Peace is withinDONALD DEMARCO
Back in the 'sixties, when the peace movement was in full flower, I was teaching at a university in New York City.
Since I had 150-or-so students, evenly divided into three philosophy classes, it was a good opportunity for me to allow those who were in my charge to improve my grasp of that elusive ideal which had so enthralled and animated them. After all, they were the "peaceniks" of the Movement.
In each class, I put to them the same simple question, "What is peace?" My students responded with alacrity, but each description of peace they proposed was phrased in the negative: "Peace is the absence of war"; "Peace is freedom from turmoil"; "Peace is the removal of stress"; "Peace is the avoidance of hostility". I suggested that such "peace offerings" stated what peace is not, but not what it is. I then requested a positive description of peace. But the second flurry of responses also fell short of the mark: "Peace is a state of nirvana"; "Peace is a condition of feelinglessness"; "Peace is the cessation of pain". Unfortunately, as I explained, such definitions of peace are not distinguishable from Requiescat in pace. I wanted a livelier definition of peace, something that is not a synonym for anaesthesia. At this point I was 0 for 150, not a very good batting average.
I was not about to give up, however. In an attempt to be less abstract and more concrete, I asked my students what they would do to experience peace, if that were a course assignment. What would they do to find just ten minutes of peace? In one class, after a lengthy period of silence, one student confessed, rather disconsolately, that given all the assignments she was burdened with and all the deadlines she had to meet, she simply could not fit an extra ten minutes into her time schedule to experience this elusive, if much-ballyhooed, ideal.
Her implication seemed to be that we do not have time for peace until we get all the other things we are worrying about out of the way. And if we never consummate this Herculean task, we may never get around to experiencing peace. Because life is so congested with practical concerns, peace becomes endlessly deferrable.
The philosopher Baruch Spinoza said that "Peace is not the absence of war: it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition of benevolence, confidence, justice." Alfred North Whitehead said that peace is "a trust in the efficacy of beauty". My favourite definition of peace is that of St. Augustine: "Peace is the tranquillity of order."
Since the 'sixties when I was getting my feet wet as a teacher, things have not changed all that much for me. I continue to hear variations on the same lament: "I didn't have enough time to do the assignment properly"; "I was too rushed"; "I had too many things to do"; "My schedule is too crowded"; "There just isn't enough time in the day".
Time is a universal source of anxiety. It is finite and always running out. Does life supply us with enough time so that we can do all the things we are supposed to do? If we fret too much about not having enough time to do anything properly, then all of our obligations seem to crowd together, robbing us of the peace of mind we need in order to do anything right. It is like getting several radio stations at the same time, all interfering with each other so that nothing is intelligible. It is like the compartments in the hull of the Titanic, collapsing one after another under the rush of water until the ship can no longer remain afloat.
Time can be viewed as either a source of anxiety or of opportunity. Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote in his book Peace of Soul that "The difference between peace of soul and discontent comes from the kind of anxiety we have; the broadest division of all is between anxiety over the things of time and the values of eternity." We should not fret unduly about the things of this world: "Be not anxious, for your Heavenly Father knows you have need of these things." Trust in God allows us to take a more relaxed attitude toward time, so that we can find the peace of soul we need to execute our responsibilities properly. Only God knows how much time we have. We should trust Him and be more concerned about timeless eternity.
We become unduly anxious when we think that we are alone in the work of filling out our time-line. Peace of soul is an interior disposition that is linked to a transcendent reality that superintends and guides our efforts. Peace is the blessing that comes when we order the temporal events of our life to our eternal destiny. In the final analysis, our ultimate obligation is not packing our life with as many accomplishments as possible, but doing what we can with peace of mind in such a way that the temporal is always ordered to the eternal. Paradoxically, we can accomplish more in this life when we direct it toward the next.
Donald DeMarco. "Peace is within." Social Justice Review. (September/October, 2008).
This article is reprinted with permission from Social Justice Review: A Pioneer Journal of Catholic Social Action and Donald DeMarco.
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