Recently I wrote about faith and comfort, denying that the former gave me anything of the latter. Instead, I said, faith prompts surrender to the unknown and unknowable, the unseen and unseeable, forcing us to accept that the God we believe in is up to some business far beyond our ken. Loving the One who made us means being at peace with the notion that not much, or anything, really, is within our understanding or control.
But being at peace: that’s not so easy, either. This morning at Mass I was fretting about something, grinding it to a nub, worrying it harder and harder, getting more and more stuck in the grotty sink trap clogging my psyche. Even sitting next to two of my kids, singing hymns about peace, I couldn’t find any. It just wasn’t there. I hadn’t stopped believing in love or God or the daily miracles of living, but I found it hard to find any rest or stillness in them, even sitting there in church.
But then the Mass inched toward communion, and the liturgy arrived at that moment when the priest turns to the faithful and says: “May the peace of the Lord be always with you.” We all responded, as we have since the translation changed a few years back: “And with your spirit.” Then, as always, he exhorted us to offer one another a sign of peace. And we turned and hugged and shook hands with loved ones and strangers alike. Peace be with you.
The Peace always brings me peace. No matter what hard nub I’m rubbing in which dark recesses, it brings me into the light with its flesh-pressing affirmation of divine and human love. This morning, in that moment, all of my worries lifted. How often this happens to me: I walk into Mass weighted and freighted with the burdens of life, only to feel them lifted at the Peace. And how often I dwell on Peace as a gift we bring to one other. It isn’t some remote, avuncular, fuzzy-bearded God floating on cotton balls who gives us Peace. It isn’t the priest, or the promise of cookies after Mass. It’s us. We grace each other with it. We stick out our fists for the hand-off. I give it to you; you give it to me; hey buddy, take it and pass it on.
I’m certain I wasn’t the only person who struggled this morning and needed a blast of peace. We all do. We all have preoccupations, anxieties, quaking fears, thundering grief. Most of the time we sit there, nursing them quietly behind masks of unruffled contentment (or at least acquiescence). Sometimes, with shrinks and priests and friends and confidantes, we confess them out loud. But even without speaking, even without listening, we can help ease someone’s burden. We can bring peace to another with the simplest gesture, the fewest words. Not can; must. We have that power.
This morning, distributing handshakes and quietude with my fellow Catholics, I realized that my faith does bring me comfort. Sometimes it descends in a snatch of music, a bit of prayer, a dimple of light, a stretch of rainbow or a startling coincidence; because I believe in God, I believe that the still, small voice can bring insight and rest in the darkest times and unlikeliest places. But I also believe that God deputizes us to bring peace to each other. Christian and Muslim, atheist and Jew, we’re all assigned to the same task: to live, do our best, love our deepest, get up when we fall, help others when they do and bring a gift of calm to the people around us. Peace be with you.