Peace of mind—even in chaotic times

When I was a child, we lived in northern Michigan. Sometimes I would spend hours playing in the woods by myself. One day I lay down on a bed of pine needles and looked up through the tall birch and pine trees. The sunlight was filtering down. Young ferns were growing all around me. In that moment time dropped away, and I had a very powerful sense that I was part of something so much greater — that I belonged —that I was loved. And in that moment I felt complete peace.

I've never forgotten that experience. In many ways I know it has shaped my ongoing quest for peace of mind. It reminds me that what I'm seeking is not out there —that peace is something that I am a part of and that I need to draw on.

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Today I'm struck by the frenetic pace of the world we live in. We're rushing here and there — as if what we're about and what we're looking for is always just beyond our grasp. we get so many subtle and completely unsubtle messages that tell us where we'll find happiness, that relief — and it's usually through some product or vacation package. I'm reminded of a Bible verse from Jeremiah that observes how the troubles of society are healed only "slightly," as if someone is saying, "Peace, peace; when there is no peace" (Jer. 6:14). It seems that so many of us are on the quest for inner tranquillity in the midst of a world spinning with noise and tumult. This quest comes from the desire to find some stillness, something to fill the gap within.

One of my favorite passages from Mary Baker Eddy's writings says this about the calm we're searching for: "In metaphysics we learn that the strength of peace and of suffering is sublime, a true, tried mental conviction that is neither tremulous nor relapsing. This strength is like the ocean, able to carry navies, yet yielding to the touch of a finger. This peace is spiritual; never selfish, stony, nor stormy, but generous, reliable, helpful, and always at hand" (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 121).

That describes a peace of mind that is not elusive, far off, or unattainable. An inner peace that gives one power. Too often the approach is that what we are seeking is "out there." But a calm state is not "out there" — no one else can give it to us. And no one else can take it away. Peace is the essence — the heart and soul — of being. Its source is God, so its presence is constant.

To attain this spiritually based peace, I'm finding I can look right within my own heart. As I seek this peace from God, I feel the power and the authority that is at its foundation.

The Persian poet Rumi wrote that there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground (see The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, Harper-Collins, 1997). There are also hundreds of ways to know and experience peace. It's in the way we walk, the way we think, what we seek, what we share.

Real peace of mind — the kind that comes from spiritual clarity and understanding — is beyond annihilation. It can't really even be shaken, although sometimes it takes downright grit to take hold of it mentally in the face of terror, hatred, or misunderstanding.

Jesus said to his disciples: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). These words promise that no matter how complicated or crazy life gets, we have a deep and unbounded reservoir of peace to draw from. In the middle of a storm, Jesus walked on a roiling sea. At his command — "Peace, be still" — the storm ended (see Mark 4:36-41). Another time, when a mob rallied to throw him off a cliff, he passed unnoticed through the crowd (see Luke 4:28-31).

Those scenes depict a calm state of thought that is not from "out there." It is not dependent on the signing of treaties to ensure the reconciliation of nations. It doesn't have to wait for a time when family members finally get along. Inner, spiritually based tranquillity is what you and I bring to the world as we discover our inherent spiritual nature — that God created each of us for a reason.

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote, "To be spiritually minded is life and peace" (Rom. 8:6). But what does it mean to be spiritually minded? Elsewhere, Paul answered that it means thinking of Godlike qualities and valuing them: "The Spirit, however, produces in human life fruits such as these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, fidelity, tolerance and self-control — and no law exists against any of them" (Gal. 5:22, 23, J. B. Philips).

To keep our thoughts rooted in love, joy, peace, gentleness, and goodness, is to arm ourselves with the consciousness that comes from God. It is to exercise God-given authority. It is the ultimate antidote to warlike and chaotic thinking.

The concept that peace of mind is a power that anyone can draw on is one of the most revolutionary ideas around. Peace is the essence and power of an all-loving God, and we are the children of peace. That humanity craves it, then, is not surprising.

When the SARS epidemic was in full force in Toronto, and hospitals were quarantined, the son of a friend of ours knocked on the door. He wanted to know if my husband and I could take his mother, our friend, to the hospital because she was very ill.

Now, the hospital was about the last place anyone wanted to go during this time. The fear of being exposed to SARS was great. Nevertheless, we went immediately to help our friend into the car. As my husband drove, I prayed and held her. Fear seemed to fill the car.

On the way to the hospital, I prayed for peace — and I was able to stay calm. I faced down my fear by turning wholeheartedly to God. I remembered this verse from the 91st Psalm: "He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all the ways" (verse 11). I became very aware of God's divine presence right there in the car. I knew neither my friend nor any of us could be separted from God's love for each of us.

When we got to the hospital, a medical volunteer met us at the curb to do a preliminary screening to check for symptoms of SARS. Our friend did not have the symptoms. Because no one could go into the hospital except patients, our friend had to go in by herself. We walked her to the door and assured her that we'd be in touch, and that we'd check in on her children. There was so much fear swirling about, but in the midst of the turmoil there was also so much kindness. For example, as we headed back to our car, someone followed us to make sure we would know how to reach our friend later by phone.

After we got home, I continued to pray, and the sense of the presence and encompassing power of divine Love continued to deepen. It silenced and neutralized my fears. I felt sure that my friend was completely safe because God was with her. A couple of hours later, she called to say that she had already been released. She also mentioned that it had been on our way to the hospital when she had begun to feel less afraid.

I'm grateful to be learning that just because I might become upset or fearful, even to the point of thinking irrational thoughts at times, it does not mean that peace is gone, because God is never gone. The key for me is to trace my thoughts to their source — and to turn away from the ones that aren't spiritually based. The next step is to hold to the ones that are from God — because they are good and He will sustain them.

Our calm and loving response to turmoil and fear brings a balm of healing to individual hearts and to a world that is crying out for the peace that comes from God. In stressful or frightening times, I find great comfort in this quote by Mary Baker Eddy: "Go to God, rest in Love, trust Love, the infinite, all-mighty Love, ready, waiting to comfort you, and you will find peace."

F00083, Mary Baker Eddy to Julia Field-King, July 22, 1892, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity.

November 3, 2003

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