Peace on Earth in 2022 – Is it Possible?

Peace on Earth 3D text with decorative elements in background

In 1863 the famous American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned a poem entitled “Christmas Bells” that was the basis for the popular holiday song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Wikipedia shares the following: “The song tells of the narrator hearing Christmas bells during the American Civil War, but despairing that ‘hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men’. After much anguish and despondency the carol concludes with the bells ringing out with resolution that ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep’ and that there will ultimately be ‘…peace on earth, good will to men’’ (a reference to the King James version of Luke 2:14.) .

Recently I heard someone on TV sharing the wish for peace on earth. It made me think of how often in history, especially in turbulent times, we have wished that there would be peace in our lives. The wish is often made to counter despair and despondency.

I think it is important to appreciate that we experience despair and become despondent when our minds tell us we are in the throes of something sad, overwhelming, dangerous and possibly life-threatening with no clear escape or ending. We can feel trapped within our own thought processes. We are not at peace within ourselves.

It does not help that everywhere we turn these days we see evidence of the pandemic and the dangers associated with it. Just the sight of people wearing masks and our own reflection in the mirror when we are masked is a constant reminder that there is an invisible virus out there that is making people sick and even killing them. The constancy of these reminders reinforces the messages in our minds that we are in danger with the potential for deeply personal losses. For many of us there is the reality of experiencing debilitating illness and even the deaths of family and friends.

Is it possible to shift those toxic despairing inner messages that create a sense of hopelessness to inner messages that focus on hope, hope for an ending to the pandemic, hope for the recovery of anyone currently struggling with the virus, hope that we can go back to some semblance of normal? Having hope can allow us to take a collective deep breath and have a kind of peace come over us because we can let go of inner messages that cause us to remain constantly unsettled and frightened.

Round Christmas Ornament with hand drawn lettering text. Peace on Earth. Holiday decoration. Black and white vector illustration isolated.

Neuroscience tells us we have the ability to change our brains, which begins with taking charge of the thoughts that precipitate feelings of despair and hopelessness. In her excellent book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves, Sharon Begley explains this further.

Training your mind begins with listening to your thoughts, hearing what you’re thinking as if there is an internal conversation going on between the parts of you that think in logical, intellectual ways and the parts of you that are more emotional and prone to nag you about what you should or should not do, the parts that blame you, shame you, criticize or send despairing messages of gloom and doom.

While we can agree that there is some truth to beliefs that things are dangerous these days and we can’t totally protect ourselves and others, we can offset some of those despairing messages with messages that are more empowering and hopeful as a way to change our minds.

Just as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow encouraged his readers to recognize that there can be peace on earth even in times of pain and fear, we too can focus on our power to bring peace on earth by bringing peace into our minds. We can embrace our right to train our brains to think more in terms of hope and our power to take charge of that which can help us achieve peace within ourselves. Think the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the  things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Invitation for Reflection:

1. To what extent would you describe yourself as being more despairing these days or someone with feelings of hope?

2. What contributes to those thoughts and feelings?

3. What are some of the specific ways you can work on hearing your inner dialogue and put effort into changing those that are despairing to those that are more hopeful?

4. What are some of the specific ways you can work on hearing your inner dialogue and put effort into changing those that are despairing to those that are more hopeful?

5. How can you help those around you feel more at peace with themselves and with life as we are experiencing these days?

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”