When I was a child and being particularly annoying, there’s an Irish expression which I remember many of the adults in my life would hurl in my direction: “Ach away and give my head peace!” These days I find this expression rising in me, over and over again, as a sort of prayer which has taken on a mantra-like quality. “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…”Over and over again this week, this manta has welled up in me as I have attempted to sooth my anxious self. COP26 … climate danger … global warming… fossil fuel lobbyists … politicians . . . blah, blah, blah… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” Remembrance Day … war dead…post-traumatic stress disorder, . . . Ethiopia . . . Afghanistan. . . a new American civil war. . . wars and rumours of war… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” Truth and reconciliation. . . unmarked graves. . . no safe drinking water . . . compensation lawsuits . . . spiralling suicide deaths… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” COVID. . . covid-idiots . . . anti-maskers . . . rising case counts . . . booster shots . . . vaccine shortages . . . family divisions . . . “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…”
Alas, this week not even Jesus would give my head peace. For as we approach the end of the Church year, our lectionary offers us a reading from the book attributed to the anonymous gospel-storyteller, we call Mark, and I am thrust into commentaries about the end of the world!
“As Jesus was leaving the Temple, one of the disciples commented in passing, “Look, Teacher! What huge stones these are! What wonderful buildings!” Jesus replied, “See these great buildings?
Not a single stone will be left on another. Everything will be torn down.”
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives facing the Temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What will be the sign that all this is about to take place?”
Jesus began by saying, “Be on your guard that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name saying, “I am the One,’ and they will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of war, do not be alarmed. Things like this must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation and empire against empire; there will be earthquakes throughout the world and famines—yet this is only the beginning of the birth pangs.”
Give my head peace…give my head peace… give my head peace…Jesus give me peace.
These past two years, worlds, so many worlds have come to an end. Worlds we once took for granted have crumbled, collapsed, ended, day after day after day. None of us recognized the signs. If you’d have sent me a sign two years ago, which indicated that churches all over the world would have closed the doors to their sanctuaries, I would not have believed it. If you’d have warned me that over five million people were going to die of COVID, I would not have believed you. But today, when you tell me that because the weather is getting colder and people are moving indoors, and the numbers are going in the wrong direction, I can see the signs, and now I know what they mean.
Today, as a weak statement comes out of Glasgow and COP26 becomes one more failed attempt to take bold action, I can see the signs and I know what they mean. The whole world knows what they mean. Today, as investigators comb the Six Nations reserve, I can see what’s coming.
Today, as reports of women imprisoned in Afghanistan leak out, I can see the signs, and we all know what’s happening. Worlds are ending. And we are left longing for peace.
I don’t know about you, but when the need for peace in the world becomes more than I can bear, my prayer for peace changes. The emphasis shifts from “Give my head peace!” to “Ach away!”
Ach Away. Ach Away. Ach Away. I retreat. I retreat from the news. I retreat from all the signs. I retreat from the evidence, and endless warnings about the end of the world. I retreat into my own world. But even there, in the confines of my own world, the signs, the evidence, and the warnings disturb me, and I can find no peace. And so, “Ak away!” I retreat from my own world into the calm offered by Creation. Like the poet Wendel Berry writes:
“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Act away and give my head peace!”
Creation, the night sky, the stars, the Cosmos the stillness in which the MYSTERY which is the source of ALL reveals the unending unfolding of the ONE which IS DIVINITY. This MYSTERY which flows, in, with, through, and beyond Creation, reveals its DIVINE SELF in the beauty and wonders of Creation and all its Creatures. The SACRED FLOW in which I am held stills in me the dis-ease which disturbs my peace as I rest in the LOVE which is DIVINITY. The peace I long for flows as grace in and around me in the beauty of waves lapping gently onshore, while geese noisily flap about and peace is mine as all of me luxuriates in the flow of LOVE poured out, revealed in, and proclaimed by Creation. The peace I long for restores even as it reveals the LOVE which we call God living and breathing in, with, through, and beyond me.
Having drunk deeply of the FLOW, I can once again begin to see revelations of the ONE all around me and I can rest securely in the knowledge that I am held in the embrace of the ONE who IS LOVE. Nourished and sustained by this LOVE which is beyond my ability to even begin to comprehend, I am free to take my place in the Cosmos, trusting that I too am called to embody the LOVE which carries the FLOW into the worlds which are crumbling around me. Being LOVE in worlds which are ending, is not for the faint of heart.
Being LOVE in worlds which are ending is dangerous. Being LOVE in his world got Jesus killed. But not even death can kill LOVE. The LOVE which Jesus embodied lives, in, with, through, and beyond all those who have longed for and lived for peace. Jesus lived and died longing for peace.
Unlike so many of his contemporaries who saw violence as the way to peace, Jesus understood that justice and not violence is the only way to peace. When I retreat into the peace of Creation, I am reminded by the endless FLOW of GRACE which is DIVINE LOVE, that in the words of Cornel West, that, “justice is what LOVE looks like in public”.
Resting in the peace which FLOWS in, with, through, and beyond Creation, I can breathe deeply enough to restore my own peace, and steady myself for the work of being LOVE in the world. Birth pangs begin, even as I rest in the peace of Creation; a sure sign that even as one world ends, a new world is being imagined, waiting to be birthed by those who live and move and have their being in the LOVE which is DIVINITY. This is the peace which surpasses all understanding, not the peace which the world gives, but the peace we long for. The peace which FLOWs in, with, through, and beyond the Cosmos, as the ONE which is LOVE unfolds in, with, through, and beyond us, making all things new.
May you know that peace in your mind, in your spirit, in your very being, so that you too may endlessly be LOVE creating justice in worlds which are ending, and birthing LOVE into worlds yet to be. May you be at peace, so that LOVE may FLOW in, with, through, and beyond you.
And when you can no longer be that peace, may you find your way deeply into the wonders of Creation so that the wild things can free you to rest in the FLOW long enough to remind you that you too are ONE with the endless FLOW which births new worlds, again and again and again.
Ach away and give your head peace. The peace which surpasses all understanding, the peace which is the LOVE which IS DIVINITY. Thanks be to All that is HOLY for the wild things.