To the unsuspecting reader today’s psalm and first reading may seem to be on a collision course. The response to the psalm does offer us a much needed reassurance: “O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.” Yet in the first reading Paul cautions us: “In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”. Great peace and persecution? Are we not facing an oxymoron?
I suspect the root of our surprise is to be found in our spontaneous tendency to understand peace as an absence of tension, as static peace. The desk on which I am writing these lines is very much free of tensions and to that extent it is statically quite “peaceful”. If we want to press this understanding, such static peace as total absence of tension is found most completely in cemeteries. The problem with this is that “God is a God of the living, not of the dead.” [Mk. 12:27] Is there then a type of peace that fits the living?
Yes, there is such a peace, but it is not found in an absence of tension. If I lift the car’s hood while the engine is running, I can sense some very powerful forces at work there. Yet a well tuned engine runs quite “peacefully”, it displays the dynamic peace of a well balanced tension. This is the kind of peace that fits the living. As long as we live, we are innerly subjected to the action of two main powerful forces, one that pulls us toward God and away from self and one that pulls us toward self and away from God, and we need to live in that tension. We know that the pull toward self will never cease to be active as long as we are alive, so experiencing inner tension is a sign that the pull toward God is still active in our lives. The moment we stop experiencing tension, it is because one of the forces has ceased to be active and we know well it will not be the pull toward self. The absence of tension would be a sign that we are being dragged without resistance by the one active pull still at work.
So the peace God offers us is the dynamic peace of a tension that balances out these two main inner forces. Prayer life does contribute to such balance. However, the role of prayer is not to eliminate inner tension in our lives, but precisely to maintain our lives in the dynamic peace of a balanced tension. And then, in the more critical case, we can even be persecuted and still have a great peace.
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