Yesterday we began our half-termly topic for Collective Worship – on peace this time. We have “done” courage (and yes, children seem more courageous), perseverance (too early to tell, but certainly the teachers have articulated resilience to their children more often), truth (this certainly has a higher status and affirmation than before we started) and humility (that was the hardest, and of course it is an implicit value – you have it when you least think it).
We began by thinking about the places where peace can be found (the normal things – church, temple, peace pagoda, lakes, forests, streams, meadows) and the slightly more left-field (the jacuzzi, bridges and Lanzarote!).
The prophet Haggai said to the people of Israel, about the newly, just-about-to-be-built temple: And in this place, I will give peace. The Hebrew is, of course, shalom, which is nowhere near small enough a word to be just translated peace. And that, of course, is why it is worth the study. Peace is not the absence of anything, but the fullness of the presence of God dwelling in a heart or in a community. It implies a lot of things – right living, a good heart, justice, good relationships, a willingness to be still internally while everything might be raging around. It is at root an internal state reflected into a community – again, a solid reason for hoping children will acquire it.
But place is important too. If a community has been praying and worshipping continually in a church for 800 years, you might expect it to be a place of stillness, the residual presence of God detectable through the sensors we call our spirit. Places that reflect the movement of simplicity (streams and wild-flower meadows) or the grace of God (swallows in flight or enormous mountains) or the natural stillness of creation (woods, lakes) have a role to play. They remind us of the intersection – the complete intersection – of the spirit-inhabited world of heaven, and the created order.
An aside, while we are on the subject. When Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven was “at hand”, we rarely take it so literally as to mean “where our fingertips stop and the air starts”, but his contemporaries would have thought that, so maybe God is closer than we hoped he might be!
Richard Foster, author and teacher, who comes from a Quaker spirituality, said (I think in the book Freedom of Simplicity) that if you had to move to be happy, you would never be. He meant that the centering of our spiritual world under God is principally an internal thing – and this, too, has to be taught to children who want to live in peace. We can’t only see it as internal, without an impact on the world, but neither can it be solely the absence of conflict in a community. Anyone who thinks about this for a moment will realise immediately that peaceful places come from peaceful people – people who have learned, with the psalmist to “have stilled and quieted their soul”.
Blaise Pascal, mathematician and fierce lover of Jesus Christ, once said that:
All human evil comes from a single cause – man’s inability to sit still in a room.
Makes you think.