Thursday, December 25, 2008

May the Peace of Christ disturb you

Today, my friend signed off a Merry Christmas e-mail with "May the Peace of Christ Disturb You."  The other day, over steaming bowls of pho, we had talked about the need for crash helmets and not church hats when encountering God.  And so I began to think.

We know from experience that Christ has come to teach his people himself, today, and also every day.  He is here in our midst now, God-With-Us.  Quakers traditionally don't celebrate Christmas because it distracts us from the sublime truth that Christ is continuously born within us, and so every day should be his birthday.  But as I reflect upon the liturgical Christmas scripture readings, I think that we often need that time in the year when we pause to really listen to Isaiah, whose words are still red-hot after all these centuries:  the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.  Those who walked in a land of deep darkness:  on them light has shined.

Light disturbs darkness.  In darkness, we are able to hide all our secrets, all our faults, all the things we don't want to face.   It is that monolithic edifice we know as the ego that casts this shadow, and boy do we love to hide in that luxurious darkness!  But light brings truth, it illuminates every corner, every crevice and crack.  It is uncomfortable to come face to face with the things we have been trying to hide.

The Inner Light is that inner presence that disturbs us.  God-With-Us is also God-Within-Us, and he constantly challenges us to create the Peaceable Kin-dom every day, every minute.  This is an unsettling task, yet it is a task that we as Quakers--in fact, we as Christians--are called to do.  I find that God does not operate--nor does he ask us to operate--the way the world expects.  Where the world expects pettiness, selfishness, hardness, tribalism, and wastefulness God calls us to sow love and compassion, to remain receptive and real, and to live with simplicity, integrity, and honesty.  Of course this is not easy, and that is partly why I suspect that God has called me to Plain dress.  It's a personal reminder that I am supposed to walk in the Way of God, not the way of man.  It's tremendously humbling to have such a constant and visible reminder of how often I fail.  But recognition of my failures is also tremendously empowering.  Here at Christmas I am reminded that God has chosen to funnel himself into the humblest of substances, and that by doing so, he makes in us a New Creation.  As promised, he removes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh, hearts that are living and vulnerable, that move and pulse and overflow with the streams of life.  When we finally give in and come out of our hiding and become humble and supple and open and liberated we can really taste true joy.  I think that the joyous, receptive, and free make up the population of the Peaceable Kin-dom.  Christ has come to show us--to teach us--all of this.

I've come to think that the Peace of Christ is not a gift but a teaching.  Christ has come to teach us his peace, he has come to show us both the what and the how.  The Peace of Christ disturbs us because his peace is a teaching that calls for our participation.  We have to actively co-create the Peaceable Kin-dom, and what's more, we have to co-create his peace right here on earth, in our own lifetimes.  This peace is not the peace of the world, which stems from compromise, diplomacy, and fine words.  The Peace of Christ stems from love and compassion, it flows from and produces those wonderful and sublime fruits of the spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  This will disturb us, this will shake us up.  This is not usually the way we worldly folk operate.  But we know that Christ loves to shake things up, to overturn tables and hierarchies, to touch the untouchable and love the unloveable and forgive the unforgivable.  I also must allow myself to be disturbed enough to disturb.  And so, brothers and sisters, this Christmas, may the Peace of Christ disturb you.

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