Jesus said to his disciples:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
At his farewell banquet, Jesus continues to teach his followers. He wants them to understand that the peace, the shalom, he gives is not the peace the world gives.
The only peace the world can give in temporary and transient pleasure. In a consumer society, in the death culture, pleasure is a fleeting phenomenon. If I can just learn that new thing, then all will be well. If I can just get that new hybrid car, I will be satisfied. If I can take the dream cruise to Alaska, all will be fine. So goes the chant of consumer “peace.” In the end, we end up more dissatisfied than before. The new truth fails the test of logic. The hybrid fails to get the advertized mileage. It was cloudy in Alaska and I could not see mount McKinley. Vanity of vanities!
Merton distinguishes pleasure from joy. Joy is abiding. Our peace comes from the peace of Christ. He is our peace. He is our relationship to God and to one another. When we are in contemplative union with God, when we are living the sacredness of the present moment, then our hearts are not troubled or afraid. Why should they be? We are grounded in the ultimate reality, we are grounded in God who is Love. We chant with Julian of Norwich, “All is well and all will be well.”
Merton teaches us that the false self seeks pleasure. The false self seeks whatever it desires. The false self puts itself first and all others a distant second. The false self is the spirit of domination and exploitation in geopolitics. The false self creates the structures and systems which trouble our hearts and make us afraid. The false self plunges us into nothingness, darkness and emptiness.
When the events of life bring us to our true self, we realize that we are not alone in our solitude. We are grounded in God who is Love-unconditional Love. Paraphrasing the old Allstate insurance ad, “We are in good hands with God.”
When we live the moment of contemplative union, our hearts are not troubled regardless of what may be going on around us. Tobit understood this truth long ago:
Bless YHWH, the Eternal One
Whose reign endures for all time!
God brings us both pain and mercy;
God leads us to the pits of Sheol
And then rescues us form the great abyss-
For there is nothing that can escape God’s hand. (13:1-2)
Tobit shows great contemplative wisdom. God is with us when we are in pain. God is with us when we are experiencing God’s mercy, God’s hesed, God’s love. We live in the presence of the Creator who is bringing us forth to new life. Paul was berated, stoned, shipwrecked but he knew that he lived in the person, power, and presence of the Risen Jesus.
Merton reminds peacemakers to look at the war in their own hearts. In our consumer culture, we need to examine our hearts. The consumer culture thrives because of the greed and acquisitiveness we harbor in our hearts. Wars for power, domination, control and the resources that belong to others begin in our hearts. The human misery that is inflicted on others begins in our hearts
Tobit nails it. God will bring us to the brink of Sheol. God will allow us to tumble into the abyss of our own nothingness and poverty. God will let us wallow in the emptiness of our lives. God will let us grow weary of our toys.
But God rescues us from this great Abyss. God reaches out and rescues us. God fills our emptiness with infinite Love. God loves us into life so we can love others into life. The mercy that alleviates human misery begins in our hearts.
God nourishes us in Eucharist. God allows us to be broken and poured out like the Risen Jesus so that we can be Christ to others. We will be broken and poured out. In our brokenness, in our being poured out, we come to know the God of Love. Our hearts are not troubled and we are not afraid.
Jesus, be our peace. Live in our human
Hearts filling our dark emptiness
Brought on us by our own cravings.
Teach us how to rest in your peace
Broken and poured out for others
So that we have your life in us-
Eternal life lived here and now.