Peace is a big word.
It is a word that points inward – am I at peace? and what does that mean? What is it’s correlation with contentment and happiness? I think peace is about having/developing a resilient core that when the storms come, having a good store of ballast in their keel, and knowing too how to regain one’s balance and stay outwardly calm. So peace – following this metaphor – is just not about living a happy sheltered life in a safe harbour; it’s about being able to live/travel away from any safe harbour. Peace enables and facilitates courage and change..
Peace is also a word that points outward. You know, that seemingly impossible vision of world peace. What might world peace mean or look like?
One version we are familiar with is that of a nation or nations being militarily and economically strong enough to make sure others behave. This is the world-police-officer idea. Bad behaviour is restrained by the prospect of retaliation from a bigger stronger power. American foreign policy has elements of this – indeed the foreign policy of most empires has elements of this.
Another version of world peace is having a multi-national approach to sharing resources beyond the narrative of individual countries’ economic gain, in order that poverty and other forms of injustice are addressed sufficiently. Sufficiently that is to quell violent uprisings and the like. This is a ‘share-the-wealth-enough’ strategy in order to keep a manageable balance between privilege and poverty.
Another version of world peace is that of a justice model – when countries, organisations, and individuals of goodwill seek to cooperate in order empower communities, to redress wrongs, and build a vision and practice that affirms the worth and potential of each adult and child.
All these versions are sometimes operating at the same time in conflict zones.
The Jewish word for peace, Shalom, tries to hold both inward and outward peace together. So peace is about stillness and it’s about the absence of conflict; it’s about a personal spiritual discipline and a cooperative and sometimes confrontative practice founded on the vision of justice. Peace whether inward or outward involves hard, and sometimes costly work.
This morning we are going to recall something of the tragedy of war and its after-effects; in particular the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And, like many before us, we are going to do something seemingly futile in response, namely make a little paper bird. But more about that soon.
We are also going to spend some time this morning – a whole 7 minutes – in a guided meditation on stillness.
We are going to think some, discuss some, pray some, sing some, smile some, and in our being together leave feeling blessed.
Sasaki was a Japanese girl who was 2 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 near her home. She is remembered through the story of the one thousand origami cranes she folded before her death, and is to this day a symbol of the innocent victims of nuclear warfare.
Sasaki was at home when the explosion occurred, about 1.6 kilometres away from ground zero. She was blown out of the window and her mother ran out to find her, suspecting she may be dead, but instead finding her two-year-old daughter alive with no apparent injuries.
In November 1954, Sasaki developed swellings on her neck and behind her ears. In January 1955, discoloured spots formed on her legs. Subsequently, she was diagnosed with leukemia (her mother, and others in Hiroshima, referred to it as "atomic bomb disease"). She was hospitalized on February 20, 1955, and given, at the most, a year to live.
Several years after the atomic explosion, an increase in leukemia was observed especially among children. By the early 1950s, it was clear that the leukemia was caused by radiation exposure.
In August 1955, she was moved into a room with a girl named Kiyo, a junior high school student who was two years older than her. It was shortly after getting this roommate that cranes were brought to her room from a local high school club. Sasaki's father told her about the legend of the cranes and she set her goal to folding 1,000.
There is an ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by the gods. Some stories believe you are granted happiness and eternal good luck, instead of just one wish, such as long life or recovery from illness or injury.
Although she had plenty of free time during her days in the hospital, Sasaki lacked paper. She would use medicine wrappings and whatever else she could scrounge; this included going to other patients' rooms to ask to use the paper from their get-well presents.
Sasaki died on the morning of October 25, 1955 at the age of 12.
After her death, Sasaki's friends and schoolmates published a collection of letters in order to raise funds to build a memorial to her and all of the children who had died from the effects of the atomic bomb. In 1958, a statue of Sasaki holding a golden crane was unveiled in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. At the foot of the statue is a plaque that reads: "This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world."
There is also a statue of her in the Seattle Peace Park. Sasaki has become a leading symbol of the impact of nuclear war. Sasaki is also a heroine for many girls in Japan. Her story is told in some Japanese schools on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. Dedicated to Sasaki, people all over Japan celebrate August 6 as the annual peace day.
Joe Bessler the other night referred to the poet Seamus Heaney’s address in 1995 when Heaney received a Nobel prize. Heaney talked about enshrining in a poem a vision or revelation of how life could be, and then that poem becomes a standard for the poet, calling him or her to bear witness to that poetic vision in their lives.
Joe, like his friend and fellow scholar Brandon Scott, applied this to Jesus. Jesus’ poem/dream, which he called the Kingdom or Empire of God, enshrined a way of being that upset the normative understandings of his day, and as Jesus lived into practicing and being ‘abnormal’, he was called further into a radical future, which eventually cost him his life.
This poem/dream could easily have been renamed ‘shalom’ – for it encapsulated both the desire for peace/justice within and peace/justice without.
This week, as my grandmother would have said, I’ve been running round like ‘a flea in a fit’. Busy, frenetic. And the irony is this morning I’m leading a service about peace and stillness. Whatever we say about peace, the challenge is to live it in our lives.
Running round like a flea in a fit is something of a Presbyterian predisposition. One could presume by looking at us that faith is about being busy. Most of us don’t exactly exude peace, calmness, and tranquility; though we’d like to.
We know there are disciplines to achieving peace within; and we know that peace within impacts upon, and in time can create peace and just relationship around us – in families, societies and countries.
But the disciplines are hard work:
Letting go and letting be. As the evening prayer says, “What has been done has been done; and what has not been done has not been done; let it be.”
Shedding the love of power, and putting on the power of love – to paraphrase Sri Chinmoy
Being content to not always get our way
Being content to accept others in all the mix of their goodness and badness
Learning how to cooperate, not capitulate or dominate. Cooperation sometimes though requires us to confront systems and personalities that are opposed to or the opposite to the cooperative ethic.
Learning to be still.
With all these disciplines, meditation helps. It is a way of aligning our body and mind and spirit. One of the De Mello stories that has shaped me over the years is ‘The Temple Bells’. It goes like this:
Once upon a time there was a temple built on an island and it held a thousand bells. There were bells big and small, fashioned by the finest crafts people in the world. When the wind blew or a storm raged, all the bells would peal out in a symphony that would send the heart of the hearer into raptures.
But over the centuries the island sank into the sea and, with it, the temple bells. An ancient legend said that the bells continued to peal out, ceaselessly, and could be heard by anyone who would listen.
Inspired by this legend, a young man travelled thousands of miles, determined to hear those bells. He sat for days on the shore, facing the vanished island, and listened with all his might. But all he could hear was the sound of the sea. He made every effort to block it out. But to no avail; the sound of the sea seemed to flood the world.
He kept at his task for weeks. Each time he got disheartened he would listen to the village pundits, who spoke with unction of the mysterious legend.
Then his heart would be aflame… only to become discouraged again when weeks of further effort yielded no results.
Finally he decided to give up the attempt. Perhaps he was not destined to hear the bells. Perhaps the legend was not true. It was his final day, and he went to the shore to say goodbye to the sea and the sky and the wind and the coconut trees. He lay on the sand, and for the first time, listened to the sound of the sea. Soon he was so lost in the sound that he was barely conscious of himself, so deep was the silence that the sound produced.
In the depth of that silence, he heard it! The tinkle of the tiny bell followed by another, and another, and another... and soon every one of the thousand temple bells was pealing out in harmony, and his heart was rapt in joyous ecstasy.
What is the message of the story of the Temple Bells? What is it suggesting to us?
What is your experience of meditation, or other disciplines of trying to find/create peace within?
Do you think meditation/stillness leads to a commitment to a vision of justice and peace?