Willow Wonderings

Peace Pilgrims

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This post is dedicated to Peace Pilgrim, a remarkable woman who walked 25,000 miles for peace in her lifetime.

Friends, I have a story to share with you.

Sixteen months ago, when I left Pearson United World College (UWC), I could not imagine how I would translate my experience into the “real world.” Pearson was a secluded, idealistic, communal-focused village of 160 students from 92 countries in the wilderness of British Columbia. We did not have access to cell phone service or internet like the rest of the society; we  did not often see the exchange of commerce. We lived in a well-loved bubble of creativity, optimism, and experiences unique to UWC. [see video below for such enchantment!]

Then, I came to Davidson, a highly selective, rigorous, and prestigious liberal arts institution of 2,000 students in the suburban southeast of the United States. Here, I also live with a community of talented and inspiring people here, though our primary focus is to study and learn as individuals. I am no longer steeped in a think tank of idealism, nor tasked with social activism to the same degree. Where does peace, sustainability, and spirituality intersect with this world of higher education? And how could I ever find that same magic of UWC in this place?

Last fall, I came to campus as the only graduate of a United World College – and this year, four powerful women from India, Jerusalem, Ontario, and Japan joined me. Their presence immediately opened me to see the similarities – and unique opportunity – of learning in Davidson. For instance, Davidson entrusts its students with unmatched financial and personnel resources; we have the opportunity to pursue any project of our imagination with 200 student organizations and hundreds of staff members to support us. Our community of 2,000 also shares values of openness, integrity, and compassion unique to a university experience.

This weekend, the worlds of UWC and Davidson finally merged as the five of us from the UWC gathered to plan a campus-wide celebration of the International Day of Peace. Joining in solidarity with millions across the world, we decided to host Peacefest – a celebration of s’mores, songs, and poems for peace. We planned to host a bonfire outside of the student union and bring together the international and interfaith communities. So, within a week, we had posters, a budget, sponsors, and friends who promised to play music.

Then, yesterday, the rain came – metaphorically and literally. I spent the first half of my weekend on a wilderness training retreat, and when I returned from the great adventure, I was soaked with both physical and mental exhaustion. The rain was pouring for the first time in a week. Our peace flag supplies had yet to be purchased and we couldn’t organize the bonfire as planned – so I could not exactly find the peace within that the event encouraged. Before I went to organize, I felt led to sit and meditate in silence for an hour on the very meaning of peace.

Whenever I feel that I am drowning with anxiety or overwhelmed with responsibility, I remember my anchor is prayer. Sitting and listening is the only place that I know I can touch the swell of peace already waiting to calm me.  It was difficult for me to put down my planner and cell phone; I found that I often search for peace in the external world of having my life under control and trying to secure peace for the future. Yet I knew that peace first has to be found within.

As I learned yesterday, peace does not come in satiating our desires, as our culture of immediate gratification wants us to believe. Peace is the fruit of trusting in our anchors to guide us. We experience peace by yielding to its eternal Presence of in our lives. Abiding in peace comes when we experience our finite place in the infinity of the universe, mesmerized by the cool rushes of rain or warm flames around the fire. Peace comes when we slow down to gaze at the sky and be amazed amidst the chaos and noise down below. We are humbled by these de-centering and peace-giving experiences.

As we gradually open to the energy of peace abiding in us, we realize that it is never found in passive withdrawal from life nor in self-centered attachments. We cannot find peace so long as we place our faith in temporary and fleeting experiences, no matter how pleasurable they may seem. Illusory idols of power, money, and success cannot fill our inner emptiness. These are hollow black holes waiting to suck our energy. We must let go of the strings trying break us from our grounding. To find peace is be transformed by letting our worries, and our attachments, go. Through the dynamic process of letting go and opening to communion with the Other – love, nature, God, and neighbor – we find our yearning for peace fulfilled.

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.

 Fiona Macleod

Image Source

Last night, once I let go of not being able to control the weather, I suddenly saw new possibilities for Peacefest. We gathered inside instead, created posters, a haven of blankets and “raw” s’mores. Without my doing, the energy of the event just came together – over fifty people came to make prayer flags and sing. During the performances, we shared our hopes for peace across the world in ten languages. We may be young, but we hold an immense power in praying for Salvadoran children, Colombian families, Filipino migrant workers, Greek politics, and Syrian neighbors. Each person brought a unique experience to the circle, and we all shared a longing for unity and an end to suffering.

The essential question: how do we create peace in the world? This weekend, I remembered that peace is a self-emptying experience peace finding us, rather than us creating peace. We are not so much “peace builders” and “peace pilgrims,” walking in the way already present. Peace is encountered in the raw experience of “now,” an inner surrender to the potential for serenity here with us. It comes when we see that we will not be able to solve life’s deepest mysteries, nor can we predict the future, but we can trust in essential goodness guiding our way. Peace comes when we find ourselves at the heart of life unfolding.

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As my friend Anita told me last night, we all live as balloons in this great windstorm of life, and we need each other to stay on the ground. Our greatest task is to be in touch with our inner anchor for peace, and to share it with others. I am so grateful for the overwhelming love of this week – from prayers under the full moon, to singing to ukelele in the union, to the light of Quaker meeting.

This day, may you seek peace within the garden of your soul, and let it guide you on your pilgrimage home. A poem for your night:

Waging Peace

Wage Peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and fresh mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music, memorize the words for thank you in 3 languages.

Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the word seemed so fresh and precious:

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

– Judyth Hill


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