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HOME > Short Stories > Spiritual Energies In Daily Life > CHAPTER I THE CENTRAL PEACE
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We are all familiar with the coming of a peace into our life at the terminus of some great strain or after we have weathered a staggering crisis. When a long-continued pain which has racked our nerves passes away and leaves us free, we suddenly come into a zone of peace. When we have been watching by a bedside where a life, unspeakably precious to us, has lain in the grip of some terrible disease and at length successfully passes the crisis, we walk out into the fields under the altered sky and feel a peace settle down upon us, which makes the whole world look different. Or, again, we have been facing some threatening catastrophe which seemed likely to break in on[2] our life and perhaps end forever the calm and even tenor of it, and just when the hour of danger seemed darkest and our fear was at its height, some sudden turn of things has brought a happy shift of events, the danger has passed, and a great peace has come over us instead of the threatened trouble. In all these cases the peace which succeeds pain and strain and anxiety is a thoroughly natural, reasonable peace, a peace which comes in normal sequence and is quite accessible to the understanding. We should be surprised and should need an explanation if we heard of an instance of a passing pain or a yielding strain that was not followed by a corresponding sense of peace. One who has seen a child that was lost in a crowded city suddenly find his mother and find safety in her dear arms has seen a good case of this sequential peace, this peace which the understanding can grasp and comprehend. We behold it and say, “How otherwise!”
There is, St. Paul reminds us, another kind of peace of quite a different order. It baffles the understanding and transcends its categories. It is a peace which comes, not after the pain is relieved, not after the crisis has passed, not after the danger has disappeared; but in the midst of the pain, while the crisis is still on, and even in[3] the imminent presence of the danger. It is a peace that is not banished or destroyed by the frustrations which beset our lives; rather it is in and through the frustrations that we first come upon it and enter into it, as, to use St. Paul’s phrase, into a garrison which guards our hearts and minds.
Each tested soul has to meet its own peculiar frustrations. All of us who work for “causes” or who take up any great piece of moral or spiritual service in the world know more about defeats and disappointments than we do about success and triumphs. We have to learn to be patient and long-suffering. We must become accustomed to postponements and delays, and sometimes we see the work of almost a lifetime suddenly fail of its end. Some turn of events upsets all our noble plans and frustrates the result, just when it appeared ready to arrive. Death falls like lightning on a home that had always before seemed sheltered and protected, and instantly life is profoundly altered for those who are left behind. Nothing can make up for the loss. There is no substitute for what is gone. The accounts will not balance; frustration in another form confronts us. Or it may be a breakdown of physical or mental powers, or peradventure[4] both together, just when the emergencies of the world called for added energy and increased range of power from us. The need is plain, the harvest is ripe, but the worker’s hand fails and he must contract when he would most expand. Frustration looks him straight in the face. Well, to achieve a peace under those circumstances is to have a peace which does not follow a normal sequence. It is not what the world expects. It does not accord with the ways of thought and reasoning. It passes all understanding. It brings another kind of world into operation and reveals a play of invisible forces upon which the understanding had not reckoned. In fact, this strange intellect-transcending peace, in the very midst of storm and strain and trial, is one of the surest evidences there is of God. One may in his own humble nerve-power succeed in acquiring a stoic resignation so that he can say,
“In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.”
He may, by sheer force of will, keep down the lid upon his emotions and go on so nearly unmoved that his fellows can hear no groan and[5] will wonder at the way he stands the universe. But peace in the soul is another matter. To have the whole heart and mind garrisoned with peace even in Nero’s dungeon, when the imperial death sentence brings frustration to all plans and a terminus to all spiritual work, calls for some world-transcending assistance to the human spirit. Such peace is explained only when we discover that it is “the peace of God,” and that it came because the soul broke through the ebbings and flowings of time and space and allied itself with the Eternal.
Few things are more impressive than the persistent search which men have made in all ages for a refuge against the dangers and the ills that beset life. The cave-men, the cliff-dwellers, the primitive builders of shelters in inaccessible tree tops, are early examples of the search for human defenses against fear. Civilization slowly perfected methods of refuge and defense of elaborate types, which, in turn, had to compete with ever-increasing ingenuity of attack and assault.[6] But I am not concerned here with these material strongholds of refuge and defense. I am thinking rather of the human search for shelter against other weapons than those which kill the body. We are all trying, in one way or another, to discover how to escape from “the heavy and weary weight of all this unintelligible world,” how to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. We are sensitively constructed, with nerves exposed to easy attack. We are all shelterless at some point to the storms of the world. Even the most perfectly equipped and impervious heroes prove to be vulnerable at some one uncovered spot. Sooner or later our protections fail, and the pitiless enemies of our happiness get through the defenses and reach the quick and sensitive soul within us. How to rebuild our refuge, how to find real shelter, is our problem. What fortress is there in which the soul is safe from fear and trouble?
The most common expedient is one which will drug the sensitive nerves and produce an easy relief from strain and worry. There is a magic in alcohol and kindred distillations, which, like Aladdin’s genie, builds a palace of joy and, for the moment, banishes the enemy of all peace. The refuge seems complete. All fear is gone,[7] worry is a thing of the past. The jargon of life is over, the pitiless problem of good and evil drops out of consciousness. The shelterless soul seems covered and housed. Intoxication is only one of the many quick expedients. It is always possible to retreat from the edge of strenuous battle into some one of the many natural instincts as a way of refuge. The great instinctive emotions are absorbing, and tend to obliterate everything else. They occupy the entire stage of the inner drama, and push all other actors away from the footlights of consciousness, so that here, too, the enemies of peace and joy seem vanquished, and the refuge appears to be found.
That multitudes accept these easy ways of defense against the ills of life is only too obvious. The medieval barons who could build themselves castles of safety were few in number. Visible refuges in any case are rare and scarce, but the escape from the burdens and defeats of the world in drink and drug and thrilling instinctive emotion is, without much difficulty, open to every man and within easy reach for rich and poor alike, and many there be that seize upon this method. The trouble with it is that it is a very temporary refuge. It works, if at all, only for a brief span. It plays havoc in the future with those who resort[8] to it. It rolls up new liabilities to the ills one would escape. It involves far too great a price for the tiny respite gained. And, most of all, it discounts or fails to reckon with the inherent greatness of the human soul. We are fashioned for stupendous issues. Our very sense of failure and defeat comes from a touch of the infinite in our being. We look before and after, and sigh for that which is not, just because we can not be contented with finite fragments of time and space. We are meant for greater things than these trivial ones which so often get our attention and absorb us; but the moment the soul comes to itself, its reach goes beyond the grasp, and it feels an indescribable discontent and longing for that for which it was made. To seek refuge, therefore, in some narcotic joy, to still the onward yearning of the soul by drowning consciousness, to banish the pain of pursuit by a barbaric surge of emotions, is to strike against the noblest trait of our spiritual structure; it means committing suicide of the soul. It cannot be a real man’s way of relief.
In fact, nothing short of finding the goal and object for which the soul, the spiritual nature in us, is fitted will ever do for beings like us. St. Augustine, in words of immortal beauty, has said[9] that God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until we rest in him. It is not a theory of poet or theologian. It is a simple fact of life, as veritable as the human necessity for food. There is no other shelter for the soul, no other refuge or fortress will ever do for us but God. “We tremble and we burn. We tremble, knowing that we are unlike him. We burn, feeling that we are like him.”
In hours of loss and sorrow, when the spurious props fail us, we are more apt to find our way back to the real refuge. We are suddenly made aware of our shelterless condition, alone, and in our own strength. Our stoic armor and our brave defenses of pride become utterly inadequate. We are thrown back on reality. We have then our moments of sincerity and insight. We feel that we cannot live without resources from beyond our own domain. We must have God. It is then, when one knows that nothing else whatever will do, that the great discovery is made. Again and again the psalms announce this. When the world has caved in; when the last extremity has been reached; when the billows and water-spouts of fortune have done their worst, you hear the calm, heroic voice of the lonely man saying: “God is our refuge and fortress,[10] therefore will not we fear though the earth be removed, though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” That is great experience, but it is not reserved for psalmists and rare patriarchs like Job. It is a privilege for common mortals like us who struggle and agonize and feel the thorn in the flesh, and the bitter tragedy of life unhealed. Whether we make the discovery or not, God is there with us in the furnace. Only it makes all the difference if we do find him as the one high tower where refuge is not for the passing moment only, but is an eternal attainment.
There are many things which we want—things for which we struggle hard and toil painfully. Like the little child with his printed list for Santa Claus, we have our list, longer or shorter, of precious things which we hope to see brought within our reach before we are gathered to our fathers. The difference is that the child is satisfied if he gets one thing which is on his list. We want everything on ours. The world is full[11] of hurry and rush, push and scramble, each man bent on winning some one of his many goals. But, in spite of this excessive effort to secure the tangible goods of the earth, it is nevertheless true that deep down in the heart most men want the peace of God. If you have an opportunity to work your way into that secret place where a man really lives, you will find that he knows perfectly well that he is missing something. This feeling of unrest and disquiet gets smothered for long periods in the mass of other aims, and some men hardly know that they have such a thing as an immortal soul hidden away within. But, even so, it will not remain quiet. It cries out like the lost child who misses his home. When the hard games of life prove losing ones, when the stupidity of striving so fiercely for such bubbles comes over him, when a hand from the dark catches away the best earthly comfort he had, when the genuine realities of life assert themselves over sense, he wakes up to find himself hungry and thirsty for something which no one of his earthly pursuits has supplied or can supply. He wants God. He wants peace. He wants to feel his life founded on an absolute reality. He wants to have the same sort of peace and quiet steal over him which used to come when as a child he[12] ran to his mother and had all the ills of life banished from thought in the warm love of her embrace.
But it is not only the driving, pushing man, ambitious for wealth and position, who misses the best thing there is to get—the peace of God. Many persons who are directly seeking it miss it. Here is a man who hopes to find it by solving all his difficult intellectual problems. When he can answer the hard questions which life puts to him, and read the riddles which the ages have left unread, he thinks his soul will feel the peace of God. Not so, because each problem opens into a dozen more. It is a noble undertaking to help read the riddles of the universe, but let no one expect to enter into the peace of God by such a path. Here is another person who devotes herself to nothing but to seeking the peace of God. Will she not find it? Not that way. It is not found when it is sought for its own sake. He or she who is living to get the joy of divine peace, who would “have no joy but calm,” will probably never have the peace which passeth understanding. Like all the great blessings, it comes as a by-product when one is seeking something else. Christ’s peace came to him not because he sought it, but because he accepted the divine will which[13] led to Gethsemane and Calvary. Paul’s peace did not flow over him while he was in Arabia seeking it, but while he was in Nero’s prison, whither the path of his labors for helping men had led him. He who forgets himself in loving devotion, he who turns aside from his self-seeking aims to carry joy into any life, he who sets about doing any task for the love of God, has found the only possible road to the permanent peace of God.
There are no doubt a great many persons working for the good of others and for the betterment of the world who yet do not succeed in securing the peace of God. They are in a frequent state of nerves; they are busy here and there, rushing about perplexed and weary, fussy and irritable. With all their efforts to promote good causes, they do not quite attain the poise and calm of interior peace. They are like the tumultuous surface of the ocean with its combers and its spray, and they seldom know the deep quiet like that of the underlying, submerged waters far below the surface. The trouble with them is that they are carrying themselves all the time. They do not forget themselves in their aims of service. They are like the ill person who is so eager to get well that he keeps watching[14] his tongue, feeling his pulse, and getting his weight. Peace does not come to one who is watching continually for the results of his work, or who is wondering what people are saying about it, or who is envious and jealous of other persons working in the same field, or who is touchy about “honor” or recognition. Those are just the attitudes which frustrate peace and make it stay away from one’s inner self.
There is a higher level of work and service and ministry, which, thank God, men like us can reach. It is attained when one swings out into a way of life which is motived and controlled by genuine sincere love and devotion, when consecration obliterates self-seeking, when in some measure, like Christ, the worker can say without reservations, “Not my will but thine be done.”

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