They came one-two-three on the afternoon radio show: that particular pastorale by Corelli, that special setting by Darke, that remarkable song by Rutter: all three of them as thick and golden with peace as flowing honey. I'd been tuning out Christmas music for weeks, even the bits I love; for me, Advent is Advent and Christmas starts after dark on the 24th of December, and since music is important to me, I wait for my Christmas music until the proper time. But this particular combination was something I couldn't possibly ignore. I sat still at my computer, simply listening and letting the peacefulness carried by the music enter into me.
It's probably one of the things that the unchurched or barely-churched love most about Christmas, this sort of music--this promise of something mysterious, loving, peaceful. Maybe they remember feeling, when they were children, that sense of something wild and gentle brushing the fact of the earth. Maybe they have some sense of the holy that they can reach through this sort of music, heard only at this time of year. And maybe they long for peace.
We're promised peace: "peace on earth", "the peace of God, which passes all understanding", "peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." Peace is, in Christian terms, one of the great good things: peace, love, joy, hope. "Peace be with you," we wish each other in church.
And yet another side of ourselves is a little suspicious of peace. Peace sounds so--so--*unadventurous*. Peace seems like a nice label to put on flatness, dullness, vanilla ice cream. Where's the adrenaline rush in peace? Where's the excitement? Booooorrrrring! Maybe there are people out there who honestly loathe, despise, and ignore Internet flame wars and don't even sneak a peek, but I sometimes can't resist. And then there's our fascination with airplane crashes, spectacular fires and accidents, disaster of one sort or another--and, of course, with Evil itself. It's *exciting*. It sparkles up the dullness of life.
We want peace, partly, just as we want love, partly--not entirely. Our feelings about both are more mixed than we're ready to admit to. Let's face it, there's a corner of the average North American middle-class human psyche that, when faced with the concept of peace, sneers "Goody-two-shoes! I just wanna have a little fun!"
We can afford to be like this because we are average middle-class North Americans, and for the vast majority, life itself is pretty peaceful, regular, unthreatened and uneventful. Mostly, we do not live in Interesting Times. We see horrors at a distance, not close up: even the most imaginative and empathic of us cannot quite manage true fellow-feeling for the victims in (say) Kosovo or Rwanda. The mangled figures on the magazine pages are only two-dimensional photographs, shorn of their humanity first by those who killed them, and second by the for-profit news purveyors.
If we have any self-honesty at all, we've got to admit that we can afford to be snide about the purported dullness of peace because we can take a peaceful existence so completely for granted. That's not true for much of the world over much of humankind's existence. It was certainly not true of the land where Jesus was born, in his time, before or since.
And it's not true for everyone even in this peaceful land. People can be desperately unpeaceful even when all around them is calm and level as a snowed-over field, placid as cattle. Those who are ill in body or mind, those who mourn, those who are unhappily alone, those who suffer anxiety, the very poor, the unforgiven guilty--plenty of people in this society would give their left arms, practically, for the peace we take so much for granted. Their lives are full of interest, in the Chinese-curse sense of the word. What we think of as being boring or unsatisfying, they see as a pearl beyond price.
But maybe part of our wariness of peace comes from a misunderstanding of what real peace is about. Take those pieces of music I heard: they are not absence or dullness. In fact, they're full of motion and emotion, strength and vitality. I don't think they're easy to play or sing, but I know from experience that singing a difficult piece, and singing it well, is profoundly satisfying.
It could be that we've misunderstood the nature of peace: that what we see as empty-of- interesting-incident is, in God's hands, something completely different. Simple? Boring? What of God could possibly be either? What we see as being plain-vanilla may, in fact, have the richness of chocolate, the sparkle of raspberries, the zing of lemon, the crispness of mint--*and* the sweet soothfulness of vanilla.
I suspect that God's peace, when I finally properly encounter it, is going to be far fuller of life and liveliness than anything I've encountered in this life. I suspect that God's peace is going to include what we understand as peace, but then a whole lot more that we simply cannot begin to imagine. I suspect that God's peace is, in fact, going to be an absolute blast.
Or so I like to think. In the meantime, I think I'd settle for some ordinary peace and quiet. A good reason, that, to declare this year's Christmas shopping officially over.