“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” The prophet Isaiah wrote that some two thousand, seven hundred years ago. And those of us who are observant may have noticed … we’re still rather long on swords and short on pruning hooks.
September 21st was the International Day of Peace. It may occur to you that that was three weeks ago. And so you might well ask, why are we celebrating our service of peace today? Good question! Glad you asked.
I have always had a problem with a day of peace. I remember as a child first learning, I think it was from a movie but I won’t swear to it, about how armies at war would observe a Christmas truce. For one day they would stop annihilating each other – to honor the Prince of Peace. The following day the killing resumed. Granting I’m not Christian, still this puzzled me. How did a one day cessation of slaughter honor Jesus?
I must tell you then that an International Day of Peace does nothing for me. We need International weeks of peace, months of peace, years of peace. Hasn’t happened. The prophet Jeremiah, writing about a hundred years after Isaiah, wrote, “We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of healing, and behold terror!”
How chillingly appropriate … for today. “We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of healing, and behold terror!”
I recall a Star Trek episode, and yes I loved that series – I’m a Trekker, NOT a Trekkie, a Trekker 🙂 – there’s an episode called “Errand of Mercy,” where the Enterprise receives word that talks have failed and the Federation is now in a state of war with the Klingon Empire. Kirk says, “Well then, it’s war. We didn’t want it, but we have it.” And Spock replies, “It is amazing how often you humans get what you say you do not want.” Good point.
It was a good point in the 1960’s, and it’s a good point today. If we truly value peace, why do we so rarely have it?
Rabbi Gamaliel, speaking in the first century, said something I believe to be quite profound and directly to the point. He said that, “The moral fabric of the entire world rests on three pillars: justice, truth, and peace.”
I believe that the three are interconnected. I don’t believe we can have peace without justice and truth. I don’t believe we can have truth without justice and peace. And I don’t think we can have justice without peace and truth. So I believe that it should come as no great surprise that at this moment the world is sadly lacking in all three.
Ok, fine. What’s the answer? For some, the answer has become, “Forget about it. If I can accumulate enough money, I can buy justice and peace … for myself. And the heck with the rest of the world! As for truth … the only truth that counts is wealth.”
There are, I hope, people here and throughout the United States, and across the world who won’t accept that “answer.” Then what?
I believe that one can, at least from time to time, bring cessation of war with a bigger and better bullet … but not peace. A gun can never bring peace. Peace requires justice and truth – for everyone, not just “us.” I therefore strongly believe that if we want peace, we must be equally committed to justice and truth. Justice for humanity, all of humanity. Truth. Not selected truths, not convenient truths, but a commitment to the truth, even when it’s inconvenient, especially when it’s inconvenient.
I strongly believe that one of the reasons that peace has been so hard to achieve over these thousands of years is that we have “successfully” uncoupled our search for peace from the search for universal justice and unvarnished truth. I believe that if we are ever to be successful in our search for peace, we must remember Rabbi Gamaliel. We must remember that peace is a part of our moral fabric.
And, strangely enough, I think this holds true for inner peace. There is, of course, that wonderful sentiment that we all know: “Let there peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” We know it, but do we believe it? And more important, do we act upon it?
So how do we achieve inner peace? I’ve no snake oil to sell you – sorry if you were hoping for some! No quick, sure answers. But I do strongly believe that the moral fabric that each of us weaves rests on three pillars: justice, truth, and peace. And I think that if we attempt somehow to magically attain inner peace without addressing justice and truth in our own lives, inner peace will remain as elusive as world peace.
We cannot control justice in the world, but each of us can control whether we, individually, act justly. We may not be able to control the seeming aversion to truth that at this particular moment you have noticed seems to flood our airwaves. But we, individually, can work daily to remain true to ourselves, true to what we believe and to speak the truth, even when inconvenient. I don’t think living our lives more justly and more truly will by themselves bring us inner peace. But I do believe they will take us a long way down that road.
I believe a good path to inner peace might just be to begin each day asking the question, “How can my actions this day be just and truthful?” And I believe that if, as we stare into the mirror just before brushing our teeth at the end of the day, we can honestly say, “Today my actions were just and truthful,” I think we will be well on our way to finding our sleep more peaceful, and the coming day more welcome.
Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with us. Amen.