According to the book of Phillipians, God’s peace is something “which surpasses all understanding.” (Phillipians 4:7, ESV) If it surpasses all understanding, how then do we access it?
You just have to feel it. Or fumble around for it.
I remember one time I was talking to my mother on my cell phone (Don’t worry. Hands free.) while I was driving in the car. The conversation had turned, as it often did, to conflict. I have no memory of what we were heatedly discussing that particular day, but I know that I was skating along the edge of my last nerve. A familiar pattern with my mother, I had not yet found ways to break our tendency to always lunge right toward each other’s hot buttons. At that point, I had been doing yoga for several years. I had even completed a yoga teacher training. That day while driving 75 miles per hour down I-80 in the hills of Iowa, I was miraculously able to feel my chest tense and breathing become more shallow. In what can only be described as a miracle, I took a couple slower, deeper breaths while she spoke. When it was my turn to respond, I was able to speak with a much calmer, grounded, and assertive voice.
The use of my breath in that moment, which took hundreds of hours of yoga and pranayama practice to cultivate for use in a tense moment, instantly bought peace in my mind and body. It didn’t solve all the problems with our relationship. It didn’t make my day less busy. It didn’t change the whole world. But, it DID produce a moment of peace in an otherwise stressful day and show my a tiny hint of how things could be different.
It is these small and large successes of my own yoga practice that prompts me to teach breath work so much in classes I now teach. Your breath is something you always have with you. It is one of the few things that you can control. With a simple inhale and exhale, you can remind yourself that God is as close and connected as your breath. A reminder that it was a simple breath, according to the second Genesis creation story, that started human life.
Perhaps that’s why the early church themed the second week of Advent around Peace. Peace is not something we find simply in that miraculous, overjoyed day of Jesus’ birth; we find it in the everyday — times of challenge or conflict, even violence.
The Hebrew people at the time of Jesus’ birth expected a warrior King; someone who was going to overthrow their Roman occupiers and take back their rightful throne. But, that’s not how Jesus arrived. He came as a poor son of a young woman and a carpenter. He was forced to flee his own home when threatened with death and was born while hastily traveling, in a stable, surrounded by farm animals.
THIS is the Prince of Peace, as Jesus is sometimes called. A subtle peace that can as easily escape notice in the chaos, challenge and threat of our lives as a child born in a stable. A peace that is as fragile and as wondrously resilient as a newborn. A peace that is actual internal power, not something bestowed upon us by cultural status or power, purchased through the right gift, or outside affirmation.
Perhaps that’s why it surpasses understanding.