Percolations of Peace
“When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace?–I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That Piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?”1
Peace can be such an erratic thing. One moment present, the next, somewhere else. Perhaps that’s part of why I often find myself turning to Hopkins’ poem, Peace. There’s comfort in finding someone else who has experienced and expressed your feelings. Their words provide a starting point for processing your experience. In this case, the image of a roaming dove and “…Piecemeal peace is poor peace” capture part of the human experience. Peace comes and goes. Whether it be day-to-day stresses, a dark night of the soul, or domestic and international tensions, conflict often appears stronger than Peace. Yet, strange as it may sound, there is comfort here. The disappearance of peace is not an unusual phenomenon, something which only you (or I) have experienced. Others have been down this road before. And, if they have been here, then it leads somewhere. Indeed, Hopkins doesn’t stop with the sorrow of Peace’s departure. Rather than assume Peace is purely capricious, He moves to a redemptive conclusion:
“So surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.”2
With these lines, Hopkins reorients our perspective on Peace. When I picture peace, my conception usually involves things like the sensation of floating on clouds, sunshiny days, and resting (preferably in a hammock). It is airy, almost carefree, a point of relaxation. Hopkins instead presents an active picture, starting with Patience.
Patience. The contrast with Peace is reminiscent of James: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”3 (James 1:2-4) In the passage, James explains how Patience plumes to Peace. Trials produce Patience, which in turn furthers our growth. It is traveling the road of Patience that brings us to Peace. That road, though, is no walk in the park. Patience involves resting in God’s control (or Providence if you prefer) over our lives while simultaneously continuing to live a faithful life in the midst of the trial at hand. It takes discipline and, ultimately, God’s grace and strength.
It’s always Hopkins’ last lines which capture my attention though: “Peace…comes with work to do, he does not come to coo/ He comes to brood and sit.” There is something weighty here, which again doesn’t match my conception of Peace. Peace works. Work and hammocks do not coincide in the same picture. Yet, as our steadfast Patience in trials result in greater Peace, our call is to put that Peace to work. The focus has shifted from what is happening to us, to how we increase the extent of God’s Peace in the world around us. That change is profound. Additionally, don’t underestimate our task. Remember that getting to Peace wasn’t easy. Bringing others to where they truly experience Peace will not be any easier.
In the end, I turn to Hopkins in part because I find comfort knowing that someone else has also gone through struggle, confusion, and pain. However, I walk away with a challenge to embrace these trials as an opportunity to grow and then use that growth to share Christ’s Peace with both the Church and the World. If you will permit me one more image, Peace is like a cup of good coffee. It needs to percolate before it can be enjoyed in all its richness. Christ neatly sums up this perspective and the foundation for it, in John’s Gospel:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
While I didn’t touch on it, there is a legitimate place for restful peace. How do we strike a balance between true rest and avoiding our next step?
What aids you in patiently enduring difficulties?