Several years ago, I awakened in the night from a dream with words ringing in my head. I had no memory of the rest of the dream (if indeed there was more to it). Just the words: “Go thou peaceful in the world, for I am with thee.” I knew they were important, so I repeated them several times to be sure I remembered.
The next morning, I tried to find where they may have come from, but came up dry. A Google search, for example, turns up nothing. And so I am left assuming they came from the same place the poetry comes from, which is another way of saying I haven’t a clue and actually don’t much care. It really doesn’t matter where they came from. They came, and that is enough.
These words have been a comfort and an inspiration to me ever since. Sometimes I use them as a mantra, and sometimes I use them as a kind of koan. I remember them when I am troubled, and they settle me down. When I get angry, they help me to understand the anger and show me how either to let it go or to direct it constructively and creatively. When I am too full of myself, they restore my humility. They are rarely far from consciousness.
This week, though, as I watched the election results coming it, I forgot them for a while. I began to panic. Anger rose in my throat. Depression and despair threatened. And then I remembered. “Go thou peaceful in the world, for I am with thee.” The panic subsided; depression receded; the anger sweetened from bitter despair to beginning to think how to be, how to survive in this new and admittedly dangerous world.
Now, the world is certainly no less dangerous today than it was Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. The danger is real, a thousand-armed demon reaching into our hearts and threatening to eat our lives and our very souls. It is real, and we would be foolish to think otherwise or pretend it will all be OK. It won’t be OK unless we summon up the courage to stand before the demon, stamp our collective staffs upon the rock, and proclaim, “You shall not pass.”
And where does that courage come from? It comes to me from those words spoken in my dream. You see, there is also a peace that flows through this world and floods it with light and love. You say the heart is broken? The broken heart has cracks running through it, and, as the late Leonard Cohen taught us, “That’s were the light comes in.” The light, spilling in through the cracks in the heart, brings us courage. But we have to open our eyes and see it.
Sometimes it is the courage just to get up out of bed in the morning. And that is enough. Sometimes it is the courage to go into the valley and face the possibility of death. And that is terrible. Most of the time is something in between, the courage to face the lives that we know in our bones we must live.
I believe in the peace given to me in my dream. Does it pass understanding? What do any of us actually understand? I think there is something more important than understanding. Acceptance is more important, sometimes, in some contexts. I find it better to accept this peace than to understand it. I find it better to live this peace than to understand it. I find it better to move through the world guided this peace than to understand it. And perhaps this is actually a deeper understanding, a way of standing under the peace.
So now what? What are we to do to face a world under the control of forces of hatred, selfishness, greed, and arrogance? I don’t know the specifics. Yet. But I think we start with finding peace in our hearts and the work living into a more loving and peaceful world in our own hands.
And so I offer you the gift that was given to me: “Go thou peaceful in the world, for I am with thee.”