There once was a King who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between them.
One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror, for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.
The other picture had mountains too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell and in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the King looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest... perfect peace.
Which picture do you think won the prize?
The King chose the second picture. "Because," explained the King, "peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.”
Jesus says to his fearful disciples, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit” The gift of peace and the gift of the Spirit are cemented together. They cannot be separated. When we talk about good and bad spirits we are so often referring to pursuit of peace. Peace in our hearts, peace with others and peace with our God. The gift of the spirit gives authority to the disciples to forgive sins and retain sins. Forgiveness and peace are two things that are connected. In pursuing peace we also pursue forgiveness. In acknowledging and owning our failings and misgivings, can we let go of our failings and misgivings so as follow Jesus in the mission of love and peace?
Did the King choose the correct painting which depicted peace? Well that is for you to decide. But the King did choose an interesting painting. How often do we think that peace comes from retreating from life as we know it? How often do we try to run away from life and life’s problems to find so called true peace? Even in the chaos of our own lives the gift of peace, given by the grace of the Holy Spirit, is granted to each of us, if we stop to look, feel and find it. Even if the King chose the wrong painting depicting peace, perhaps the wisdom behind the choice is like the gift of looking for God in the unexpected.
I have been thinking of examples which display peace in chaos. One example I thought of was the Parish of St Pius X in Milton which is awaiting the decision of whether they will close or not on 1st July. In their chaos of pain I felt a deep sense of peace in many of the parishioners. Mind you they are fighting to remain open. But in their battle with the Church hierarchy there was the gift of calmness in the way they went about their desire to be heard. This could only come from the acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit. Another example is the recent dismissal of Fr Tom Reese from his position as editor of America Magazine. The anger and frustration of many people was evident. One only needed to read the New York Time or the Boston Globe. Many people in Jesuit circles have felt a heightened sense of despair. Like in the Emmaus story, many heads have been downcast. I managed to lay my hands on the editorial to the forthcoming America Magazine. To read this latest editorial spoke the opposite of the many emotions people have been experiencing since the editor resigned. The written word spoke of calmness in chaos. There was a sense of peace and acceptance. The editorial was certainly the grace of the Holy Spirit. It challenges its readers to not be in despair but look outwardly as a way of trying to find God’s presence in the decision.
I quote from the editorial, “But the tendency to think the worst about the future must be resisted at all costs. Throughout the church’s history, some of its greatest saints have spoken of the need for hope and the absolute impossibility of Christian despair.
Discouragement may be a natural human emotion in the face of difficulties, but despair is rightly seen by the great spiritual writers as the antithesis of the Christian message. In 1961 Thomas Merton wrote that despair is, ultimately, a form of pride that chooses misery instead of accepting the mysterious designs of God’s plans and acknowledging that we are not capable of fulfilling our destinies by ourselves. Despair places our own limited perspective above God’s.
Despair can put us in a place where we can become disenchanted and angry with life. God’s grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can help lessen despair so as to increase hope.
Today’s feast, Pentecost, calls us out from behind the locked doors where, like the disciples, we may be hiding for fear of others. It is the feast that reminds us that we are indeed people filled with the Spirit, people with gifts that the world needs so desperately: wisdom for a world searching for meaning, knowledge for a world seeking insight, healing for a world torn apart by violence, prophecy for a world in need of direction, discernment of spirits for a world confronted by competing forces.
We must be people who desire to love and be loved, people who desire peace and give peace and a people who forgive and by the grace of God receive forgiveness.
We must be a people like the mother bird who can build their nest in the tiny bush planted behind the foaming waterfall.