As we were leaving Assisi, we passed a brick street into which the words "Pax et Bonum" had been inlaid in white. Someone asked what that meant, and I replied "Peace and Good" without thinking -- having had 3 years of Latin in high school, I find the simple bits still come easily to me.
(Which you would THINK would make Italian easy for me, but even after taking a class and listening to multiple tapes I find I am basically hopeless at expressing anything beyond "Grazie," "Prego," and "Scusi.")
As our bus lumbered off toward Rome, I found myself thinking Peace and Good didn't sound quite right. Could it be peace and goodness? I resolved to look it up later, but didn't think of it again until this morning, as I was meditating on this morning's passages in Kornfield's The Wise Heart.
Today I am reading about the roots -- and transformation -- of anger and hatred. It seems a fitting subject, as I came home to an email box full of angry, hateful invective against various political candidates. Kornfield gently reminds us that anger and hatred invariably emerge as an internal response to fear and pain. At the same time he tells us that there are alternative responses, and that when we choose those alternatives the universe inevitably benefits.
What are those alternative responses to fear and pain? Mindfulness, connectedness, compassion, concern, strength and fearlessness. All especially tricky to maintain when we are feeling threatened by pain, fear, or loss. And as I thought about how I might respond to all that political invective this morning, I remembered this image, which I unearthed yesterday as I looked over the photos I brought home from Assisi. And as I visualized the words Pax et Bonum, a sense of peace stole over me. Ah, I thought, that's the message for today.
When I checked the computer for a more accurate translation, it told me that, no, peace and good was exactly right -- and it was the motto of St. Francis of Assisi. Which is interesting, because apparently Francis originally intended to be a soldier. Unfortunately he was captured and imprisoned during his first battle and later contracted a disease which severely weakened him so that fighting would no longer be an option.
Somehow this brings me back to the mystical hope I wrote about yesterday. Because you could certainly imagine that a year in prison and a debilitating illness would be fearful, painful and threatening experiences. Yet out of that emerged a saint whose words of hope inspire us still over 8 centuries later -- precisely because he chose to transform his experiences into a lifetime commitment to peace and compassion.
So yes, to all of you who are frantic about the possibilities that lie before us in the current turmoil of elections and economics. The choices are not just ours to make, and the lack of control we have over that, and the possible results of others' choices may be really scary. But I still believe that there is a light at the end of the alley, and that our job is not to be obsessed with fear, anger and hatred, but to rather concentrate on being mindful, connected, and present; fueled by the hope that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)
... and when I looked that up, I found a brief but wonderful dissertation on that passage by someone named Tim Geddert, who concludes the following:
Perhaps the verse is about God working both with us and for us to bring about good in tough situations...This understanding would focus on the Christian community as both co-workers with God and as beneficiaries of that which God (and our brothers and sisters) does on our behalf. It would also cohere well with the context in Romans 8, where Romans 8:28 can be seen both as God's answer to the "groaning" we experience in this time when God's purposes are not yet completely fulfilled (cf. 8:22-27) and also where people are assured that God's love never leaves them, no matter what their situation (cf. 8:31-39). The community of those being transformed by God (cf. 8:29,30) both receives God's grace and passes it on by "working with God" to bring about good. (For the rest of Tim's sermon, go to http://www.mbseminary.edu/files/download/geddert1.htm?file_id=12815136)
I like that: that those of us who choose to allow their fears and pain, anger and hatred, to be transformed by God are working together in community with God -- and, across time, with St. Francis -- to bring about Pax et Bonum.
It's all good.