85) Peace

     Two artists were asked to paint a scene, which would depict their concept of peace.  The first artist produced a painting of a beautiful mountain lake.  Everything about the picture suggested peace and quiet.  The sky was clear and not a ripple disturbed the calm waters.  There were no boats on the lake, no cabins on the shore, and not even an animal or a bird to disturb this perfect tranquility.  To the first artist, this was the truest picture of peace.

     The second artist painted a picture of a thundering waterfall.  At the base of the falls he painted a tree, with its long branches hanging out over the turbulent waters.  In one of those branches, the artist painted a tiny sparrow sitting calmly on her little nest.  In the midst of the mighty roar, surrounded by what looked like great danger, the sparrow sat unperturbed and peaceful.  Her cozy little nest was snug and secure in the limbs of the mighty oak tree.  Though everything else about this picture suggested noise and commotion and peril, this little bird was safe and sound on a solid branch that the waters could not reach.  Both artists agreed that the second painting was the truest portrayal of peace.

     If we are to have any peace at all in this world, it will have to be a peace that can be found in the midst of the troubles that we will always be facing and the dangers that will always be all around us.  We can find perfect peace only in Jesus, because the promises of Jesus are not limited to this troubled world.  Rather, we are promised a time and a place and a life beyond this world.  We can be at peace, then, because even if we lose everything here, even life itself, we are still not without hope.  Jesus promises us that just as he rose from the dead, we too shall live again.

     On the night before Jesus died, facing a day that was to be anything but peaceful for any of them, Jesus said to his disciples, “In me you may have peace.”  He went right on to readily acknowledge that, “In this world you will have trouble,” but then he quickly added, ‘Take heart, for I have overcome the world.”  The second artist portrayed perfectly this kind of peace.  Just as the little sparrow was safe in the limbs of a mighty oak, we are safe in the arms of Jesus, even though there is turbulence, noise, and danger all around us.

     Tom Dooley was a medical missionary in Southeast Asia.  He died of cancer in 1961 at the age of 34, but his short life was filled with incredible accomplishment and service.  He not only worked as a doctor, he also started and staffed and raised money for several hospitals.  His Christian faith motivated him to abandon a much easier career in the United States for this very difficult overseas ministry.  His life was filled with difficulty, danger, toil, and then for several years, illness, as he battled cancer.  Yet, he had that peace in the midst of trouble that was promised by Jesus in John 16.  This peace is evident in a letter written on December 1, 1960 to the president of Notre Dame, the school where Dooley had received his education:

Dear Father Hesburgh,
     They’ve got me down, flat on my back, with plaster, sandbags, and hot water bottles.  I’ve contrived a way of pumping the bed up a bit so that with a long reach, I can get to my typewriter…  Whenever my cancer acts up a bit, and it is certainly acting up now, I turn inward.  Less do I think of my hospitals around the world, or of 94 doctors, fundraisers, and the like.  More do I think of one divine Doctor and my personal fund of grace.
     It has become pretty definite that the cancer has spread to the lumbar vertebrae, accounting for the back problems over the last two months.  I have monstrous phantoms.  All men do.  Inside and outside the wind blows.  But when times like this come, the storm around me does not matter.  The winds within me do not matter.  Nothing human or earthly can touch me.  A peace gathers in my heart.  What seems unpossessable, I can possess.  What seems unfathomable, I can fathom.  What is unutterable, I can utter.  Because I can pray.  I can communicate.  How do people on earth endure anything if they do not have God?”

Black and white photograph of Tom Dooley. A white adult man holding two children of Asian descent in his arms.

     Tom Dooley was in a bad storm.  He was in his early thirties, thousands of people were depending on him, he was suffering illness and in great pain, and, he knew he would not get out of the storm alive.  He could have objected.  He could have been angry with God.  But instead, it was to God that he turned for hope, and in that hope he found peace.

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John 16:33  —  Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

Philippians 4:7 — And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

John 14:27 — (Jesus said), “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give.  It isn’t like the peace that this world can give.  So don’t be worried or afraid. ” 

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O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed; and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.  Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  

Book of Common Prayer

14) Calm in a Storm

     I was visiting Bernice in the care center the other day.  Bernice has had many health problems over the last several years, but her strong faith sustains her, and she is usually in good spirits and content to be at the care center.  So I was surprised to hear her say, “You know, I can’t wait to get out of here.”  
     Knowing that she needs the care she receives there and would not be able to live independently, I said, “But Bernice, where will you go?”
     “Well,” she said cheerfully, “to heaven of course!” 
      That same joyful and confident hope is expressed in the following story which is adapted from Surprise Endings, by Ron Mehl (Multnomah Publishers, 1995):
     A woman caught in a frightening storm in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean had kept all the little children on board from panicking by telling them Bible stories.  After finally reaching the dock safely, the ship’s captain approached the woman, whom he had observed in the midst of the tempest.
     “How were you able to maintain your calm when everyone feared the ship would sink in this storm?” the captain asked.  As she looked up, he noticed the same quiet peace in her eyes that she had maintained throughout the journey.
     “I have two daughters,” explained the woman.  “One of them lives in New York.  The other lives in heaven.  I knew I would be seeing one or the other of my daughters in a few hours, and it really didn’t matter to me which one.”

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Isaiah 26:3-4 — You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.

John 16:33 — (Jesus said), “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” 

John 14:27 — (Jesus said), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Philippians 4:6-7 — Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

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Protect me, dear Lord;
My boat is so small,
And your sea is so big.
–Breton fisherman’s prayer

6) At Peace With Growing Old

From a letter by Hannah Whithall Smith (1832-1911):
     We are in 1903 and I am nearly seventy-one years old.  I always thought I should love to grow old, and I find it even more delightful than I thought.  It is so delicious to be done with things, and to feel no need any longer to concern myself much about earthly affairs.  I seem on the verge of a most delightful journey to a place of unknown joys and pleasures, and things here seem of so little importance compared to things there, that they have lost most of their interest for me.
     I cannot describe the sort of ‘done-with-the-world’ feeling I have.  It is not that I feel as if I was going to die at all, but simply that the world seems to me nothing but a passage way to the real life beyond; and passage ways are very unimportant places.  It is of very little account what sort of things they contain, or how they are furnished.  One just hurries through them to get to the place beyond.
     My wants seem to be gradually narrowing down, my personal wants, I mean, and I often think I could be quite content in the poor-house!  I do not know whether this is piety or old age, or a little of each mixed together, but honestly the world and our life in it does seem of too little account to be worth making the least fuss over, when one has such a magnificent prospect close at hand ahead of one; and I am tremendously content to let one activity after another go, and to await quietly and happily the opening of the door at the end of the passage way, that will let me in to my real abiding place.  So you may think of me as happy and contented, surrounded with unnumbered blessings, and delighted to be 71 years old.

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John 16:22  —  (Jesus said),  “So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

Hebrews 11:1  —  Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Philippians 1:21-23  —  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.   If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…  (NIV)

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The peace of God be with you;
The peace of Christ be with you;
The peace of the Spirit be with you;
And with your children;
From the day that we have here today,
Until the day of the end of your lives.
–Celtic blessing