“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”~~Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of the fruits of spiritual practice that we hear a lot about is peace.
I listened to a sermon recently that has left me considering the whole concept of peace as a virtue. I know that in Buddhist practice, “equanimity” is considered a virtue and benefit of practice. It is one of the “Perfections” in the tradition. Equanimity is often considered a kind of peace.
Jesus, when he is said to have come to his disciples after his resurrection, breathed on them and left them peace. “Peace be with you,” we read again and again and liturgical traditions “pass” or “share” the “peace” every week.
What are we sharing? What are we offering one another when we wish peace for them, or even moreso, “God’s peace” or “the peace of Christ”?
What is peace without justice?
The sermon I heard was by Emerson Zora Hamsa, a candidate for Unitarian Universalist ministry. Ms. Hamsa is a womanist scholar focusing on the lives, perspectives, needs, and losses of black and brown people in the United States.
She said, “Peace is justice, and only justice. There is no peace without justice.”
I’ve thought about that and thought about that. What is peace without justice? What is peace? What is justice?
And here is what I want to share.
What is justice?
I begin with the second idea, justice. And the very first idea that comes to my mind is that justice is right relationship. Justice is care for one another and accountability to one another when care fails.
Justice is not merely some idea of equity or parity or any other institutional response. Institutional responses only go so far. The law can punish violence, occasionally deter violence, or even more occasionally, begin to shift opportunity and power. Mostly, though, at least in the United States, criminal law has proven to be applied consistently on the side of those already in power. There is not enough about the criminal justice system that is just.
Justice, though, begins by privileged people releasing power because oppressed people have claimed it. Justice continues when those with privilege live in solidarity with those who do not share their privilege. Justice comes about when all people have the spaciousness–material, spiritual, artistic, psychological, and otherwise–to live into the fullness of their lives. Justice comes about when people previously skeptical of one another are finally able to come into right relationship.
True justice is based on hearts changing.
Justice is a condition of what we call “Beloved Community.” In Beloved Community, power is shared, not only by individuals, but collectively, in groups and communities.
What is peace?
Peace may include conflict. Conflict that leads to fruitful understanding among different parties seems to me part and parcel of Beloved Community, of justice and of peace.
Peace may include a sense of disquiet, of concern, of questioning. In fact, I think it must, given the conditions of our lives.
What is not peace is the power-over oppression of one against another. Oppression may lead to a sense of satisfaction or ease in the former group and loss, poverty, disempowerment, and death in the other. That is not peace. Even for the satisfied group, the group seeming to be at ease, their condition is one of benightedness.
Most of that people in the oppressing group, the privileged group, will not even perceive or acknowledge the damage their privilege has caused and still causes. Many who perceive the damage may rationalize it or simply not perceive with empathy.
None of this is peace.
What is the peace we seek in spiritual practice? What is it not?
The peace I seek in spiritual practice is not a sense of satisfaction or rest from seeking justice. The peace I seek in spiritual practice is much more like the Buddhist concept of equanimity that leads to discernment.
Equanimity is the quality of temperament that allows us to weather storms of thought, feeling, and circumstance with dignity and clarity. Equanimity emerges from the pause we take for spiritual practice when that practice has become routine—something we engage daily. The pause makes room for wisdom and compassion.
Compassion—the quality of suffering with others—and wisdom—the discerning quality of mind and heart…these are the qualities that bring justice about.
Compassion and wisdom, emerging from equanimity, are the fruits of a changed heart.
Jesus, in his breath of peace seems to be offering the culmination of his ministry. He has been killed and risen for his work for justice for the Jews. And what he offers in his risen state is peace. His living ministry was about “good news for the poor” and “justice for the oppressed.” He worked for the just treatment of the poorest in the poorest part of Palestine—Galilee—and he worked to change the relationship of the Temple and the Roman State. So the “peace that passes understanding” must be wedded to justice.
It is changed hearts that bring about justice which is peace, peace which is justice.
Peace and justice build Beloved Community, the condition of right relationship among peoples and between people and Earth and between all and the Spirit of the Universe.
May you be blessed together in your reflections, you, and all your house.