To Have a Peaceful Heart
Whenas all the world was in profoundest quietness,
and night was in the midst of her swift course:
thine almighty Word, O Lord,
leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne.
Introit for the First Sunday after Christmas
This year, the winter has been rather disappointing. We’ve consistently had snow on the ground, but our January thaw, early to commence, has also been late to leave. Today began with depressing torrents of rain. Come midday, however, of a sudden a change swept over the world. Temperatures plummeted, winds increased, and the snow began. First, it came with the dense heaviness of a typical spring storm. Snow fell fat and fast, plopping onto the surfaces of the world with a scornful splat. But then, as when the thoughts buoy up after the dense weight of worry and sorrow is dropped from the heart, it lightened to the fine, feathery flakes of true winter. Maureen and I had to get out into it.
Up along the southern shores of Lake Delaware, the woods were flushed with the soft shades of February, hoary and hushed. Each branch of every tree bore a delicate pelt of ice and snow; every breath of wind joyously swept up from the meadow lively little flurries, while new snow fell all around us. Though all was alive with the fading ferocity of the storm, all yet existed like so in a profound quiet.
Taking Responsibility for our Spiritual Lives
I have been writing a great deal of late about the need to contend in the Christian life. My goal is to inspire Christians to take responsibility for their spiritual lives; to ponder nothing earthly-minded, dig in, and engage with dedication all that the great treasure trove of the ancient faith offers. The holy fathers and mothers of our tradition have unstintingly spoken of the Christian spiritual life as warfare. The gospels present Jesus as the true warrior King, going about the regions of Galilee casting out the legions of demons and their works.1See, for example, Mark 1:39. I know from my own engagement of contemplative practice that this metaphor holds. We need the resolve to contend. Still, a part of me has at the same time remained uncomfortable with the imagery. One thing is clear: the Christian life is not a life of endless, futile conflict. That is not the point. Indeed, as Christians we should be growing tired of such futility, and making our exodus Godward, into the everlasting peace of his kingdom. The warfare is in the fact that, making such an exodus, Pharaoh’s legions are never far behind, enviously striving to carry us back into captivity. Holy Scripture reminds us that God has the victory; we “have only to be still.”2Exod 14:14.
The point of the Christian life is God’s victory. Jesus has won it, and in him we share in the spoil. The world has condemned itself by crucifying the Lord of Glory, and the demons enviously and malevolently rage because their time is but short. And while each of us needs to repent for our complicity in these evils, to take responsibility for the sin that is within us, the whole point of the struggle is the victory, not the struggle itself. And victory spells peace.
When the foe is vanquished, there is peace. The vanquished foe is the Adversary. He whispers in our ear all of his words of hopelessness, tells us that life in this world is either good enough or all there is—who are we to seek God? He fills us with narcissistic fantasies, keeping our hearing plugged and our vision jammed so as not to behold the great expanse of peace and silence in which God holds all things. In God’s peace is our hope. But the Adversary keeps the noise echoing throughout our minds and hearts. As long he does so, and as long as we keep allowing him to agitate our soul with selfish worry, self-pity, guilt, despair, envy, the false hopes pinned on the passing things of this age, we are barred from peace, from Christ our Holy Silence, in whom is our faith and our goal.
The Peace of God, Surpassing All Understanding
We should never lose sight of the peace towards which the Christian life tends. The Liturgy contains a great deal of references to this peace: “Lamb of God, grant us thy peace.” “Regard not our sins, but the faith of thy church, and grant to her that peace and unity which is according to thy will.” “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” “Mercifully grant peace in our days, that we may be safe from all disquietude.” “The peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God.” I could go on.
Peace: The Fruit of the Christian Life
To have a peaceful heart, this is the fruit of the Christian life. The peaceful heart is the faithful heart, knowing the depth of God’s graces, the still beauty in which the whole creation abides. God is peace, and he is our peace, and peace is the soul of those who rest in him.
Mons Nubifer Sanctus: Christian spiritual training in the fullness of the ancient faith.
References [ + ]
|1.||￪||See, for example, Mark 1:39.|