Stillness: Guarding Peace
I have been considering a statement I recently read from Mark the Ascetic. He says that when we perpetually keep in mind Christ's humiliation, "then what anger, wrath or bitterness can take possession of us?" Similarly Jonah Paffhausen, in his lecture "Do Not React, Do Not Resent, Keep Inner Stillness," says, "Our watchfulness needs to be focused on God. We need to maintain the conscious awareness of God’s presence. If we can maintain the conscious awareness of His presence, our thoughts will have no power over us. To paraphrase St. Benedict, we can dash our thoughts against the presence of God. This is a very ancient patristic teaching. We focus our attention on the remembrance of God" (my italics). All three men, if we include Benedict of Nursia quoted here by Paffhausen, talk about controlling our reactions and therefore protecting our inner stillness by keeping God present in our thoughts.
God is always present, but we often forget him. Or we don't practice his presence, living with an idea of his presence (we've been told and we believe he is always present) while carrying on our lives as secularists. So God is on the radio or in church, but we don't recall his presence—that he is truly present here, now. Present. There is no distance between God and us. He is not in some faraway place. He is not off in heaven somewhere—if we think about God and heaven in this way, we think wrongly. Though he is invisible to us, we are visible to him and he is with us. We must train ourselves to see him in all things. So that when we clean a toilet, lead music, or teach, we do it out of love for God who is with us. And we begin to understand that cleaning a toilet is not a lesser activity than preaching if done out of love for God. The least of things done in great love for the one who is present, who stands at our side, is a towering act. In The Practice of the Presence of God, it is said of Brother Lawrence, "he was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking him only, and nothing else, not even his gifts." God offers himself when he offers peace.
"Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved," says Seraphim of Sarov. Meditate on this proposition. The world is desperate for people of peace, people filled with the peace of Christ. Men and women unruffled by the variety of winds that blow. God is an ocean of calm, entirely dispassionate. Laid out, smooth as glass beyond what any eye can hope to see. We stand at the edge of this ocean, and are asked to peer into it. We are invited to gaze upon him until the perfect surface of his peace is reflected in us.
An anxious world—a world, to quote Thoreau, of quiet desperation—seeks for peace, but wanders aimlessly without direction. Peace is not stumbled upon, not accidentally won. It is acquired through much labor, and often the process is painful. We do not guard inner peace as we should, but still God calls, still he offers himself. Who will take up the banner of peace? Who is willing that it pierce her heart? Who will become so fixed upon God, that he is able to truly love all men, even his enemies? Who is so courageous as to be a minister of reconciliation, not in word, but in truth, because reconciliation and peace have become the very spring of her own heart?