New Years is the oldest of all the holidays. It was first celebrated in ancient Babylon a little over four thousand years ago. In 153 BC, the Roman Senate declared January 1 to be the beginning of the New Year. The word “January” comes from the Roman god Janus, the god with two faces. One face looks to the past and the other face looks to the future.
This is the time of year when some of us look back at the year that has just ended and some of us look forward to the New Year just ahead. And some of us do both. We might ask ourselves, “How did I spend the year of my life that has just passed?” “Did I use it to enhance the purpose of my existence and the existence of my family and community?” “Could I have done better in the way I balanced my time between work, family, community, and God?” “What things did I achieve and what do I want to achieve this year?” Or, if you are like me, you just ask, “What needs to be improved?” We then make our New Year resolutions. Through our end of the year “soul searching” questions and the beginning of the year New Year’s resolutions we are doing what Dominicans call, “Contemplata aliis tradereto hand on to others the fruits of our contemplation.”
Dominicans believe that Mary serves as a practical example of what it means to “contemplate” and “to hand on.” In the nativity story, shepherds who came to adore Jesus in the manger told Mary all that the angels had said to them. “And Mary kept all these things, relecting on them in her heart.” Later when Jesus is found in the Temple, we are told that “Mary treasured all these things in her heart.” So Mary was a woman who valued the experienced word of God, who treasured it, and made time to meditate, and ponder it. Whatever conclusions she may have reached were handed on in what she said and in what she did for her family and for her community.
On this World Peace Day, when we look back and contemplate what we are praying for, I believe we quickly realize that peace is understood differently by different people. Peace may be an internal state of being. What we call peace of mind. Peace may be a speciic relationship in a particular situation. What history books call a peace treaty. Peace either may exist or not exist. Peace may be continuous, passive or active, concrete or theoretical, positive or negative. Peace may be overarching like world peace.
The problem is that “peace” is given meaning within a framework of understanding. Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jewish, and Secular Humanists see peace differently. Democracies, Communist States, Authoritarian Regimes, and Monarchies have different perspectives on peace. In this diversity of meanings, it appears that peace is no different from concepts like justice, freedom, equality, power, conlict, class, and, indeed, any other ideological concept.
I believe a key to understanding peace is found in the Hebrew word “shalom” which means not just the absence of war but apositive state of rightness and fullness of wellbeing. This means that the gift of peace is like many gifts we may have received for Christmas. It is a gift given and a gift we have to put together. In other words, peace needs to be assembled.
“Peace,” writes Dorothy Thompson, “has to be created, in order to be maintained. It is the product of Faith, Strength, Energy, Will, Sympathy, Justice, Imagination, and the triumph of principle. It will never be achieved by passivity and quietism.” Peace is an intricate dance of steps among all people.