Peace is like a cookie. Peace is a result, a final product, not a raw ingredient. How do I know this? Well, I know it because in trying to create peace, I have never been able to do so in the absence of faith, hope, love, and a few other specialized virtues. The comparison to cookies is an easy leap, then, because you can't make cookies without some basic raw ingredients like butter, sugar, eggs, plus a few other specialized ingredients. Peace is like a cookie.
I started my quest to understand what ‘peace' was when my teenage son asked me if I thought peace was possible in the Middle East. I answered him, like a good lawyer, by stalling; "Well, that depends on what you mean by peace." Like all clever teens, he raised his eyebrows and rebuked, "You know, Mom. Peace, as in no war." So much for my legal career.
His question was brought on by the deluge of Christmas cards wishing everyone peace, secular holiday songs prattling on about the idea of peace on earth but with absolutely no moral context, and the continued unrest in the Middle East. In these contexts, peace was being worshiped as the zenith of all human desire; worshiped with the devotion that Christians are supposed to offer to God alone. In these settings, peace is venerated as the bandage of choice for all the world's ills. But if that is true, then why such a bad adhesive? Through the centuries and across all cultures, why doesn't peace stick?
My son and I mused further only to find that the whole concept of peace was so nebulous as to be meaningless. We tried hard to identify the single most important ingredient of peace, but couldn't. We had to conclude that peace simply isn't a stand-alone deal. Without unselfish love, peace isn't possible between two people much less nations of people. Without hope that difficult times will get better, peace fades as quickly as it is sparked up. Without convicted faith that, in the end, good will prevail over evil, those who labor for peace only look suicidal. And yet Jesus himself, following the custom of the Jewish people, kept greeting people with ‘shalom' meaning ‘peace be with you.' Peace, therefore, just couldn't be as impossible as it seemed to be to my son and me.
All of which makes me think of cookies. Before I am able to serve up and savor a warm plateful, I have to obtain the right ingredients, measure them out in the right proportion for the type of cookie I want, and mix the ingredients together for just the right amount of time. Several weeks ago, we baked a few hundred cookies. To celebrate St. Lucy's Day (December 13th) we usually bake and give Christmas cookies to our friends and neighbors with a Christmas card. During that bake-a-thon, I found myself mulling over the conversation I had with my son about peace, and wondered which ingredient of the cookies being baked was the most important. Then, smack in the middle of pressing a Hershey's Kiss into a warm ball of just-baked peanut butter dough, the answer hit me. The most important thing wasn't an ingredient. It was the heat! I can mix together and roll into little balls all the ingredients I want, but without heat, I will never have a cookie.
And so it is with peace. Jesus is the most important element of peace. Without Jesus we can roll together as many virtues and good intentions, wishes and works as we want, but we will never have peace. Jesus told his disciples in John 14:27, "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 be afraid." In other words, worship Jesus, not peace. In this coming year, when we experience strife or unrest, we can minimize them by pouring into the mix of our lives as many of the raw ingredients of faith as possible, then standing back and praying, we can let them and ourselves be baked in the fire of God's love. Sweet peace in increasing measure will be the result.