Sometimes comments on other people’s blogs turn into something longer and I find myself wanting to write a full on blog post to tease out an idea. The purpose of this blog post is to think out loud. I’m not sure where I’m going with it and I’m not going to edit it to make it all pretty.
Today my thoughts are spinning in response to this blog post at bearing blog. In it bearing responds to a piece titled simply Peace by Steady Mom. (I’m not going to excerpt or quote Steady Mom’s blog post or bearing’s response, so if you want to follow my tangled thoughts, you’ll just have to click through and read the originals there.)
I saw Steady Mom’s blog post linked by several other bloggers last week and clicked through and read it and was slightly annoyed. While I understood the point of Steady Mom’s realization that peace is more important than to do lists, something about the post created a little mental dissonance. I didn’t have the leisure to think it through so I shrugged it off. Though it obviously spoke to a lot of people, it wasn’t speaking to me. I moved on and didn’t give it much thought.
But now I come back to it via bearing’s musings. Among other things, bearing’s response ponders why “peace doesn’t feel like an adequate word to describe” what it is that is the goal of her days. That’s an interesting thought. But I’ll come back to it in a minute.
First, I was glad to see that bearing linked to Steady Mom’s follow-up post which answered one of my initial objections. While I understood what she was getting at when she wrote that laundry is not more important than peace, I didn’t feel like her piece adequately teased out in what sense laundry is more important than peace. Because in another sense laundry can be a factor in promoting peace. On the face of it this statement could be used to justify letting the laundry pile up because peace is more important than laundry. Evidently I wasn’t the only one who felt that way because in her follow-up post Steady Mom writes:
Here’s what choosing peace does NOT mean:
– staying in your pajamas all day
– reading blogs when you should be playing with your kids
– feeding your children chicken nuggets every night
– spreading piles of laundry around the house
– leaving dishes to pile up in the sink all day
– ignoring your children because you just can’t take the bickering anymore
– letting mess accumulate while you chant “I’m peaceful, I’m peaceful.”
Choosing peace does mean:
– That people are more important than tasks
– That you have adequate expectations of yourself, depending on what season of life you’re in
– That you try to stop what you’re doing to look your children in the eye when they interrupt you…
We will not find peace at the end of our to-do list. That effort has a name: striving. It promises peace, but in the effort required it steals the very promise away.
Anyway, that’s helpful; but I’m still dissatisfied by her definition of peace. Fortunately, bearing’s post gave me a nudge that got me started down the path of linguistic pondering. Thinking about the different meanings of the word “peace”. Bearing writes:
Once for a friend’s wedding shower I gave her a little hanging tile, made up of mosaic bits that spelled out, “Peace begins at home.” I was thinking mainly of raising children “peacefully” at the time—I think my oldest couldn’t have been more than two—I was still developing my style of discipline (aw heck, aren’t I still?) and I’m sure that’s what I was thinking about, about raising kids nonviolently in an atmosphere of love so that they wouldn’t grow up to perpetuate senseless violence. I wasn’t at all thinking about serenity in the home in the moment. Only about somehow engendering “peace” there and sending it out into the world to do its work.
Even at the time, I’m not sure that “peace” is the word I would have used, precisely, to mean what I sought then and what I still wish I had. (I thought it was a good choice of word for what my friend would want, though.) It is too worn from overuse, especially in world affairs; connotes too much the relationships between and among large groups of people, and not quite enough the relationships between individuals. Connotes for me, too much, the state of avoiding conflict rather than the state of dealing productively with conflict or even the state of living blissfully without conflict.
“Peace” isn’t, I think, the name of the thing that is the goal of my days. However, either Steady Mom and I are both longing for the same thing, to which we choose to give different names, or else her reminders are bound to produce both peace and the thing that I want.
I’m still not sure what word would be better. Maybe I am just looking for “love” in its active sense.
Bearing is right “peace” in English is too overused so that it has lost its meaning and has become little more than a sentimental bumper sticker slogan: “Visualize world peace.” It connotes more the absence of war and strife than the presence of something. It can often mean a sort of happy new-agey “inner peace”.
So (probably in conjunction with bearing’s recent posts about Latin) I then started to think of the difference between “Pax Romanum” and “pax vobiscum.” Bearing’s identification of “peace” as a word that connotes relationships between large numbers of people made me think that in liturgical and Biblical use “peace” obviously means something different, something very specific. When Jesus says, “Peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you,” he isn’t talking about relationships between countries or a happy inner state. He’s talking about a relationship with God, isn’t he?
Somehow that led me to thinking that perhaps the real difference is better expressed by looking at the difference between Latin “pax” and Hebrew “shalom”.
The primary meaning of the Latin “pax” is of a cessation of war. It signifies a treaty, a truce. But “pax” can often be a rather ugly thing. I’m returning again to my musings on Tacitus and “they create a desert and call it peace.” Although the Church uses “pax” to translate “shalom” there seems to be something in the Hebrew that both Latin and English don’t fully have.
I remember a Bible class or lecture or article that emphasized that “shalom” usually signifies relationships. I think of it first in terms of an individual relationship with God and secondarily with neighbor. “Peace” in this sense means primarily being in a right relationship with God and neighbor, which not coincidentally, fulfills what Jesus says is the greatest commandment: love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.
Further, looking up “shalom” in wikipedia I found that it connotes wholeness, safety, and completion. It is definitely a positive attribute and not merely the absence of war. Where “pax” means no fighting, it doesn’t say anything about the quality of that “peace”. The end of war can be a time of great horror and desolation. War is ugly and when it ends there are wounds and destruction. Ravaged land, burned buildings, bleeding bodies, death and disease and famine all follow in the path of war and can be found within the bounds of “pax”.
“Shalom” on the other hand, creates a picture of the wounds of war being healed. “Shalom” could not be used to describe the end of the Carthaginian war when the fields of Carthage were plowed with salt so that nothing could grow in there ever again. “Shalom” implies fields that are fertile, walls that are intact, health and wholeness restored to the people and the land as if the war had never happened.
Curiously “shalom” can also have a sense that something has been paid for in full. (Which is very interesting when you think of Christ’s death as atonement as paying the full bill, the debt being forgiven not because the lender has mercifully torn up the promissory note but because someone has stepped in to pay the debt in full.)
So now after all this digging I’m thinking that part of what really irked me about steady Mom’s blog post was that it was a negative definition of “peace”. And the same still goes for the follow up. She doesn’t describe what the peace is like so much as what it doesn’t consist of. What I’d like to see instead is what bearing seemed to be heading toward in her musings: seeking a positive definition for “peace”. Gee it’s rather like the difference between the Decalogue with all it’s “thou shalt nots” and the Beatitudes, isn’t it?
So maybe what I really want is a Beatitudes for Homemakers. Instead of saying negatively that “people are more important than tasks” I think it would be more helpful for me to remember positively that the tasks exist as a service to the people. In my vocation as wife and mother I am called to serve my family. In seeking to serve them to the best of my abilities, I must recognize that my resources are limited and that I must constantly triage and prioritize to make sure that the most important needs are being served first. All tasks that I have to do are ordered toward providing that my family will be wholesome and healthy and safe and secure.
I don’t think I can write up the whole list now (maybe in a follow up) but here are a few stabs at turning some of Steady Mom’s slogans into beatitudes.
Instead of “laundry is not more important than peace” perhaps I could write: “Blessed is the wife whose husband can find clean shirt and trousers, socks and underwear when he is getting dressed in the morning,” and “Blessed is the mother whose children can locate clean socks and underwear and have enough clean clothes that are easily located to be able so as to have a satisfactory sartorial selection.” (That should cover picky three year-olds who will only wear about half of the garments in their closets.)
Note that my version does not say, “Blessed is the family whose clothes are all neatly folded and put into their proper places in bedroom closets and dressers.” In the stage of life I’m in right now it would be folly to write such a thing and trying to achieve that would not lead to peace. So, having enough clothes clean on any given day that no one is lacking and having enough of a system so that things aren’t so backed up that they can’t be found, that is my vision of peace in laundry.
Instead of “Cleaning isn’t more important than peace,” write: “Blessed is the household that is clean enough. Blessed is the father who does not trip over toys when he opens the front door. Blessed is the baby who can crawl at will and whose way is not impeded by an accumulation of his brother’s trucks. Blessed is the family who sit down to a dinner table that is not scattered with toys, papers, and the dried remnants of everything they’ve been eating for the last three days. Blessed is the father who when he is doing the after-dinner dishes doesn’t have to clean every single plate and cup and bowl and pot and pan that have been used in the course of the last 24 hours. Blessed is the mother who isn’t overwhelmed by the mess when she walks into a room. Blessed are the children who can find the toys they want. Blessed is the family who don’t have to pay library fines for books the baby ripped up because they weren’t put away. etc.
Instead of “Homeschooling isn’t more important than peace,” I might write, “Blessed are the children whose needs are met. Who are growing in wisdom and grace. Blessed are the children who are deepening their knowledge and love for God daily. Blessed are the children whose curiosity is encouraged and not quashed. Blessed are the children whose home atmosphere fills their needs for ideas to ponder, for beauty to inspire, for meaningful work to perform.”
Instead of “The family budget isn’t more important than peace,” write, “Blessed is the family that is not anxious about money because the parents communicate well about finances and are able to live within their means.
One other beatitudes that occurs to me is: Blessed is the mother who has a plan for dinner so that when 4 o’clock rolls around she isn’t frantic and scrambling. And blessed is the mother who has a plan B for the days when the baby is sick or mysteriously needy and must be held and nursed all afternoon.
Well, I think that’s enough for now. I’ve satisfied myself by following the train of thought as best I could. Now on to see if I can’t fit in one of those tasks.