When my thoughts and feelings are in turmoil, I go up the local mountain to find inner peace.
I go up the mountain (really just a big hill) where a sense of freedom and spaciousness helps me sort out problems, soothe hurts, and feel a few hundred feet closer to God.
Going up a mountain to pray is part of the spiritual history of my Christian faith tradition.
I tell people that the expansive views give me a larger perspective on what's bothering me, that it's a place of beauty that restores my spirit. Much of the time that's true. Too often it's a Big Fat Fib!
There are days when I am open to growing my sense of inner peace.
And there are days when I grumble every step of the way, about dog owners whose pooches poop on the trail, and bicyclists who dig deep skid marks, and people who litter, and the sprawl of encroaching houses and anything else I can find to complain about.
Inner peace? It's more like giving the world an inner piece of my mind.
And what do I mean by inner peace?
I'm not talking about denial of the great difficulties and suffering that need our resilient attention and courage. Cultivating inner peace is not about falling asleep, to avoid conflict and struggle, but about waking up to where God is calling me to engage that conflict and struggle, bringing God's justice and mercy.
Why pursue inner peace?
It has great health benefits, because stress contributes to many diseases and dysfunctions. My digestive system, my sleep, my ability to concentrate, all are easily damaged by inner turmoil.
Inner peace has great spiritual benefits, allowing me to be still and know the mystery of God, to listen to the conversation that God is having with my heart.
Developing an inner sanctuary of calm can refresh my spirit and focus my engagement with the struggles of life.
It has great relationship benefits, and this is the piece of peace that the world needs, that our country and communities need so badly.
If I am too often angry, resentful, confused or discouraged, this will inevitably spill over into my relationships. Especially it will taint my ability to listen to those I disagree with, to forgive people who have hurt me or hurt those I care about, or to understand others who might experience life in ways I do not.
To me, inner peace is about being able to focus on what needs my attention and energy. It is essential for having the courage and resilience to come down the mountain and into the issues of much greater importance than inconsiderate trail users.
Fortunately, it doesn't take a mountain to cultivate inner peace. You don't need a garden or a sunset either. A daily meditation practice is wonderful but a time-luxury many cannot afford.
A few minutes washing dishes, or standing in the grocery line, or waiting for a file download, is enough time to move into a quiet space inside yourself, enough time to pray for God's calming presence.
"Be still and know that I am God" is an ancient teaching of my faith tradition, and in one form or another it is fundamental to many faiths. It's a way both to care for ourselves and to connect to the higher power whose guidance we seek.
"Be still" I remind myself when climbing a littered trail. Stop the distracted fretting.
Imagine an inner sanctuary, a place of rest and expectation. Light a candle there. Offer a prayer for calm and for guidance. Linger and listen.
Return and do what the Bible says that God requires: "Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God".