“All men desire peace, but very few desire those things that make for peace” (Thomas à Kempis).
PEACE IS HARDER TO WORK FOR THAN TO WISH FOR. Whether it’s peace within our own hearts or peace with other human beings, peace does not result from wishful thinking or pious platitudes. A price has to be paid, and it’s a price many people are simply not willing to pay. Yes, it sounds good to quote Jesus’ statement, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” But this blessing is not upon peace-lovers. It is upon peace-makers — and we would do well to notice the difference.
Peacemaking work. Pursuing peace is not a sentiment; it is an activity. Steps have to be taken to remove the barriers to peace.
Peacemaking patience. As a rule, the longer an enmity has lasted, the longer it takes to overcome it. If we’re committed to peace, we should be prepared to persevere in its pursuit. Usually, it is slow work.
It must be said, however, that no matter how patiently we work for peace, the results do not depend entirely on us. There is much truth in the Dutch proverb which says, “No man can have peace longer than his neighbor pleases.” No matter how peaceful our desires and our efforts may be, we are always vulnerable to the unpeaceful actions of others, and it is nothing but naive to suppose that if we will just be nice to other people, they will want to have peace with us.
I am a lifelong student of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, and one of my favorite Tolkien lines is the one where Aragorn, surprised to see how well Éowyn handles a sword, says to her, “You have some skill with a blade.” And Éowyn replies, “The women of this country learned long ago, those without swords can still die upon them.” Those who think that “unilateral disarmament” is the key to peace are sadly mistaken.
That is why we must pursue peace internally as well as externally. As far as it depends on us, we should certainly have peace with others. But despite our efforts to avoid it, a certain amount of conflict is going to sweep over us. When it does, there can be within our hearts a calm, peaceful place of refuge. If we can’t choose to avoid conflict, we can at least choose how to respond to it. Therein lies our freedom.
“Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice” (Spinoza).