DISTURBED BY TV IMAGES OF BOMBED BUILDINGS, fear-stricken faces of civilians, and brave soldiers rescuing children from smoked-filled streets, I prayed. The images contrasted sharply against the peaceful sway of the hammock outside my kitchen window. I asked myself: At what point around the earth does the clear blue sky end and the exhaust of war begin? What can I do for peace? What possible difference can I make? What would Jesus do? Actually, What did Jesus do?
I did some research on Jesus and surprisingly discovered that his ministry occurred in the middle of warlike conditions. Palestine was under direct control of the Roman Empire, which continually battled for additional territories. Other nations fought back to gain possession of what they had previously lost. There was a constant tug of war over land. Many Jews believed that what we now call Israel should be ruled only by a Jewish king, a descendant of King David. It's no wonder that the Jewish people were yearning for the Messiah to come, build an army, and oust the Romans.
The long-awaited Messiah did show up on this fractious world scene, but Jesus didn't come as a warrior-king. In fact, he did not address the war directly at all. Instead, he taught his followers what it means to be at peace: to love their neighbors, love their enemies—one by one, step by step, and thought by thought. When he and his disciples were caught in a deadly storm at sea, the words "Peace, be still" that Jesus spoke were addressed not so much to the high winds as to the fearful storm within the minds of the disciples. Calming their thoughts, he changed their immediate world from turbulence to peace (see Mark 4:36—41). Instead of a warrior going to battle, destroying lives to forward his kingdom, Jesus healed people and even raised the dead. During his life, he lived up to the prophetic title, the Prince of Peace.
At the same time that I researched Jesus' ministry, I also took this statement to heart from Science and Health: "Stand porter at the door of thought. Admitting only such conclusions as you wish realized in bodily results, you will control yourself harmoniously" (p. 392). I began replacing negative thoughts that crept into my thinking with the spiritual facts that God is Love, and that the spiritual identity of everyone as described in Genesis is God's image or reflection (see 1:26, 27)—not just some men and some women in certain situations, but everyone, including children, in all situations.
At first I found it difficult to be a really good guard at the entry of my thinking, because the challenges were often very subtle: a driver cutting me off, a rude salesperson, or just facing someone smirking at me. As I kept at it, though, exchanging negative thoughts for spiritual facts made a huge difference. This change in thinking brought calm and even joy to my days. I realized, too, that it took more time and effort to think about why another person was wrong or inappropriate than to just acknowledge their spiritual goodness. With all this extra time, I started writing down ideas about attaining peace. For instance, I could strive to understand more clearly that peace is already present, in the moment, in the infinite now. And I could realize that peace between individuals happens when we forgive and understand that loving each other is part of loving God. And finally, I could deeply affirm that peace among nations starts in our thought when we view the world as one community under God's love.
Then one day while sitting in a restaurant, I overheard pieces of conversations such as, "I'm so mad at him, I'm not calling him for a week." And, "My aunt was so rude, I don't care if I ever speak to her again." And another, "I haven't spoken to him in seven years, and I don't care if we don't speak for another seven." I suddenly realized how true it is that peace begins at home.
What if you and I persistently followed Jesus' example of taking care of the so-called little things? Our day-to-day interactions, our family differences, our frustrations with people at our jobs or on the street—what if we were to see them as opportunities to bring peace to our world? I don't mean superficially. I mean actually expressing what the early Christians called agape—a Greek term for love to and for everyone, the brotherly/sisterly love that corresponds to the love God has for humanity. Jesus told us pretty clearly what we all must do to find peace: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). And that includes a rude aunt as much as nations at war with each other! As we spiritualize and elevate our thinking, won't we be doing what Jesus did—moving the whole world toward peace?
Here's another step I took that was right at hand and doable. I brought to my Sunday School class all that I had been learning and putting into practice in my own life. After a lengthy discussion about peace, these teenagers agreed to heal at least one relationship problem they had each week. In just a few weeks, we had quite a list of healings. The students identified attitudes they had practiced that brought about healing, such as listening, not judging, expressing love and empathy, showing gratitude and appreciation. The students were surprised at how often they had wrongfully judged others and how good it felt to stop doing that, to love instead.
We all agreed that this shift in thinking, this focus on loving others, is the road to world peace. We learned, too, that spiritually based love does take persistent practice. It takes humility, patience, and a deep desire for peace. When we're tired, frustrated, and beaten down, it's easy to say, "Forget it, I'm writing this or that person off." But God, our loving Shepherd, takes care of every one of His/Her sheep. Not one is given up. We can do the same.
Peace happens when we forgive and understand that loving each other is virtually the same as loving God.
As we all keep bringing healing to our everyday relationships—even the guy who cuts us off on our commute home—eventually there won't be any reason left to fight wars. Though no war at all is an ideal goal that may be a long way off, my students and I are glad to have found a way to at least move in that direction.
It sounds so simple, so easy, that I almost missed it. Peace isn't a place to get to—it is the way, the path. And we can live it every day, every moment, with every good and loving thought.
Deanna Mummert teaches ethics at Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Towson, Maryland, just north of Baltimore.
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