One morning, I dragged my vacationing caboose out of bed and headed to the beach to watch the sunrise. Since “vacation” and “sleeping in” always go together for me, it’s a struggle to get up to greet the dawn. But every time I do, it’s worth it.
This particular morning, the storm out at sea made the sunrise even more dramatic. From where I stood, I noticed the shore birds busy feeding as a small pod of dolphins swam past. The breeze was just enough to keep the mosquitos and sand gnats at bay. I watched the brightening sky with its hand-painted hues of gold and rose… Sunrise on this barrier island was serene that morning.
It was serene, even though I saw the storm cell moving briskly across the horizon. I marked the areas of heavy rain. It looked like the storm would bypass us, but that made it no less turbulent for those caught in the storm. Sailors or sea birds, they made adjustments to cope with the wind and rain.
Life has been pretty stormy lately. I’m dealing with the ups and downs of my cancer treatment, being cautious about where I go and even what I eat! On top of the side effects… it’s been rough sailing. All around me people act nonchalant about the “triple threat” of COVID, RSV, and the flu. Even my workplace is now “mask-optional” while in the office. As someone with a compromised immune system, I have to be extremely careful. I forgo a lot of things that I love doing this time of year. No shopping, Christmas caroling, playing handbells, or going to parties… It sucks. (To be clear – I have chosen to isolate myself for my own health, which lessens the sting.)
Holding on to peace in the midst of my life’s storms has been hard. I lose my bearings. I face deeper waves, rougher seas. The standard practice in my “pre-cancer” life doesn’t work in the present reality. I have had to start over as I learn how to manage life and be at peace with God.
Peace is a hard concept for most of us, if we’re honest. Peace is not only defined as avoiding confrontations or stopping an armed conflict. When we hear words from Isaiah at Christmas about the Prince of Peace, many times our prayers drift to petitions that ask God to come back to earth and fix things. Like, NOW. It’s a little off track from what the prophet was expressing!
In the Hebrew Scriptures, shalom is the word translated as peace. It is a word full of deep meaning. It’s not just contentment or feeling serene and full of tranquility. It expresses a sense of rightness, that all has been made whole. It is an overall completeness, a state of healing in body, mind, and spirit. It is a peace that is shared between humans and nature at large. When I wish my friends “Shabbat shalom,” I am joining in their desire to experience a Sabbath full of the Holy One’s presence. And yes, peace.
In the Christian scriptures, the Greek word for peace is eiréné . According to Strong’s Concordance, eiréné means peace, quietness, set at one again, rest. It originates from the root word eirō, which means to join, or tie together into a whole.
The themes of completeness, wholeness, and being ‘at one’ resonate with me. That kind of peace is not something you work on doing, but one that you work on being. From the inside out, it means finding a sense of rest, and sensing God at work in bringing about my wholeness.
Peace exists even as I am suspended in my current circumstances. While I am resting and following orders, I am learning to do “all the nothing I can.” I let the changes come, but not in a fatalistic way. It is more of a sense of anticipation and trust. It is a matter of endurance, not sprinting. For someone who has never ever been skilled at silence or stillness… this is a challenge. (My family is chuckling…)
So how does one find this peace in the world of cancer treatments, side effects, and wonky lab results?
I pondered these concepts about peace, fresh off my third chemo treatment being delayed yet again. I realized that the timing of the change is what I’m arguing with God about… And the more I argue, the less inner peace I experience. Funny how that works… So taking a step back, I remember where this deep peace comes from… and how I experience it more fully.
I see peace as the final leaves drift off the maple tree outside my study window. I hear a call to peace in music and song. I remember the ways God has brought peace to me in the past, and I know it will happen again. I catch glimpses of peace in encounters with wildlife in our yard. I rest in Divine Presence, this peace that defies words.
In this Advent, may you know the deep peace that surpasses all understanding. May you seek wholeness in yourself, and in the world around you. And may nothing disturb the roots of wellness and peace that sustain you.
From St. Teresa of Avila’s Breviary:
Nada te turbe,
nada te espante
todo se pasa,
Dino’s no se muda,
todo lo alcanza,
quien a Dino’s tiene
nada le falta
solo Dios basta.
Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee
All things are passing;
God never changeth;
Attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting;
Alone God sufficeth.
There are several choral settings of this prayer, but I stumbled on this one recently… may it encourage you.