~Philippians 4:7, King James Version
It's funny how unrelated and seemingly unimportant instances link together.
A month or so ago, I accidentally left the lights on in my car one evening and the battery was dead the next morning. The dead battery in turn erased my pre-programmed radio stations. I kept forgetting to re-set them until I was driving and unable to go through the process.
One day, weeks later, I had to make an unexpected run to drop something off before picking up my son from school. I ended up getting to the school a bit early after this errand. Sitting in the car and waiting for the kids to come out, I remembered the radio buttons and started going through the stations to set the buttons.
I hit upon a man talking. He had a southern accent and spoke with a tone and cadence that I knew well. He was a southern preacher. Southern pastors draw you in, their voices are fine instruments, slowing down, speeding up, soothing, then riled up, then soft, then serious. They tell stories, they repeat the important phrases, they make you want to really hear their messages.
I've heard a lot of southern preachers expound the Word of God in my time. The good ones are genuine and know what they speak of and mean what they say and say what they mean. The poor ones are transparent and flimsy and their words are meaningless.
This preacher man was genuine and clear and his words drew me in. I sat and listened. He was talking about peace. Not just any peace, of course, but the "peace of God, which passeth all understanding" from Philippians 4:7.
Now, I have to admit, I have read that passage and heard that passage many, many times, but I have never stopped to think about what exactly is meant by a peace that passes all understanding.
We offer a handshake and a word of peace to each other at mass each week (one of my favorite parts). We send well-wishes of peace to those suffering an illness or pain or a loss or a challenge. We toss it out in farewell, in a style hearkening back to the age of the hippie. We hear of peace talks and summits around the world, but what exactly is meant by God's peace that passes all understanding?
A little history: The Latin word Pax, from the earliest Roman times, meant to live in a state of agreement, where discord and war were absent. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who ruled from 276 to 282, expressed peace as a state of unperturbed tranquility.
Now, this preacher man asserted that when we are living life in agreement with God….or how and where we are supposed to be living our lives that we will feel this peace of God.
Being at peace when all is well within our narrow worlds and nothing ruffles our feathers or causes waves, not even a ripple, on the placid surfaces of our souls is one thing.
It is quite another thing to be at peace when a hurricane swirls and howls, releasing torrents of tragedy and despair and the earth shakes with uncertainty and quakes of fear and loathing. To be at peace during such times certainly smacks of a peace that is beyond understanding. How can one possibly be at peace in such a storm, rocking the body and soul?
And yet, that is what is promised to those who have given up the burden of sin and worry and struggling to get through the hours and days and weeks and years ahead. It is not just a psychological state of mind, but an inner tranquility. How amazing is that?
Now, I can certainly attest to feeling a fretful unrest at many times of my life; struggling to get by, find the answers, move on, do the right thing, questioning our lot, coveting someone else's lot.
But I have also felt that peace that passes all understanding too; being at peace when there is no ordinary rhyme or reason to feel peace. This peace sure beats the stress and worry and concern and exhaustion of always walking against the tide.
If I had not been fighting so hard to be right, find my own way, carry my ever-growing burdens, worry about tomorrow, I could have realized that all I had to do was step from the outer edges of the dark swirling, howling hurricane into the peaceful, quiet center, the eye of the hurricane.
It is within the eye of the hurricane that the skies are clear, the air warmer, the winds light as the vast storm swirls around this focus point. This is the peace that passes all understanding, keeping yourself within the center of the storm, untouchable from the harmful winds, hurtling objects and piercing rains.
You may think this type of peace is not achievable, but it is, all you have to do is let go and trust in the unperturbed tranquility, the peace that surpasses understanding. Over and out…