Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).
My previous post presented Frederick Buechner’s book, The Alphabet of Grace, as a companion for everyday spirituality. One of his last books, The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen To Life, also focuses on everyday spirituality. Whereas The Alphabet of Grace evokes a sense of God’s presence in a typical day with the younger Buechner, The Remarkable Ordinary offers more direct guidance as in a fireside chat with the older Buechner.
The final chapter, “The Presence of Peace,” offers a disarming and often touching walk through an honest and ironic review of the day at bedtime:
It seems to me that one could do worse as a form for prayer at night, when you turn out the light and wait for sleep to wash over you like a tide, to think back over the news of your day, that particular day that’s coming to an end. To remember not just the wars fought on a national scale, but also the wars that we’re all of us engaged in – aggressive wars to gain control, to get the upper hand, to have the last word, to get our way, fought not with weapons or even letters, but with silences and tones of voice and all the ways we know of fighting with each other.
We’re often at war with the people we love the best. We often engage in wars with no particular goal in sight, but rather for the sort of dark pleasure of fighting a war between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between friends. In these aggressive wars and defensive wars we all, I think to some degree, fight to survive. We camouflage ourselves very often in ways that don’t suggest we are indeed warring at all. But at the end of the day, as you look back over your wars, ask yourself, How did your wars go today? Who were you fighting today? How did they work out? Did you deliver the knockout blow? Was it worth it? Were you knocked out? What does winning a war with somebody mean? What does losing a war with somebody mean? (pp. 109-110)
Lover of peace and hater of violence that I fancy myself, I recoiled initially at that twisted examen. But in a second reading, I felt a sense of relief, even peace, at the honesty of it.
For engagement in struggle with some foe, real or imagined, external or internal regularly finds its way into my everyday experience. Conflict spends more of my energy than I care to admit. How I wish it would go away sometimes, how I wish I could pack up and move away from it to a place of tranquility.
But I cannot because I am a human being, a particular kind of animal, in fact, and animals survive only if wired for the struggle, to know when and how to fight, flee, or freeze. To pray this review of my warfare of the day is only to face reality and pray honestly, and God loves an honest prayer.
The well-known Hebrew word for peace, shalom, leans into tranquility, the peaceable kingdom where lamb and lion lie down together, but not so fast. One passes through struggle to get there, and our brave steps toward love and reconciliation meet resistance from the warring sides of others and ourselves. From the perspective of our Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” the end of the warring will come by God’s hand, the same hand that leads us through the wars of our days to participate in God’s quiet peacemaking work amid the noisy shelling.
In “The Presence of Peace,” Buechner tells wonderful war stories that intimate emerging peace. How he won a battle with his teenage daughter against her wish to travel across the country for her dream summer job, only to discover in his heart that winning was losing. How he stumbled into telling an annoying relative that he loved her and realizing then that he really did. How old Civil War foes reengaged at Gettysburg with embraces and tears rather than gunshots and cries. How we all suffer our hunger and homelessness, and only then awaken to our need for all to be fed and housed.
Shalom involves more than working through the wars until we make war no more. It involves wholeness and fullness of life. It involves joy. And joy comes with the coming of the long awaited, beloved one, your own child or the Christ child.
Joy comes in reunion with the lost: Buechner records a deeply affecting, imagined dialogue between his child-self and his father who committed suicide. It includes these lines:
CHILD: Could I have stopped you, Daddy? If I told you I loved you? If
I told you how I needed you?
FATHER: No, nobody could. I was lost so badly…..
CHILD: I’ve been so worried. I’ve been so scared ever since.
FATHER: Don’t be. There’s nothing to worry about. That’s the secret I
never knew, but I know now.
CHILD: What do you know now, Daddy, my dearest dad?
FATHER: I know plenty, and it’s all good. I will see you again. Be happy for me. It’s my birthday present to you, almost my birthday. I loved you boys. I love you still, child. I still love you. Good-bye for now. So long. Everything’s going to be all right (p.117).
Buechner tells earlier in the book about overcoming his fear of flying by coming to believe that whatever happens, he will land in the arms of God. At the very end of “The Presence of Peace,” he tells of the refreshment he found in a body scan meditation guided by Christ.
I was lying there in my bed with my full weight, every muscle relaxed, and it was as if I were held in those everlasting arms.
Joy is knowing that that is true from your stomach. Knowing that even though you see only through a glass darkly, even though lots of things happen – wars and peacemaking, hunger and homelessness – joy is knowing, even for a moment, that underneath everything are the everlasting arms (pp. 119-120).
If reviewing the wars of the day makes for facing reality in honest prayer, we only finish facing reality and praying when we land there in the everlasting arms. That is the presence of peace. It intimates something eternal.