Beauty contestants, politicians, popes and the rest of us wish, hope, or pray for "peace on earth," especially for the New Year. Yet, no real peace is possible while individual hearts seethe in an ongoing state of war. We make our resolutions or set our goals, the same ones we have pursued for years, with little success. Is peace in "me," much less on earth, a myth?
A.J. Muste, 20th century clergyman and political activist, writing for The New York
Times in 1967, said: "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way."
Pope Francis, delivering his first Christmas message this past December, defined peace as a "balancing of opposing forces" that "calls for daily commitment."
Advice is cheap and plentiful and even good this time of year. From plain-talking Dr. Phil to the OWN channel's platitude-waving Iyanla, from always-talking Oprah to always-smiling Rev. Joel Osteen, from end-of-the-year "things we did not know before" to beginning-of-the-year "things we fear"-advice is everywhere. We have collected it until it looks like Imelda Marcos' legendary 3,000 plus shoe stash.
We are told to set timelines, practice accountability, and assert ourselves. We are challenged to break negative patterns, manage our expectations, and forgive. We are admonished to work-and to take time out to play-to eat and to sleep correctly-like Goldilocks' selecting a bowl of porridge and a bed-the one that's "just right."
Most advice (and company after three days) stinks like dead fish. If we try to follow it
and fail, we feel guilty. If we ignore it, we feel guilty. We don't need sympathy, but a little empathy helps. To fail is human; to let it go is divine. Acknowledging divinity in our humanity is, as they say, "Priceless," but getting there will cost us.
Bloomberg News' writer Virginia Postrel said in an early December column that
believing we are worse off now than a few years ago is a common, "middle-class" American view. Rather than dwell on personal or national debt, or on jobs demanding impossible hours, or on joblessness and those who would lose unemployment benefits soon, Postrel's advice boiled down to "buck up and count your blessings, name them one by one."
Not only does Postrel need to consider that the middle-class is in danger of extinction, but she might also note that a negative future outlook is not restricted to any one group. As in a family, we hope that when one member is down, someone else will be up and extend a helping hand. While Postrel postulates, the poverty level in the U.S. is at a record high.
Results of a new AP-Times Square poll reflect the "opposing forces" of which Pope Francis spoke. Most of us are glad to bid adieu to the worries and anxieties of 2013 while attempting a forward-looking optimism for 2014.
Not finding peace is one of the few things the Bible tells us to fear. "Let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His [God's] rest [peace], any of you should seem to have come short of it" (Hebrews 4:1). Peace in us and on earth is not a myth. It is a promise with a condition: It is only found through knowing God. Otherwise, we can't get there from here.
Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side.
Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com.