A Wish for Peace
The following is an excerpt from Mr. Beatty’s Evensong address of December 14.
My topic, today, is peace. It’s my hope for you, for your family, for our world. It may feel really close and present or really far and unreachable. It’s a word that is used a lot, especially in the domain of Christmas, “Peace on Earth; Goodwill toward men.”
Peace, for a country, is to not be at war. Peace, for an individual is to be OK with things as they are, or with who you are, perhaps? I wish I could stand here and grant Peace on Earth. I cannot. While we can pray and strive for peace, it continues to elude us.
And while Peace very much eludes our Earth right now, I do wish you peace.
If peace is rest, I hope you find rest.
If peace is diminished worry or anxiety, I hope you find diminishment in your worry or anxiety.
If peace is fewer expectations on you, I hope you feel fewer expectations on you.
If peace is space to do the things or spend time with the people, or engage in the activities, that truly fill your soul, I hope for you, the space and time for those things.
If we might find peace, I think we should be ready to find it. I believe, we need to be ready to see, to feel, to experience peace when it finds us.
I’ve spoken before in this space about grace. Grace is offering peace where you can. The person receiving grace almost never knows they’re receiving it. We don’t know the unkind word never spoken to us because someone afforded us grace.
And I think peace, like its beautiful co-conspirator of kindness, grace, can’t be found if it’s sought. Similarly, peace finds us rather than us actively pursuing it. And in that way, I believe peace is almost always unexpected.
Peace is, perhaps, a pause in the worries? It’s a sense of calm? It’s a break from the mosquito-buzz of anxiety or questions of self-doubt? The truth is, peace looks different to all of us. But we know it, feel it, when we experience it.
In my life, in December 2023, I’m staring down a moment of reflection. My mum, who I’ve talked about out loud in this space before, and who is the best and kindest person I’ve ever known, is old and little and beautiful. She is also, perceptibly, slowing down.
Dylan Thomas, a poet, whom I’ve always loved, suggests that
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Rage and peace are so very far apart.
I’ll take peace. The best teacher in my life, my mum, is showing me peace and through her enormous grace, giving me peace.
Not that raging against the dying of the light is wrong. We should rage if our light is being taken before we’re ready, of course! But after the raging, I’ll hope there is peace.
I have found – in the quiet time with my parents and especially my mum – my own, unexpected peace. I sit with her and we tell old stories and new stories and we laugh and I understand what matters. It’s so easy, in that space, to remember what matters and leave behind the swarm of anxiety or worry or self-doubt or responsibilities in my life that can feel overwhelming.
And in my whole life, I never would have imagined that these moments with my mum, which might otherwise be challenging and difficult and yes, sad, would be the source of the greatest peace for me. I’m so surprised.
And here, at long last, is the point of my message. The places where you find peace are likely to be unexpected.
Here’s my favourite example. Have you ever had the experience of waking up and readying yourself for the day. You look at the clock hoping you have more time to sleep, but realize that you don’t and like it or not, you need to get up. You might begin to consider your responsibilities of the day, and then, in a remarkable moment, you realize it’s Saturday. And, it’s almost too good to be true! You can go back to sleep; you don’t have assignments or tests or meetings or marking ahead of you. It’s a remarkable moment. You can’t replicate it. You and you alone can experience it in that moment – you can’t go to bed on Friday night and plan to forget it’s Saturday. It is a great moment. It was unexpected, completely free of cost, not anything you worked for or somehow deserved. It is perfect. It passes quickly, but that doesn’t diminish its greatness.
That, I think, is peace.
Peace is, I believe, more often small than it is big. It is, I believe, found when not sought. It is usually unexpected. It’s more often surprising than anticipated. It can’t be bought or even earned. The conditions under which it’s found can’t be replicated.
I think we too often try to plan for peace. We exercise old traditions hoping to elicit some feeling we once felt. I think we sometimes look to the big things to bring us peace, especially at this time of the year. Whatever beautiful traditions or wonderful plans may lay ahead for you as we head into the break and if Christmas is in your tradition, my message is to be open to the grace of small moments. Be open to stillness. Be open to pause and silence. Be open to beautiful surprises.
That sense of peace is a tug on the spiritual side of all of us. Grade 9 student Louis G. was kind enough to share the traditions of Hanukkah with us over the past weeks. Years ago, one of our students in a similar message told us about the symbolism of the flickering flame on the menorah. Reaching upward, trying to be better, a symbol of the spiritualism that is part of each of us. Our spirituality is a search, I believe, for peace.
Find the time and the grace to let that flame in you dance a little bit higher to give, as you can, peace to others. That is true peace in ourselves.
I wish all of you an amazing break from school, wonderful time with your family and friends, and I wish you, above all else, the gift of peace.
Stephen Beatty ‘86