There can be peace on earth, peace between nations and races, peace in our communities, peace in our homes, but this peace will come on a permanent basis only when it comes because of some measure of realization of our relationship to God. We ourselves must first attain that realization. (Joel Goldsmith, A Parenthesis in Eternity)
For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:49-50 NRSV)
“Be peace.” These are the words that greet me every time I look at my cell phone. I recently changed the phrase to “be peace” from “make peace” after I realized that only those who are peace can make peace.
I had entered the “make peace” phrase shortly after the United States invaded Iraq. To me, it was unfathomable that a nation, led by a supposed “Christian,” could launch such an attack on another sovereign nation. The idea of a “pre-emptive strike” as U.S. policy was more odious to me than the idea of a “just war.” To me, no war is just. Winning a war is like winning an earthquake — it simply doesn’t happen, no matter who claims to be the “victor.”
The word “peace” comes to us from the Hebrew “shalom.” William Barclay says this word “is also translated soundness of body (Ps. 38.3), welfare (Gen. 43.27), prosperity (Job 15.21). Shalom really means everything that makes for a [person’s] highest good” (italics his). “Peace,” as defined by our world, is merely the absence of war. But to the Hebrews the word shalom would not apply to a situation where scorched earth, dead bodies and a suspicious existence with one another was the outcome of conflict. Peace, for the Hebrews, “is everything that makes for a [person’s] highest good” — that cannot simply mean the absence of war or trouble. This shows just how far off the mark from the true idea of “peace” we, as a society, truly are.
The peace we seek today will never last because there is no flavor to it. We have lost our saltiness where peace is concerned. Jesus said that unless we have salt in ourselves we will never be at peace with one another. Without that flavor, any peace we may achieve in this world will be fleeting.
The Greek word for salt is “halas.” According to Strong’s, “salt is a symbol of lasting concord, because it protects food from putrefaction and preserves it unchanged. Accordingly, in the solemn ratification of compacts, the Orientals were, and are to this day, accustomed to partake of salt together.” Salt is also important in the ancient world because it was used to prepare sacrifices. If we have lost our flavor, our saltiness, then we are no longer worthy to be “living sacrifices” to God. We cannot be true peacemakers unless we are salted for sacrifice.
Bible commentator Matthew Henry writes:
“Those that have the salt of grace must make it appear that they have it; that they have salt in themselves, a living principle of grace in their hearts, which works out all corrupt dispositions, and every thing in the soul that tends to putrefaction, and would offend our God, or our own consciences, as unsavory meat doth. Our speech must be always with grace seasoned with this salt, that no corrupt communication may proceed out of our mouth, but we may loathe it as much as we would to put putrid meat into our mouths.”
Pay close attention to Henry’s words — where is the location of the salt? Is it somewhere outside of ourselves? Is the church the holder of the salt? Is the Bible our saltshaker? Is doctrine where we get our salt? No! Henry says we contain the salt. We have “a living principle of grace” in our heart! Nothing outside of us can give us our saltiness — only grace working in and through us can do that. It is this salt — within us — that makes for lasting peace. There is no true peace in the world because our peace has become flavorless. Only by regaining our flavor — our innate saltiness — can we ever achieve true peace in the world.
Stopping the war within
To begin to reclaim our saltiness, we need to turn inward and stop the war raging there. We believe that peace is a function of something outside of ourselves. We believe if we defeat this nation, this dictator, this “evil empire,” that our world will be at peace — simply because the troublemaker has been removed from power. We believe that we can bring about peace by sheer force of will. We believe that we can “make peace” without first “being peace.”
Mahatma Gandhi understood this when he said, “I have only three enemies. My favorite enemy, the one most easily influenced for the better, is the British Empire. My second enemy, the Indian people, is far more difficult. But my most formidable opponent is a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi. With him I seem to have very little influence.”
To stop any wars that occur “out there” in our world, we first must become peacemakers who are able to stop the war “in here,” the war that constantly rages deep within ourselves. The fact that we have not yet won the war inside of each of us is proven daily by the outward conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Mideast, and the countless battles being fought on the continent of Africa. We are at war with each other externally only because we have not yet become peacemakers within our own hearts. We are naÔve to think that we can have peace in the world when we cannot even find peace in our own heart.
Jesus tells us that, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Whatever is in our heart will come out of us through speech and action (Matthew 15:19 — “for out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander”). If we have evil in our heart, evil comes out of us no matter how much we may try to suppress it. If we have good in our heart, we cannot but express the good — it flows from us as naturally as orange juice flows from an orange. The constant conflicts between people and nations belie the evil that still reigns in each heart on Earth. Like Gandhi, we seem to have the least influence with ourselves when it comes to true peacemaking.
Cultivating peace within
To find true peace without, then, we must begin to cultivate true peace within. We can only do that by heeding the command, “be still and know that I am God.” Only in our stillness can we fully realize what Jesus meant when he told us that the kingdom of God is within us. There is nothing external to us that can bring us peace — not money, fame, relationships, honor from society — nothing. The only thing that brings peace is learning to be still and know God.
By being still we allow God to touch us deeply. When that happens we recognize that we are not separate beings from anyone else in the world. When we discover the kingdom within, we discover that there is only one force in the world — God. There is only one being in the world — God. We are all manifestations of the same living God. We are not separate from anyone else. We are all one — one creation in and through God. Our warring ways are a result of our forgetfulness of this fact. We pick tribes. We back up our way of thinking with sacred texts, be it the Bible, the Koran, the Upanishads or the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. We choose sides, disregarding the fact that in God there are no sides. There is only God. There is no “us.” There is no “them.” There are only manifestations of God called “humans.” If we pick any tribe on earth, this should be the one.
This is the first step to stopping the war within us so we can begin to regain our flavor and “be” the peace we want to see in the world. When we truly acknowledge that we are all one in God we begin to see the world differently. Instead of seeing Americans, Iraqis, Muslims, Christians, gays, straights, men, women, we begin to see God in human form all around us. We begin to see the reflection of the divine in each of the eyes that meet ours. We begin to see the reflection of the divine in all the people we see on the news, or in the grocery store, or read about in magazines or newspapers.
Knowing deeply that we are all connected we begin to understand what Thich Nhat Hahn calls “interbeing” — where “we belong to each other.” As we truly reach a state of inner peace we begin to realize that our dualistic idea of the world, divided into “us” and “them,” or “good” and “evil,” is wrong. There is no “axis of evil” because there is no “evil” — there is only one force in the world — God, and God is Love. Bad things happening in the world are not “evil” — they are love going away from God. They are people exercising their free will in a dualistic way instead of realizing that “every side is ‘our side,’ as Hahn says, “There is no evil side.”
Realizing relationship with God
For peace to be attained in the world, Goldsmith tells us we must first realize our own relationship with God. Until we know, deep inside ourselves, the movements of the living God, we will never make peace outside of ourselves. How do we do that?
“Be still and know that I am God.”
We can never know God unless we quiet our minds, unless we give up our thinking, our scheming, our planning, our desires to achieve peace on our own. It is only through the practice of meditation that we can truly come to form a deep and lasting relationship with God.
Mother Teresa understood this when she wrote this in a letter to the Albanian people:
“To be able to love one another, we must pray much, for prayer gives a clean heart and a clean heart can see God in our neighbor. If now we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten how to see God in one another. If each person saw God in his neighbor, do you think we would need guns and bombs?”
Praying much, or meditating, can help us begin to see God in our neighbor, by first seeing God in ourselves and cultivating that relationship with God that Goldsmith says is so important to making peace last not only within, but without. It is only in this manner that we can regain the flavor of peace we desperately need inside of ourselves so it can be brought forth into the world.
Many people see meditation as a waste of time. After all, you’re just sitting there for 10 or 20 minutes doing nothing! This attitude shows little understanding of what meditation is all about. Meditation, Goldsmith says, is “a conscious activity of our Soul.” It is not “doing nothing” it is doing the most important thing we could ever do — building our relationship with the living God.
There are a plethora of books on the market on how to meditate. This article is not the place to conduct an in-depth meditation training. Some resources are provided on this page and I will talk briefly about a meditation that you can begin to use immediately. But, I strongly recommend exploring meditation resources and finding the meditation practice that suits you best. It is only when we pray and meditate much that we will find inner peace — and bring forth outer peace.
My suggestion for beginners is to find just a few minutes — five minutes to start — and just sit comfortably in a quiet place. Concentrate on your breath. Concentrate on the point where you can feel your breath. Is it in the back of the throat? The tip of your nose? Put all your concentration on that point. If thoughts begin to crowd into your mind, take note of them, but let them pass on. Some meditation instructors recommend silently repeating the phrase “thinking, thinking” to denote a thought as it passes. Others recommend being specific “thinking about letting the dog in” or whatever the thought is that passes. Do whichever makes you more comfortable. The important thing is to let the thought pass and not get carried away with it. If you find yourself following a thought, stop, and gently bring yourself back to your breath. Feel the breath, wherever it is. Return your concentration to that spot.
Take it from me this is no easy five minutes. You may be shocked at the number and magnitude of the thoughts that cross your mind, vying for your attention, tempting you away from your meditation. Give them no heed. Let them pass. Your mind will tell you that you’re wasting time, that you could be doing better things, that this is hopeless and stupid. Don’t listen. Your ego wants you to give up, to continue as things have always been. It doesnít know any better. It doesn’t realize that it is only through inner peace that we gain outer peace. Smile at your ego, recognize it, and let it go, continuing to concentrate on your breathing.
Do not be discouraged if your first few attempts at meditation are a total failure. Buddhist monk Jack Kornfield likens meditation to training a puppy, and we know how much patience that task requires!
“You put the puppy down and say, ‘Stay.’ Does the puppy listen? It gets up and it runs away. You sit the puppy back down again. ‘Stay.’ And the puppy runs away over and over again. Sometimes the puppy jumps up, runs over, and pees in the corner or makes some other mess. Our minds are much the same as the puppy, only they create even bigger messes. In training the mind, or the puppy, we have to start over and over again.”
But the rewards, as with a well-trained dog, are great! Eventually we regain the flavor of peace in our lives by making meditation or “praying much” part of our daily lives. That inward flavor takes on a life of its own, making us not so much a beacon for the whole world, but a light for those in our immediate area. “Spiritual light has always entered consciousness through one individual so permeated with truth that a dozen disciples here, or a half dozen there, have caught hold to it,” Goldsmith says, “and then from them come the fifty, the two hundred, and the two thousand.”
This is where we must bring peace — to those around us. That peace spreads to those around us and eventually around the whole world. If one person regains the flavor of peace, they cannot help but pass that flavor on to others, who in turn also pass the peace until it covers the world. But, it starts with one person willing to be the change — the peace — they want to see. The first step to saltiness, though, is silence in meditation, where we develop that deep relationship with God.
Don’t think, however, that by meditating you will gain great material rewards. You might, but that is not the point of meditation. Goldsmith warns us that, “any meditation that has within itself a single trace of desire to get something from God or to acquire something through God is no longer meditation. Good is to be realized, yes, but not to be achieved: the infinity of good is already where I am; the kingdom of God is within me.”
We meditate to get to that kingdom. Yes, good things result outside of ourselves as a result of our constant search for that kingdom, but the good results without are not the point of the search within. They are a natural manifestation of our practice, but they are not the goal. Relationship with God is the goal. Regaining that flavor of peace is the goal. Only by becoming peace — that “living sacrifice,” salted with God’s grace — can we ever hope to achieve peace within, or without.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.