"Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men"

By Sarah Belle Dougherty

Events in New York this September, like others large and small in many lands, confirm that the earth still yearns for the realization of this traditional message from the angels to mankind. Looking back as far as history allows, we can descry no evidence of a Golden Age of harmony and brotherhood, nor does the immediate future hold any likelihood for its achievement. Why then were these "glad tidings" proclaimed, and how can we bring them to pass?

The Christmas story that has come down to us is a symbolic tale; modern biblical scholarship suggests that most of the events and sayings are either parables or allusions rooted in Old Testament theology, rather than biography or history. But whatever view we take of early Christian writings, their underlying significance remains universal: bringing to birth the divine. On the individual scale, the Christ or higher self is a ray from the central sun of our being. As an infant born on the darkest night of the year, it takes human form in us in order to raise our ordinary consciousness to godhood, to turn us from mortality to immortality. At this momentous inner nativity, it is appropriate to announce the promise of peace and goodwill, but the divine spark requires constant protection by our noble aspects if it is to triumph. The violent, worldly, materialistic forces that presently run strong within us are ruthless and cunning in their efforts to maintain control over our consciousness, and will resist to the very end. Eventually, however, crucified on the cross of matter, the spirit in each person will achieve the mystic goal: it will lose the limitations of its individual life in order to become universal, one with the divine source, its Father in Heaven. It then appears to the ordinary psyche as a risen savior, a light in the dark places of the world and underworld of our being.

Each of us is such a spark of divinity in human form. Tracing the essence of every being to its source, we discover that we — and all in the cosmos — literally form a unity, however separate we may appear physically. This cardinal fact has tremendous implications for us as we seek a world of peace and goodwill. In Living Peace (2001) activist and Jesuit John Dear makes a strong statement about the realities of existence and what they mean in human terms:

A life of peace begins with the simplest and most basic truth: We are all equal. Every human being is equal to every other human being. We are all sisters and brothers, all children of the God of peace. This vision is fundamental reality. All life is sacred.  —  p. 70
. . .
If we want to move toward a culture of peace and nonviolence, we will have to open our eyes, see with new vision, and recognize every human being as our very own sister and brother. This vision of peace is the center of the world's religions and a spirituality of peace and nonviolence. — pp. 71-2
. . .
If violence is forgetting or ignoring who we are, nonviolence is remembering and recalling every day of our lives that we are all equal, all sisters and brothers, all children of God, all already reconciled to one another and God. It means living our lives from this basic spiritual reality. Nonviolence begins within us, within our own war-torn hearts. . . . We must disarm our own hearts so that we can cease our own violence, ego, and domination and begin to offer something more positive to the world. We must spend our lives becoming nonviolent people.
Once we truly understand we are one with every other being, we cannot harm another. Nonviolence is creative love in action on behalf of suffering humanity. Nonviolence demands resistance to evil, but does not permit the use of evil means. — pp. 87-8
. . .
[It] confronts systemic injustice with active love, but refuses to retaliate with further violence under any circumstances. In order to halt the vicious cycle of violence, it requires a willing acceptance of suffering and death rather than inflicting suffering or death on anyone else.
The art of nonviolence lies in the mastery of dying, not killing. Instead of nailing others to the cross, we are willing to accept the cross ourselves, like Jesus — until humanity is worn down and won over, until no one is ever crucified again, until a new world without violence or war is born. — p. 82

This is a tall order, but the most important point is to start, on however small a scale. It is also a hopeful and practical course, since each of us has control, if we care to exercise it, over what type of contribution we make to the world's situation through our feelings, thoughts, attitudes, and acts. We need not wait for concurrence from leaders, extremists, or our fellow citizens; neither need we demand perfection from ourselves or others. We can simply offer whatever we are able from the inexhaustible storehouse of our hearts and minds.

There is no greater contribution any person can make to the whole than to apply brotherhood and compassion ever more fully in his or her daily life. It sums up our individual responsibility, which embraces all of mankind, indeed all on our planet and beyond. By trying to live selflessness, understanding, and respect for others we can make the positive impact we all are longing for in our hearts. When enough of us take this course, we will tip the karmic scales and may then look forward to the time, in the words of the carol, "When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, And the whole world give back the song which now the angels sing."

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"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Why? Because every human being has a root in the Unity, and to reject the minutest particle of the Unity is to reject it all. — Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov