by Bill Ryan
When I was growing up I loved to read Pogo, the cartoon creation of Walter Kelley, in paperback book form. One of those quotes I remember most readily from one of the Pogo characters who are on a crusade to make the world better: " We will force peace and love down their dirty rotten throats." It illustrates well how we think of peace as an external ideal that we try to impose from the outside. We can contrast this with the invitation of Jesus,
" Peace be with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives." (John 14:27) I suspect
Pogo's character might have been trying to do the world's peace instead. When I was growing up I was also taught a simple prayer that said, "let there be peace and let it begin with me." That prayer taught a simple wisdom, that I understood intuitively, but the adults in my life didn't teach me how to live and abide in that peace within. The biblical tradition teaches us the word, Shalom; - the state of peace as the well being that arises from the soul being in inner harmony with God. When I was twenty one, in a moment of crisis, I cried out for help, and the help came in the form of a memory of myself as a child of age three. In the memory I would go to my favorite hiding place and close my eyes and leave behind my thoughts, and sink into a deep and secret place inside, and there be surrounded by a peaceful Presence. That was the beginning of my adult spiritual journey.
One of my teachers along the way, the Benedictine monk, John Main, spoke of this secret place inside, "Returning to the Center within us, is the gateway to the Center of All."
So this inner peace is a state, it is a state of communion with our Divine Beloved, an original state, a state of being Home, in the locus of our belonging. This is the state that Jesus invites us to, the peace that wordly human culture cannot give us.
In the Middle Eastern Abrahamic Faiths this practice of going to the secret Center is called the Remembrance of God. An un-Forgetting, an uncovering and abiding in what is Real and Ultimate. The meaning of the word- Re-membering, is a making One, making whole.
Healing the Soul of Humankind
The healing of the soul of humankind begins and ends within us. It is a life-long process which the mystic Julian of Norwich called our "oneing" with God, "the sweet and secret work of the Holy Spirit." Julian says that all human ills spring from the fact that we seek rest where there is no rest, and that only God within us can give us rest. Jesus invites us to this rest and healing at the sanctuary of His Presence within us, "Come to me you who are heavy burdened, and I will give you a place to rest your soul." Matt. 11:28
"Abide in my love." Thomas Kelly, the Quaker mystic calls this Center, "the Inner Sanctuary," citing Meister Eckhart he says: ." Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continually return."
Communion vs. Domination Paradigm
When we turn toward the Divine Center within we enter the Kingdom, or the Realm of Communion, where all are connected all are in relationship. Jesus says it this poetically beautiful way. "On that day you will know, that I am in my Father, my Father is in me, and I in you, and you in me." (John 14:20) There can be no greater connection, no greater communion than this. The Communion relationship, abiding in one another, sharing One Life, One Being. In the Center we come home to the Communion Paradigm, we come home to the life of Unitive Whole, where we all belong to the Essential Unity from whom all things arise and all things return. In the root names of the Divine in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions this Source and Essential Unity is called "Ela', Allaha, Allah."
The realm of societal culture is instead the realm of separation, where all are disconnected. The result is living the life of the Domination paradigm. All are separate, all are over and against one another, with the result of human life ruled by greed, wars, hatred fueled by differences of ethnicity, religion, and geography. The good news of the deep Wisdom traditions throughout the world is that we can learn to live life from the unitive state, life from the center that takes us into the Center of all. Instead of defending our little egoic, tribal, religious, and ethnic circles we can live and love from the One Circle that is within and encompasses us all.
The Voice from the burning bush was the "I AM" Life. The voice that spoke in Jesus "Before Abraham, I AM", is the "I AM" Life. At the Center there is no Subject and Object, all is Subject. All is held within the " I AM" life. This is the true body of Christ for whom Paul said there is no distinction. There is no gender, religion, or ethnos. There is just the "I AM" the pure being of the Divine Beloved who holds all in the realm of Communion. This is where we find our True Life, and the True Life of all beings.
One of my teachers, Thomas Hand, who taught both Zen and Christian Contemplation said, "The God experience is Oneness, and fully accepting and living the Consequences." Our inner peace is the ceaseless abiding in the Communion Realm, within and without. and our release from captivity in the Domination Paradigm.
At the center of us is true peace. The peace that Jesus gives us, is the peace of inner communion with his Being within us. Nothing can destroy it, nothing can take it away, no fear or cruelty, or violence can stand against it. It is our home, our belonging, our security, our sanctuary, our true Life, and we can learn to live our life there. In that way we become peace, and share it with all we meet in this life.
Listening and Abiding
Not everyone will be drawn to meditation or Prayer of the Heart. But all of us can learn to listen deeply. When we do, we listen to the Heartbeat of the Universe in our own Center. The psalmist says, "Be still and know that I am God." "Deep calls on Deep." We cannot stop our minds from thinking but we can sink deeper than our minds into the spaciousness of the Center, and there listen. And cultivate that orientation like a homing pigeon, to bring us back home, again and again. When we enter into that inner quiet and listen we are accessible to the God experience, we are accessible to the Communion Realm.
When we are with another, and we release from compulsion to insist that another understand and agree with what we say, and instead listen from the heart-center, then we enter the common ground of unitive love, the communion realm, and listen to understand. From that perspective peace between persons and reconciliation can happen, with or without agreement of ideas. In deep listening we are in the God experience, listening to the " I AM" who encompasses all, the common ground of the Being of all beings.
Jesus invites us to "Abide in My Love". When we make a lifetime of learning to abide in the Ultimate we are following the "little way" of Lawrence of the Resurrection, the "little way" of our Buddhist Brother, Thich Nhat Hanh, the "little way" of the Quaker Mystic Thomas Kelly.
I have a favorite prayer chant that I practice alone or in groups it goes like this:
Listen, listen, wait in silence listening, for the One from whom all Mercy Comes.
One of my favorite mentors on the journey has been the monk and writer Thomas Merton who incorporated the passion for peace and justice with the interior silence of contemplation: He reports having an extraordinary experience of "Oneness" on the
corner of 4th and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)
"Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire, nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God's eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way, all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other…..At the center of our being… is the pure glory of God in us. .. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely."
The Best Place to Pray
In the year 2000 while on retreat at a monastery in the mountains of Colorado I met a monk, named Theophane. He has since died. But he wrote a wonderful book called Tales of a Magic Monastery. He has said the stories are all true, not literally but metaphorically. The Best Place to Pray- (from Theophane the Monk)"I asked an old monk, "How do I get over the habit of judging people?" He answered, "When I was your age, I was wondering where is the best place to go to pray. Well, I asked Jesus that question. His answer was, "Why don't you go into the heart of my Father" So I did. I went into the heart of the Father, and all these years that's where I have prayed. Now I see everyone as my own child. How can I judge anyone?" (Tales From the Magic Monastery)