31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
August 27, 2023
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
The view through my swim mask was a serene blue. From time to time, colorful fish would swim into view. Sargeant Majors with their yellow and black stripes; King Angelfish with their blue bodies and yellow fins, and my favorites – Parrot fish with their rainbow scales and their fins that looked like parrot wings. Sometimes, a whole school of bright orange or silvery fish would swim alongside me. Their movements flowed together like they were one. None of them were ever in any hurry. Even as they fed on the rocks and coral, they never seemed in a rush to dart from here to there.
It has been years since I last snorkeled; however last week on vacation in the Galapagos Islands, I had quite a few opportunities. While the land animals were amazing, it was in the water, snorkeling, where I felt most peaceful.
There was one afternoon in particular where I could have just floated there with the fish forever, soothed by their calm movements. I just wanted to hold on to that peace, a peace that feels so rare in my life, a peace that feels like you have to be in the right spot at the right time to feel.
There was a time when summer was that relaxing and peaceful time of the year. Summer was the time to be lazy, to do nothing, to relax in the backyard, at the lake, by the beach. I don’t know about you, but this past summer didn’t feel particularly relaxing and peaceful to me.
I don’t think I am alone in thinking that peace comes from external sources, from being in the right place, finding the right time. I can only find and have peace when I am snorkeling in the deep blue ocean. I can only find and have peace in the quiet of a garden. I can only find and have peace when I am walking on the beach. I can only find and have peace when I am alone in the house – with all of the chores and to do’s done.
We often think that peace comes when all around is just right, when the time and the place are peaceful.
Way back in June when we began this worship series on the fruits of the Spirit, on the gifts of God’s spirit, I shared that all of these gifts: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. All of these gifts are gifts, gifts already given to us, qualities that already exist in our hearts.
We don’t have to find peace. Peace is already ours.
We have peace everywhere we go: in the busyness of work, school, and family life; in the city or the country, the beach, mountains, or mall. Peace is a part of us, a gift inside of each one of us.
So why don’t we feel peaceful everywhere? Why don’t we feel peaceful all the time? Perhaps because the gift of peace, although present in each of our hearts, the gift of peace needs to be nurtured.
When we landed in the Galapagos Islands, my son remarked, “I thought it would be more green.” Even after all I had read, I, too, thought it would be more green. Certainly, I thought, as we explored other islands, we would see more lush vegetation. Nope.
Island after island was volcanic rock. Different colors of volcanic rock but still rock. And we got used to seeing the small hardy plants that were able to grow out of that volcanic rock.
I was really taken with the prickly pear cactus. I made my husband take way too many pictures of it. It amazed me how you could have these balls of cactus growing out of what looked to be a stubby, rotting stem.
Island to island, they were knee high to maybe shoulder height. Until we got to our last island. As the bus took us twenty minutes up into the highlands, we traveled through a number of different vegetation zones: the sandy beach shoreline, a rocky desert area with those short prickly pear cactus, through a meadowy area with an occasional tree, to a lush cloud forest with banana trees and green grass and mist, lots of mist.
There was something else I noticed as we traveled up into the mountains. There was a new kind of cactus. It started out small – maybe shoulder height and as we headed into wetter country, they were more than a story high. The most noticeable part for me was that the sturdy trunk look hairy – like it was Chewbacca (from Star Wars)’s leg. It was really quite remarkable.
On the way back down to the shore, I had an epiphany. This tall, hairy trunked cactus was the same prickly peace cactus I had seen all over the other islands. But here, here it was receiving more water and more nutrients. Here it was being nurtured so of course it was bigger and lusher.
It’s a completely dumb and obvious ah-ha moment. Things that are nurtured grow; they bear fruit.
It’s a truth that applies to prickly pear cactus, and it’s a truth that applies to the gifts of the Spirit, gifts like peace. The more we nurture peace in our hearts, the more we nurture peace in our lives, the more peace will grow and bear fruit, blessing us and blessing others.
Peace is a gift, and peace is a way. Peace is Christ’s way.
In the gospel of John, Jesus says to his followers “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:26-27)
Jesus gives each of us the gift of peace, whether we are a small child or a wise elder. Jesus gives us peace, and Jesus invites us to nurture that peace in our hearts, nurture that peace in our lives so we can live peaceful lives, lives free of anxiety and fear.
It sounds like a pipe dream. It is possible though. When we start to feel overwhelmed, like there is no way I can get all of this stuff done, all of these school supplies gathered, all of these forms filled out, all of these activities accomplished, when we start to feel that anxiety bubble up in us, we can choose the way of Jesus. We can choose the way of peace.
When we start to feel frustrated, angry, totally, personally responsible for making everything happen and we are tempted to yell at others, to vent all of our criticisms and negative feelings, we can choose the way of Jesus. We can choose the way of peace.
Literally, take a deep breath and say to yourself, I choose the way of Jesus. I choose the way of peace.
Lift your eyes up from what is overwhelming you and look around. Look around at God’s creation – God’s creation outside, God’s creation inside – your cat, your dog, your fish, your children, your partner and give thanks for these blessings. As I wrote this message, for the first time ever, I saw a hummingbird outside my window.
Take a breath. Look up. Praise God and give thanks. Nurture the peace Jesus has already given you. Let it bear fruit in your life, blessing you with peace and transforming your relationships into ones of peace.
Our world needs peace. Our world needs us to choose Christ’s way of peace.
The world needs us to nurture the Spirit’s gift of peace in ourselves, to take care of our selves, to surround ourselves with healthy, loving community, to fill ourselves with God’s presence, Spirit, and Word so we can nurture, heal, and inspire others, blessing the world with the gifts of the Spirit.