“We pray for peace!” cries the Christian, the Buddhist, the Muslim, and the Hindu. “We need peace,” grumble the businessmen, the traders, the CEO’s. “We voted for peace,” complain the democrats, the republicans, and the independents. “We fight for peace!” shouts the soldier; “We pay for peace,” sighs the taxpayer. The world is peace-hungry. Peace is a fad; peace is a commodity. Politicians trade it like currency; beauty queens include it in their winning speeches. Colleges offer classes on peace for those privileged enough to attend, and pastors sermonize it weekly for the masses. Peace signs appear on backpacks and buttons, t-shirts and jewelry. It shows up in songs and movies, at poetry readings and anti-war protests.
Few ever bother to define peace, and if they do, it’s often a miserable slogan designed to promote various political or religious agendas. Even the dictionary limits peace to “the absence of hostility, a state unmarked by violent conflict.” What can we say about peace to the millions of starving children in India, to the thousands of broken and destitute families in Rwanda? What can we say to the countless abandoned infant girls in China, or the Palestinians still confined to refugee camps? What can we say to the American Indian whose ancestors were victims of genocide and the Japanese whose grandparents were vaporized by an atomic bomb?
What can we say to ourselves, we who so often ignore the suffering and misery of others?
In the middle of unfathomable tragedy, ancient words whisper. “‘Peace, peace to those who are far away, and peace to those who are near. I will heal them,’ says the Lord.”(1) The Hebrew word for “peace” is Shalom. It is more than a state of mind, of being, or of affairs. It encapsulates a reality and hope for the individual, for societal relations, and for the whole world. It is wholeness, completeness, and oneness, both within the person and the global community. Shalom does not merely speak of what is or what could be. It describes the process, the activity, and the movement towards restoration.
Peace is a noun, a thing, an entity. It does not spontaneously appear; it cannot create itself. It needs a verb to set it in motion.
We are the verb.
We can’t just talk about peace. We can’t just advertise peace. We can’t just dream about peace.
We have to work at it.
And work at it.
And work at it.
Peace demands a struggle against violence, discrimination, poverty, hunger, abandonment, greed, abuse, neglect, sickness, exploitation, and war. It requires courage, commitment, endurance, vigilance, and integrity. It is built on preemptive measures taken before conflicts escalate and on acts of service in places where conflicts have already occurred. It is founded in unconditional, unwavering love and an acute awareness of the global human family. In the sage words of Mother Theresa, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”
The child born with AIDS in Somalia is our child. The pregnant mother forced to abort her baby because of population control laws in China is our sister. The radical violently defending his religious ideals in Lebanon is our brother. The little girls kidnapped and forced into sex trafficking, the CEO’s who exploit overseas workers, the druggies that sell their own bodies just to get high, the parents who neglect their own offspring – these are all our family. Man’s skin has many colors, but underneath all his blood is red.
We belong to each other. We are each other’s future; we are each other’s past. Lao Tzu, a philosopher in ancient China, penned a poem that has now spread throughout the world:
If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.
Peace begins with us, right here, and right now. It begins in our homes, with our families. It begins at our workplace and at our sporting events. It begins in our minds. A group of children were recently asked to define “peace.” They came up with this:
Peace is the only battle worth waging. It may sound simple, but it requires of us every dream, every ideal, every strength, and every hope. It is right, and it is our duty.
To these children, peace is having a future. It’s up to us to determine what kind of future it will be.
(1) – Isaiah 57:19