Monday, April 20, 2009

Stumbling toward peace

"The sign of spiritual progress is not so much never falling as it is being able to lift oneself up quickly after one falls." --Father Jacques Philippe

I told my religion teacher that what I wanted most to learn was how to achieve peacefulness. How to not be riled and churning, even when things are going very wrong and nothing seems right. He dove into his book bag and brought out a small paperback whose binding was falling apart and whose worn cover was nearly detached. This must be a very good book, thought I, one he has frequent recourse to. I was right.

Father Jacques Philippe, in his slim and modest volume Searching for and Maintaining Peace, patiently explains why personal peace is so important and some simple advice on getting to it. I myself was looking for peace because I knew it must feel better than turmoil, and it will surely make me a nicer person to be around. But Father Jacques said that the real point is that God does not work in the middle of chaos. Smooth the water and then you will discern the current (my analogy). In a churning whirlpool you can't find direction--you can't be effective in whatever way God wants you to be.

I'm still not sure how to get to that state of stillness. But I am studying the maps and in time may arrive. In the meantime, Father Jacques pointed out a couple of detours that keep us from crossing the border into the land o' peace. Do you fall for these? I sure do.

(1) The well-meaning person is often disturbed by the thought that he is not doing enough good things, or that they are not big enough. This actually is Satan's way of keeping us turned in on ourselves and not just happily doing the small things we are able to.

(2) When we fail God, why are we so upset? Is it just because we let Him down, or does our pride have something to do with it? Maybe the biggest part of our chagrin is that our stumbling has chipped the image we had of ourselves. I should have been smart enough to avoid that, or stronger, or braver, or kinder . . . Instead we can accept that we will fail now and then in all sorts of ways because we are not, after all, God. Take his hand, scramble to your feet, and keep going.

This last thought I find especially helpful as a parent, and a flawed one at that. Although we do our level best, every parent makes plenty of mistakes with her children. But to brood over them robs us of the peace and energy needed for today. I hope I can remember that by this afternoon.

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