Oftentimes, when I pray aloud for people, my go to phrase is to ask God to give them “a peace that surpasses all understanding.” It comes from a phrase in Philipians 4:7, but really it comes from years of hearing it prayed in leadership with my colleagues in Brooklyn. So for me, it’s a prayer of community, a prayer of transformation, a prayer of mystery and hope…for I have no idea how one might find such peace amongst the anxiety, fear, and grief of whatever situation they find themselves in. I just know that as a faith leader, I can hold onto the hope of this kind of peace for them until they can find it for themselves.
This Advent, I’ve been lighting candles with a couple people in my growing community here in Cincinnati. We’re using the poetry of Maya Angelou to illuminate the themes of the season, and what she offers us on peace should not be missed. Do yourself a favor and sit in the words of her poem “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem.” Even better, listen to Dr. Angelou read it in her own voice. And allow yourself for a moment, just a moment, to believe in a miraculous, illogical peace that surpasses all understanding, not only for yourself and the people you lead and pray over, but for all of us, in every faith tradition, who so deeply need it this Christmas.
Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem
Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.
Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.
We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?
Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.
It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.
Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.
In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.
We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.
We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.
It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.
We, Angels and Mortal’s, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.
Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.
Dr. Maya Angelou, 2005
A Few More Resources We Recommend
Stop what you are doing right now and download this free Advent devotional from Kate Bowler. You’ll be so glad you did.
Our friend Bill, who recently founded Small Church, Big Table to offer resources on shared leadership and leading with others, sent me this blog post he recently wrote. Not only is it a model of pastoral care, but it’s resonating with me as I reflect on the interfaith call of Dr. Angelou’s poem above.
I’m writing a sermon this week, and the first resource I always check when researching for a sermon is one from my professor Ronald J. Allen and Clark M. Williamson: Preaching the Gospels Without Blaming the Jews and Preaching the Letters Without Blaming the Jews.