Reading: James 3:16- 4:3
Beloved: Where jealousy and selfish ambition exists, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insecurity. And the fruits of righteousness sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.
Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?. Is it not from your passion that make war within your members? You covet, but do not possess. You kill and envy but cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
This reading is a how to live reading. A reminder of the ways in which we become distracted from what really matters. It also reminds us, once again, what really matters (purity, peace, gentleness, mercy, goodness) with a focus on peace. We, too, seem very focused on peace. Each week, we invite and ask for more peace in our lives and in the nation, and in the world.
Distraction is a form of disorder which is a form of peace-less-ness.
When we are distracted from what matters, we are distracted from peace. Look at how peaceful all those beautiful words feel: purity, gentleness, mercy, goodness. Disorder is unskillfulness in speech and in action. We say what we might not mean or wish to say. We do what we might not wish to do. We interact from a place of reaction instead of pausing for contemplation. We react from a place of agitation, rather than from a place of peace.
Disorder happens when we allow the other things to take over and distract us. When we give in to our cravings and desires, then jealousy and selfish ambition rule. Neither of those brings on a state of peace. We begin to covet and desire the things we don’t have…that’s not bringing us peace. It’s bringing us malcontent and perhaps even worse qualities as we strive and fight to possess the things we do not have.
The ego begins to tell us that we need and deserve these things. The ego isn’t always bad. It’s our defense mechanism. It protects who we are. Our identity. Our purpose. Our good work. But, it does get easily distracted…
This self protection can get stirred up (not peaceful) and step in to protect self often at the expense of others (not peaceful). Maybe not in big ways, but even small ripples of discord create discord. Often the ego protects when it’s not necessary, causing agitation and discord in (and with) others. That’s not peace rippling outward from us. Often, later, on further reflection, we become agitated (hind sight is always 20/20). That is also not peace rippling outward from us.
It takes attention and practice to catch ourselves and our ego from stepping in when it’s not necessary. This is the interior work of prayer and peace. To bring us back to doing worldly good and being good company.
This disorder keeps up from reacting from a place of peace. Good work, prayer, contemplation, reflection help us to learn to act from a place of peace. We practice: purity, peace, gentleness, mercy, goodness. This will bring us peace.
This will bring us Peace.
The scripture also gives us a frightening reminder of what happens when we get distracted and agitated from peace and love and mercy and all of that which truly matters. Conflict and war. Envy and murder. We do not receive what we ask for, because we’re so agitated and conflicted, we’ve forgotten to ask for what truly matters. It’s a potential spiraling storm of chaos, reminding us of WHY each of our individual actions and words….MATTER.
We matter. We can bring discord or we can bring peace.
Our first step might be to understand. Our first, or second step, to practice. To learn to respond from a place of peace and not a place of discord or reaction.
Start with a commitment to spread peace in ALL things. Starting with ourselves. Truthfully reflect on these next: are we peaceful in ourselves? Are we peaceful with, and in, our bodies? Are we peaceful with, and in, our minds? Perhaps we can start from there…
Are we at peace with our desires? Do we know what we want, but are not distractedly, agitatedly, discorded-ly consumed by them? Do we have enough? Or do we fear and want more. This particular time and place we’re in is agitating to our very base-line sense of security. We are already extra specially agitated. That simply means we need to be more conscious of bringing peace forward and not more discord. We need to remember that we have enough, we are enough, and that to share is our greatest community Gift to one another.
No, we never said this was easy work.
Are we at peace with others? Yes, all others, including, and maybe especially the people that our guards are saying “don’t actually count”. We all have them, but the only way to grow from them is to acknowledge them. Everyone counts. Everyone.
This is the living in life work. How are our relationships at home and at work and with others? We might want to run away to a cabin in the woods, or an ashram, or a monastery. But…the work begins exactly where we are. And let’s be honest, the people in ashrams and monasteries are people too, with all the messiness and ugliness of everywhere else. I mean, remember, it was his own Brothers who dumped St. John of the Cross into the Dark Night’s prison…
The learning we have to do is in the work of real life.
We matter. We can bring discord or we can bring peace.
I’d like to close with some words I’ve been seeing posted quite frequently recently. There are three gatekeepers to peaceful and skillful speech, which can be a first step to peace rippling out.
Is it True?
Is it Kind?
Is it Necessary?
If we come from these three gates, we will always spread peace. If you’ve every truly practiced this in your day, you’ll find that there is very little to say. I always found that it creates a place of awkwardness…because, there is truly very little that is necessary to say…
I have to admit, I struggled with: is it necessary? Because was this awkwardness kind? …leave it to Easwaran to offer the answer I was looking for…so I will close with this:
“With these three on guard, most of us would find very little to say. Here I think it is necessary to exception in the interest of good company and let the third gatekeeper look the other way now and then. After all, a certain amount of pleasant conversation is part of the artistry of life. But the first two gatekeepers should always be on duty.” –Eknath Easwaran.
Live your life like this. And remember that the greatest peace is to surrender to Grace and trust the bigger Mystery. Therin lies peace.