporting the bullies to the teachers. Maybe sometimes, peace is precisely a freedom from stress, a cessation of previous hostilities.
I don’t really have any clear lessons here for you, or conclusions. So I hope you’re not waiting for one. Maybe as soon as we figure out how to define peace, it shapeshifts on us and looks entirely different from yesterday. John Denver’s song “Perhaps Love” ponders, “Love to some is like a cloud, to some as strong as steel; for some a way of living, for some a way to feel. And some say love is holding on and some say letting go; and some say love is everything, and some say they don’t know.” Perhaps peace is like this, too. It’s different for different people and on different days. Perhaps Love; Perhaps Peace.
In a few minutes, we’ll invite you to join us in singing “Deep Peace.”
Deep peace of the running wave to you;
Deep peace of the flowing air to you;
Deep peace of the shining stars to you;
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
And maybe that’s the key. The wave, the air, the stars, the earth, can only ever be what they are: their authentic selves. Maybe as supposedly rational humans, we complicate things to the point of being unsettled. As pagans, our first teacher is the Sacred Earth. May the water, the air, the fiery stars, and the firm quiet earth teach us authenticity and teach us peace.