This Sunday, we move into our new Sunday School unit, which is Peace. The youngest kids will read stories from the Bible, the Jatakas, and the Native American tradition that focus on honoring peace and solving problems without violence. The older kids will read from a variety of sacred texts, all of which have numerous passages about peace.
In most of these passages, regardless of religious tradition, peace comes either directly from God or through a close connection with the divine. Perhaps the strongest statement comes from the Buddhist tradition where Nirvana is equated with peace. Here are a few verses that our kids will be reading in the upcoming weeks. As I always do in this column, I’ll start with the Bible – Old and New Testament – and go from there.
This first passage is one of my favorites. It is used regularly as a blessing at the end of religious services. Many lay Christians assume it comes from the New Testament, but God actually gave the first version of this priestly benediction to Moses.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Numbers 6:22-26)
Some of my other favorite peace-related passages from the Old Testament come from the book of Psalms. Here is one of those.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. (Psalms 85: 9-11)
There are several places in the Gospels when Jesus offers peace. In this passage, Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet and then offers this message before his upcoming death.
The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. (John 16:32-33a)
“Peace be with you” is also the first thing Jesus said to the disciples when he appeared to them after his death when they were locked in a room, full of fear. Several peace passages from the New Testament also come from the Epistles – letters that Paul wrote to the early Christian churches. Here is one example.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you. (2 Thessalonians 3:16)
But peace is one of those things – like love and compassion – that is found in all religions. In the monotheistic faiths, where there is often the assumption of an external God, peace is something offered by the divine presence and shared with one another, which is what we see in the Qur’an.
Their greeting the Day they meet Him will be, “Peace.” And He has prepared for them a noble reward. (Qur’an 33:44)
And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace, (Qur’an 25:63)
In the Eastern traditions, there is a sense that finding peace and living in peace requires being one with the divine way. Below, I offer just a few of the many relevant readings from the Tao Te Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Dhammapada.
She who is centered in the Tao can go where she wishes, without danger. She perceives the universal harmony, even amid great pain, because she has found peace in her heart. (Tao Te Ching, Mitchell, from chapter 35)
No one tells them to honor the Tao and its virtue, it happens all by itself. So the Tao gives them birth, and its virtue cultivates them, cares for them, nurtures them, gives them a place of refuge and peace, helps them to grow and shelters them. (Tao Te Ching, McDonald, from chapter 51)
The disunited mind is far from wise; how can it meditate? How be at peace? When you know no peace, how can you know joy? When you let your mind follow the call of the senses, they carry away your better judgment as storms drive a boat off its charted course on the sea. (Bhagavad Gita, 2:66)
Closing their eyes, steadying their breathing, and focusing their attention on the center of spiritual consciousness, the wise master their senses, mind, and intellect through meditation. Self-realization is their only goal. Freed from selfish desire, fear, and anger, they live in freedom always. Knowing me as the friend of all creatures, the Lord of the universe, the end of all offerings and all spiritual disciplines, they attain eternal peace. (Bhagavad Gita, 5:27-29)
Better than if there were thousands of meaningless words is one meaningful word that on hearing brings peace. Better than if there were thousands of meaningless verses is one meaningful verse that on hearing brings peace. And better than chanting hundreds of meaningless verses is one Dhamma-saying that on hearing brings peace. (Dhammapada, Sahassavagga: Thousands)
He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, and consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: “This is peace, this is exquisite – the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; unbinding.” (Anguttara Nikaya, Nines, Jhana Sutta: Mental Absorption)
This is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness, and who knows the path of peace: Let them be able and upright, straightforward and gentle in speech, humble and not conceited, contented and easily satisfied, unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways. Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful, not proud or demanding in nature. Let them not do the slightest thing that the wise would later reprove. (Khuddakapatha, Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-kindness)
We all know innumerable wars have been waged in the name of God and religion. Obviously, those wars continue today. But we want the kids in our program to know that those who wage such wars contradict important messages of peace found in their own ancient texts. There is no need to change religions to find peace because it’s present in every tradition. Perhaps that’s because peace is both highly desired and seriously difficult to attain.
[The Bible Unbound is a regular column connecting Biblical themes, passages, and stories with ancient texts from other religions. It is representative of our middle school Sunday School curriculum, and to a certain extent, our upper elementary Sunday School curriculum.]
Amaravati Sangha. Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-kindness. Trans. 1994. Web. 21 March, 2014. <http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/khp/khp.9.amar.html>
Bhikkhu, T. Jhana Sutta: Mental Absorption. Trans. 1997. Web. 21 March 2014. <http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an09/an09.036.than.html>
Bhikkhu, T. Sahassavagga: Thousands. Trans. 1997. Web. 21 March 2014. <http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/dhp/dhp.08.than.html>
Easwaran, Eknath. The Bhagavad Gita. Trans. CA: Nilgiri Press, 1985. Print.
Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2007. Print.
Saheeh International. The Qur’an. Trans. Web. 21 March. 2014. <http://www.saheehinternational.com/quran-translation/>.
Tao Te Ching. Web. 21 March 2014. <http://www.duhtao.com/translations.html>
[In our Multifaith Mashup columns, we explore a topic from a variety of faith traditions and sacred texts. To see other columns, search our blog using the Multifaith Mashup tag. These columns are representative of the middle school Sunday School curriculum, and to a certain extent, the upper elementary Sunday School curriculum we developed at Jubilee! Community Church in Asheville, NC.]