Peace be with You

When I awoke this morning, a question—What is peace?—was on my mind. Perhaps the question arose from a dream, though I do not recall the context of a dream in which that might have been a burning question. Regardless, as I woke, my mind struggled to arrive at an answer to my question that did not rely on a negative, e.g., Peace is the absence of conflict. I wanted a positive answer, one that focused on an affirmative quality. A quick look at a dictionary offered only a few possibilities; most definitions suggested some variation of freedom from commotion, strife, or violence. A couple of definitions, though, offered more positive explanations of the word: tranquility, serenity, stillness.

While I mused about what constitutes peace, I sifted through my email. Coincidentally, I found a message that posed a similarly “spiritual” question. I have subscribed to Progressing Spirit for several years, a newsletter that portrays itself as a resource for explorations in theology, spirituality, and current events. Today’s edition expressed a question from a reader (John, another coincidence), who asked What is the difference between religion and spirituality? Included in the response, written by Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, was the following thought-provoking comment (though not entirely satisfactory in some aspects, it provided fodder for thought):

The word “religion” today conjures up dogmas, doctrines, institutions, hierarchy, buildings, organized worship, rules, positions on topics of the day ranging from extreme right (“Christian nationalists” or “Opus Dei”) to a more thoughtful effort to discern how to apply values to complex moral issues.

I think many people find these sociological and complex versions of religion to be a heavy weight to carry at this time in history when so much is shifting beneath our feet. We are moving from the age of Pisces (symbolizing dualism by two fish swimming in the opposite directions) to the age of Aquarius, which is much more mystically based, water being a sign of depth and panentheism (fish in the water and water in the fish, God in the water and the water in God) and therefore spirituality. Think of John of the Cross: “Launch out into the deep.”
In a nutshell, spirituality is our experience of the Divine.

Fox’s statement, suggesting the definition of religion (as well as spirituality) can be influenced by the “times” in which it is considered, rings true for the definition of peace, as well. Yet another argument that context is key to understanding anything…everything. In the case of religion and spirituality, taking into account the temporal context (and everything taking place in that context) is necessary to understand the two concepts. Though Fox drifts into what I consider the metaphysical (and, therefore, subject to my powerful skepticism), he nailed the sources of distaste for religion (dogmas, doctrines, institutions, hierarchy, buildings, organized worship, rules, positions on topics of the day, etc.).

My detour into religion versus spirituality, though brief, brought me a little closer to the answer to What is Peace? I am not there…yet…but I am making progress. Peace may be the experience of (or state of) tranquility, serenity, and emotional stillness. Unfortunately, the present state of the evolution of humankind makes peace elusive; a little like the ivory-billed woodpecker, it is said to be either extinct or so rare as to be visible only to the incredibly fortunate few—who happen to be in the right (deeply secluded, deeply isolated) place at the right time.


Find your tribe. That is genuine advice to people who have essentially given up. Given up on finding that elusive state of mind: happiness. Given up on being able to immerse themselves in casual, almost familial, and exceptionally comfortable relationships. Given up on making an impact on the world.

Find your tribe. It’s a simple admonition, but one incredibly difficult to act on. Because of human uniqueness. We’re all very different. We might share political perspectives, but adhere to radically different and possibly competing religious philosophies. Or we might enjoy the same food and drink, but find physical comfort in settings that are almost diametrically opposed: soft and casual, well-worn furnishings versus extremely ornate and rigidly formal. Or we might like the same kinds of music, but enjoy listening to it in different settings: boisterous, crowded, loud concert venue for one but intimate, quiet home setting for another.

Ultimately, one finds and becomes a part of a “tribe” only after sorting through the commonalities and differences and establishing priorities between them. When enough of one’s highest priorities are in alignment with others’ and those not in alignment are at least tolerable, a person can call the people “who fit the description” members of one’s tribe.

Yes, but…there’s always a but. It is not only one’s own sense of connection that matters. The others, the ones a person determines are his tribe, matter, too. They must feel a similar bond. And they must feel connected to every other prospective member of the tribe. Only when all potential participants have reached the same conclusion does a “tribe” become more than a fantasy. That universal agreement, which takes place almost unconsciously and without specific intent, is a rarity. But it does happen. Usually, due to the complexity of “tribal” relationships, the number of members of a tribe is small; two or three or four…maybe six or eight. Rarely any more. Smaller is more common. And the smaller the number, the less likely the members are to consider themselves members of a “tribe.” Instead, they just call themselves close friends. But that is what defines a tribe; close friendships.

Viewed from that perspective, membership in political organizations or churches or avocational groups does not constitute belonging to a tribe. The relationship may be “tribe-esque,” but tribes share more than a few similar likes and dislikes and attributes. Tribes are, by nature, small. And people change. So members of a tribe may grow apart. As members leave, new ones may join. And the departing member of a tribe may be rudderless and unaffiliated for a while. Or forever. Unlike families, tribes can dissolve. But, wait. Families can dissolve, too. So what differentiates families from tribes? DNA, mostly. And the dissolution of tribes, as painful as it may be, probably is not as heart-wrenching as the dissolution of families. But, if membership in tribes represents happiness, what occurs when a tribe dissolves…or when a tribe never materializes…or when a person never finds his or her tribe? I suspect depression is the outgrowth of such circumstances. Or even more acute psychological trauma. I am sure I must have read about such stuff while I was in college; and more, thereafter. But it bears research and reading again. To confirm what I think. Or to correct my understanding. The world changes around us. And we change, modifying the world in the process.


This morning, I join men of the church for breakfast again. And this afternoon I participate in a Zoom discussion to learn about some church management software. I am not in the mood for either. But I am not in the mood to do much of anything. I’d like to go back to sleep for the next several hours, instead, followed by a nap. Sleeping can empty one’s mind of depressing thoughts. Or it can infect one’s brain with bizarre dreams in which one’s movements are somehow restricted so that walking two blocks is an excruciatingly slow process. And the brain can wrestle with the absence of prescription medications and a broken icemaker in an unfamiliar house that one seems to believe is “home.” I would rather chew and swallow light bulbs. That might make the dream disappear into the darkness.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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