Tag Archives: Kingdom

3 Things I’m Learning About Cultivating Peace

How do you find peace?

peaceful-sunset-1920x1080-1207058This is a question everyone asks at one time or another. I’ve been on a personal journey to answer it since last year’s Lenten season. The 40 days of fasting and repentance opened my eyes to the fact that in almost any given moment I was unsatisfied. Not unhappy, just unsatisfied. Restless, like I wast perpetually missing something. And I unknowingly tried so many ways to settle my restlessness, but always to no avail. When my mind wandered I would check out on social media, or grab some junk food, or go buy something, or reorganize the books on my bookshelf. Anything to avoid being fully present in the moment as it existed.

When I came home from the office I would often bring my restlessness with me, mostly because I felt like I had accomplished so little at work and needed to get something done. So at work my mind was restless, then at home my mind was restless because I spent the day in restlessness at work!

During Lent last year I gave up meat, which forced me to be very intentional about what I ate. I couldn’t just “grab something” whenever an urge hit. I began to notice that by forcing myself to think about what I was eating, my mind was much more focused on what needed to get done. Since food was no longer an escape, somehow that helped my mind be satisfied with the moment. And when I was able to be satisfied, the other vices began losing their appeal, and eventually I was rarely looking for an escape.

Robert Pirsig refers to three levels of understanding in our search for peace: Physical, Mental, and Value. THIS IS THE FIRST THING I’M LEARNING ABOUT PEACE: Changing our physical behavior (like giving up meat for 40 days) influences our Mental state, which then creates a “Value Quietness” in which “one has no wandering desires at all but simply performs the acts of his life without desire, and that seems the hardest of all.”*

Once I realized this, I was forced to ask: “But what was I escaping from?” And that’s where the real journey begins. We fall into the trap of thinking we have no peace because our environment is not peaceful. And, to be sure, we ought to intentionally work toward a peaceful environment. We are a loud, busy, multi-tasking people who rarely stop for the sake of being present. Environment does play a part, but it’s only a small part. But simply removing the thing causing distress doesn’t get at the heart of the problem itself; namely the question Why does that stress me out?

med1I have a friend who is a foster/adoptive dad with a large family. He once told me that shoes on the stairs causes him great distress. As he kept talking he began to acknowledge that the location of the shoes wasn’t the problem, but rather the disrespect he felt as a father by his kids not putting things where they belong.

And that’s where his journey toward peace must begin.

THIS IS THE SECOND THING I’M LEARNING ABOUT PEACE: Changing our environment is not necessarily bad, and can sometimes solve the problem. But more often than not, what is really needed is not a change of environment, but a change of Self, because there’s only so much control we have over our environment. Unfortunately, changing the environment is always easier than changing our Self. As Martin Luther once wrote: “The Self dies hard.

BEGIN TO CHANGE YOUR SELF WITH THREE QUESTIONS

THIS IS THE THIRD THING I’M LEARNING ABOUT PEACE: Changing your Self is never complete; it requires time and maintenance. It also requires intentionality and a recognition of restlessness when it occurs. For example, I was at my 12-year-old son’s basketball game recently. It was a close game and came down to the final shot. My son’s team got the ball off a missed free throw and immediately called time out. They had 7 seconds to move down the court and get a shot off. I try not to be that obnoxious parent at my kids’ sporting events, but sometimes I get outside of myself and a little too wrapped up in the game. That was the case on this particular night. I just wanted them to win so bad!

So, during the time out, while all the players were off the court, I actually paused and asked myself three questions:

Will I be at peace if they win?

Will I be at peace if they lose?

What must I do to have the same peace either way?

This, for me, has become the central focus. I want the same peace if my son’s team loses as I would have if they won, and I want to intentionally work to maintain it. The work of maintaining peace starts with recognizing how little control we have at any given moment.

As a spectator – not a coach, nor a ref, nor a player – I had no control over any aspect of that game. If my peace were contingent upon my environment, then I would have been fighting a losing battle because it was completely out of my hands. And that’s the case for most of life; life is imposed on us more than we impose ourselves upon it. Loosening our grip in moments like a 12-year-old boy’s basketball game reminds us of this fact, and leads us toward a cultivated sense of peace.

Whether it’s a basketball game, a work situation, family life, marriage, church, school, community, neighbors, weekend getaways…we are always given the opportunity to ask:

Will I be at peace if A happens?

Will I be at peace if happens?

What must I do to have the same peace either way?

Peace is cultivated, not grasped. Nurtured, not achieved. Peace is maintained. And maintenance is more of an art form than a science. It involves routine and structure, but great perspective is also required. For me personally, I’ve found a few things to be helpful in my effort to maintain peace:

  1. Wake Up Early – Obviously this isn’t going to work for everybody, but waking up before our kids** is the first step toward starting the day in peace for me. I typically wake up around 5:00, then go to our living room and practice a series of yoga stretches and poses, followed by some silent meditation in the dark. I spend about 5-10 minutes being as aware of my surroundings as possible. Some call this mindfulness. The discovery of mindfulness has been an extraordinary gift to me in my search for peace. Usually, though, at that time of morning the only thing to be mindful of is our snoring dog on the couch beside me. But these few moments of waking up peacefully set the tone for my whole day.
  2. Guided Prayer – I’ve been meeting with a spiritual director for the better part of a year now. He’s a retired Catholic priest named Father Bob. We meet most Wednesday’s at the Little Rock diocese where he and a few other retired priests now live. Each week he asks about my prayer time from the week before, then gives me some thoughts and scriptures to guide my prayer for the coming week. I’ve also begun using a prayer book. I’ve settled on The Book of Common Prayer. It provides a daily prayer structure that begins with ancient scriptures and liturgical readings. That way by the time I get around to praying for myself, my prayer is shaped by scripture and by spiritual mothers and fathers so that my personal prayer finds context in the great tradition of our faith.
  3. Deep Prayer Getaways – Here in Little Rock we are blessed with the Arkansas House of Prayer, a beautiful sanctuary on a hillside west of town. It’s on the grounds of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, which is also a beautiful sight. I try to spend a couple of hours on Tuesday’s at AHOP in what I’ve begun calling “Deep Prayer.” That is, a time of deep and focused interaction with Jesus, guided by scripture and liturgies and my own imagination (imagination in prayer is something I hope to write on soon). I also recently attended my first 3-day silent guided prayer retreat at St. Scholastica monastery in Fort Smith, AR. The sisters at St. Scholastica provided wonderful direction, and I was silent for three days, spending at least four hours per day in focused prayer, and the rest in companionship with Jesus. If you ever have a chance to participate in a guided silent retreat, I highly encourage you to take it.

Yesterday I started working on a space in the woods behind our house for an outdoor contemplative prayer space where I plan to spend my mornings once spring arrives. The hill on which our house sits backs up to the Arkansas river and provides incredible views of the sunrise each morning. So when everything thaws and life starts to bloom, I plan to cultivate peace in the nature of our own backyard.

We plan to move out of our current house in the next 18-24 months, and the thought occurred to me as I was lugging rocks through the trees that in only a few months I won’t have access to that space. But that’s the beauty of cultivating peace; you begin to realize that it’s not about a particular place or a particular space or even a particular time – peace is cultivated where you are, when you are, with what you have. In my case, I currently have access to a beautiful plot of woods behind our house. Perhaps our next house will be in a more urban area with only a small patch of grass out back. But peace is not contingent upon my environment, so an entirely new journey toward peace will open up as I will learn to experience it in a new place.

May that be your experience; may you see life as a perpetual journey toward the peace that Jesus offers, that you might be in a constant state of satisfaction regardless of your circumstances or environment. And may you find joy not only in the peace itself, but also in the cultivating work that you pour into it. May your yoga practices and quiet meditations and guided prayers be filled with a divine sense of work, and from that work may a beautiful harvest of peace rise up within you.

 

*Robert Pirsig; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values; William Morrow Modern Classics, p. 302

**Did I mention that my wife and I have eight kids? At the time of this writing they are ages 12, 9, 7, 7, 5, 4, 3, and 2. So yeah, don’t tell me you can’t do these things.

 

A Church of Christ Preacher’s Take on Lent

1. What is Lent?

Lent began as a season of preparation for baptism. In some traditions it started as a 40-hour fast, and in others it has always been a 40-day fast. The number 40 is representative of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert fasting and praying in preparation for his ministry. Historically, the 40-day Lenten period started 40 days before Easter, and on Easter Sunday participants were baptized. 

Lent is an opportunity to become more like the resurrected Jesus in anticipation of Easter Sunday. By resurrection, we are transformed into the image of Christ and invited to participate in his mission – to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, sight for the blind, and set the oppressed free. During Lent, we fast from those things that are selfish, and participate in those things that are sacrificial and bring about justice. Many use this time to quit drinking sodas or cut back on chocolate, but the deeper sense of Lent invites us to rid our lives of those things that prevent justice and/or our awareness of people in need.

In addition to fasting, many choose to add something to their lives that put them more in tune with the Kingdom. For instance, some spend time each day in scripture. Others find places to volunteer. And still others find specific ways to bring about justice in the communities in which they live.

2. Can I eat meat?

Over the years many elements have been added to the 40 days of fasting. Some participants avoid certain foods like red meat, and that’s why you’ll see lots of ads for fish sandwiches during Lent or crawfish boils in places like New Orleans and Houston. In fact, it is quite common for people to eat a vegetarian – or even vegan – diet during Lent. Food is an important part of the Lenten journey because in preparing ourselves for the resurrected Jesus, we need to redirect our hunger. Food is symbolic of that which we crave, that which we rely on for daily sustenance and life. By limiting the types and amounts of food we eat, we remind ourselves that our primary hunger ought to be for Jesus and the life of justice and redemption to which he calls us.

3. When does the fast begin and end?

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends Easter Sunday. You may notice that’s more than 40 days. Some observe their fast every day from Ash Wednesday through Easter; others break their fast on Sunday’s. Ash Wednesday exists to give those who don’t observe a fast on Sunday’s a full 40 days of fasting (Fasting six days a week for six weeks only gives a person 36 days of fasting. Backing it up to Ash Wednesday allows the full 40 days). Whether you fast every day or break your fast on Sunday’s, it’s recommended to fast from Ash Wednesday all the way to Easter, even if you go over 40 days. By doing so, you join with millions of Jesus followers around the world simultaneously ridding their lives of selfishness and worldliness, replacing it with sacrifice, justice, and love. There is joy to be found in being part of a much larger whole rather than walking an individual journey alone.

4. What am I giving up?

Personally, I plan to give up my social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’ve chosen to fast from these because I often find myself craving acceptance and affirmation through the things I post. I can become so preoccupied with people’s comments (or lack thereof) that I become unproductive in things that really matter.

In addition to fasting from social media, I plan to read and study the book of Isaiah. Jesus seemed to find great insight in this prophet’s words, so in an attempt to understand the Kingdom as Jesus did, I will pour over Isaiah for the full 44 days of Lent. 

5. What are you giving up/adding to your life during Lent?

Let’s hear it. What will you give up in an effort to be a greater participant in the mission of Jesus? What will you do during the Lent season to join Jesus in the work he’s doing in the neighborhoods, cities, and world around you?