Yesterday saw an all too brief cessation of hostilities between Gaza and Israel, but was it, as some said, a moment of peace? Technically, I suppose it was; but peace surely means more than the absence of war or civil disorder. I tend to think of peace as being more of a state than a process — what we Christians mean, or should mean, by the Kiss of Peace exchanged, above all, at the Eucharist: a sign of the unity and charity that exists in the assembly. St Benedict was quite keen on the Kiss of Peace, given and received. It was an important part of the ritual of welcome for a guest, but it was not to be shared until prayer had been offered (cf RB 53.4–5). That reminds us that peace is not a matter of mere feeling, of general goodwill; nor is it something we can attain in all its fullness by our own efforts. Peace comes to us as a divine gift, but it is a gift we have to be ready to receive. To be united in peace and the bond of charity requires effort on our part. It often means laying aside our preferences, our prejudices, even making sacrifices of things dear to us. It is no accident that the Benedictine motto ‘pax’ appears within a protective crown of thorns. For the great paradox is that while we may seem to struggle to attain the gift of peace, it is the Lord himself who guards the hearts of those he keeps in peace.
I’m sure we were all delighted to learn that the UK has become less violent and more peaceful during the past decade (see BBC report of the findings of the Institute for Economics and Peace here). Leaving aside the fact that few of us are probably able to judge whether the institute which made the claim used an acceptable or accurate method, still less to judge whether its comparison with other countries of western Europe is valid or not, I daresay some of us are wondering whether we can ever assess the hidden violence in our lives. I’m not thinking so much of the terrible stories one sometimes hears of domestic violence and the like as of the violence no one but God and ourselves knows anything about. You didn’t see my struggle with the lawn-mower yesterday, but I am perfectly well aware that the way I dragged it over the gravel was not . . . peaceful.
Peace is more than the absence of war or violence, but even though we Benedictines traditionally use ‘Pax’ (peace) as our motto, I’d be hard put to define what peace is. I know where peace is to be found: in the person of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. I know that to attain peace we must pass through many trials and difficulties (the crown of thorns surrounding the word ‘pax’ on our motto). But measuring it? That’s a different matter. I think, in the end, it is a question of recognition not of definition or measuring. We see Peace dimly, through our tears, as Mary saw the Lord in the garden, after the Resurrection.