By Valerie Elverton Dixon
Today, Sept. 21, is the United Nations International Day of Peace and Global Ceasefire. Peace Day. It is a projection of the possibility that one day humanity will solve the puzzle of itself. It is a day that demonstrates faith in humanity’s capacity to evolve beyond the use of violent conflict to settle disputes. One day we will turn away international anger with a soft word.
In 1981, the UN declared its opening day Peace Day. The purpose is to reiterate the ideal of peace both among nations and within nations. It is a day to promote respect for human rights and to think about the relationship between the supply of basic human needs and peacemaking. It is a day to think about cultures of war and cultures of peace, to think about whether or not our basic presumptions presuppose the necessity for violent conflict.
However, I say: Peace Day ought to also be a day of self-examination and refection upon how we may call a truce in the war within ourselves. World peace begins with the peace that we ought to make within our own souls. It is the peace we ought to make with our own fears.
We are born. Whether or not we had some choice in where, to whom, and in what circumstances is a matter of which faith or no faith tradition we embrace. But from the moment someone cuts the cord that connects us to our mother, we are singular. And as we grow, we know that someday we will die. We will return the physical body to the earth in dust and ashes and the breath will return to its source.
In the interim, we struggle with life’s hardships and enjoy its blessings. We try to make sense of the world around us. We make sense of it through faith, philosophy, poetry, science, music, art, dance, comedy, politics, economics, war and radical love. Our struggle with life often means a struggle with and against some Other. A malevolent Other. An enemy Other. The Other often becomes the personification of our fears. We perceive the Other to be a threat to our existence.
There is evil in the world. There are malevolent powers and principalities in the world, understood both as ideas and as systems of social, political and economic organization. Nevertheless, our fears are ours. We own them. We can do with them what we will. Anxiety is an unavoidable element of the human condition, but human beings are beings with the capacity to make choices. Even within our limitations, within our finitude, we can choose where to put our attention. We decide which aspect of this or that to place our gaze.
The peace we ought to make with ourselves is the peace that comes from a determination to see beyond the fears that stalk us at any particular moment and to see that which can overcome the terrifying evil. Many religious traditions teach that good overcomes evil. Thus, to make peace within ourselves, to hush the chatter that tells us that some evil thing or some evil somebody is coming to snatch away our existence or that of the people we love, we ought to think about what loving thing we can do for someone else.
Reaching beyond ourselves to touch the earth, world, nature, and humanity with kindness, individual by individual, is a leap of faith that allows our personal peace.
Peace is clarity. It is our gaze upon a distant horizon on a bold, bright, luminous day. It is the imagination to see this horizon through mist and fog and doubt. Peace is a warm wind and a cloudless sky calm in the eye of the storm. Peace is a decision.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder JustPeaceTheory.com. She taught Christian Ethics at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, MA and United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.