We don’t really appreciate the whole value of life most of the time. Our organism just isn’t aligned organically in such a way. Yet when we are open, and the Perfection can flow into us — even in the smallest amount — God's Grace is so abundantly evident, it seems impossible to deny it.
The most exact interpretation we know of what was said to the shepherds by the choir of angels after the birth of Christ is, “Peace on earth to men of good will.” The word will, in this context, clearly means intentions. The two associations in spiritual literature that immediately come to mind are Gurdjieff’s obyvatel, the common man who simply does his duty and fulfills his responsibilities— and in pairing this concept with the biblical shepherds in the field— those who watch their flock, or, observe themselves — we see quite clearly where his meaning came from. It is an ancient idea: the simplest of us, with good intentions may be more aligned with God’s will than any other.
The other spiritual source is that of Swedenborg, who said that a human being’s eligibility for heaven or hell is determined by their intentions. This idea is essential to any legitimate self-examination.
What are our intentions? We need to look at this quite carefully. Mindfulness, measured in any spiritual discipline, is all about this question.
If we are simple, if we attend to our responsibilities, and we have a loving attention, we don’t need to be power brokers. We could occupy the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder and still find peace on earth — because that peace comes from our relationship with God—our good intentions, our willingness to attend to our responsibilities, no matter how basic they may seem—and an intelligent, intentional love for others.
Having spent the greater part of my life deeply immersed in metaphysics, which are much too complex for the average person to be interested in — let alone comprehend, which is difficult for even the most skilled of us who are — I must say that the great joy of God’s Grace and Presence does not lie in the intelligence, although it may be found there. Not, at least, in the intelligence of the mind. It is a whole thing that is given to us through Grace, that includes all of our Being. In point of fact it is our Being itself — all of us — that finds this peace in the midst of our ordinary suffering of being alive and trying to discover what we are.
A very good friend of mine, a woman who has always had an inner touch of the honorable to me, told me recently that she was retiring. She said she hopes she can use the time she has left in life to "figure out what she wants to be when she grows up.”
I know the feeling; it is a moment, here in the afternoon of existence, where real humility begins to emerge from the fog that life creates around me.
If I can sit here in the morning with the sun shining and a cup of coffee in front of me, and simply relax and allow the gratitude for my life and God’s Grace to flow into me, then—in accepting His goodness and the eternal perfection of this moment—I have already served better than when I climb the tall mountains, whether in reality or my imagination.
As I so often remind myself when I write these morning missives, I hope I can keep a bit of this in me as I go out into life today and remember to exercise just a little more tenderness and attentiveness to those around me; to remember that love penetrates everything, that there is no other “answer" to life, and that it is my responsibility to attempt — even though I am unable — to counter every cruelty that arises with an effort to represent God and all His goodness here on this planet.
It is much too tall an order, of course, for any ordinary mortals; yet we are offered Grace, and the opportunity to try, and if we give it a shot, and support one another, maybe we can actually create better conditions for the love to grow. Not some naïve love, mind you, that we will sing pop songs about, but a solid, grounded love that begins in our organism and is offered in humility, with a sense of the peace available to us if we make an effort on behalf of what is real.
In the biblical story, much is made of Mary’s annunciation by the angel Gabriel — and of course this is an extraordinarily important story. But the annunciation of the shepherds is equally important, because for those of us who are not the blessed virgin, the idea that we are also vessels, and that the peace of God, which passes all understanding, may find a place within us, is a vital idea.
We are invited to participate in this peace; so may it bless each one of you, and all of us, as we go forth into life in this day.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.