Peace is the gift God invites us to open
In a rare outing to investigate a park near my home, I discovered a perfect place to walk – a narrow path through a grove of oak, maple and pine trees, providing me with an exceptional choice of painted leaves and pine cones for my holiday decorations.
Running close by is a small creek, though not quite so lively as it once was, flanked by an old stone wall and rolling grass fields. A train rumbling by behind me does not diminish the joy I feel in being in this place.
It is perfect for me because it is a path less taken. My need to be alone has grown dramatically over the years, and I welcome that chance to walk apart from too many others and rest on a bench with only the occasional squirrel as a visitor.
When I first found this quiet haven and sat across from an old oak, admiring its beautifully gnarled trunk, my deep breaths of relief soon became tears of gratitude for something that many of us have lost during these turbulent times – peace.
I never realized how much I needed it, until it overwhelmed me. Though I realized it would just be for a brief time during my day, I felt like God had answered my prayers by leading me to this place where I could, “gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings,” and think, as St. Hildegard of Bingen encouraged, “What delight God gives to humankind with all these things.”
I recalled a favorite poem, “The Peace of Wild Things,” by American novelist, poet, farmer, environmental activist Wendell Berry:
“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things …
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
How perfect that, in this moment of time, burdened by the heaviness of the past months, I would be reminded of God’s gift of peace, experienced simply be letting God’s creation fill my heart and mind.
How perfect, I thought, that the infant Jesus, the Prince of Peace, through whom all things were made, should be born in a stable, with earth under foot, sheltered by stones and comforted by the sounds and presence of the animals that surely rested nearby.
When St. Francis of Assisi sought to renew wonder and joy in the birth of Christ, he created the Christmas Creche, which consisted of a manger full of hay, an ox and a donkey. There were no statues, only people who acted out the parts, becoming one with the Christmas story. The altar upon which Mass was celebrated that night was simply a large stone, and there was indescribable joy at this humble, simple scene.
This child, Jesus, wrapped in love, is the gift of peace, the gift of hope which lives in all that God created and through which God is revealed to us. As Pope Francis reminds us, “God never gives someone a gift they are not capable of receiving. If He gives us the gift of Christmas, it is because we all have the ability to understand and receive it.” And, I might add, share it.