I noticed this week that although I have trusted that peace was first an interior attitude of Spirit, I also come more readily into peace (which passes understanding) when I am in a physical environment of peace. I enter into it whenever I am able to retreat to the Immaculate Heart Center at Casa de Maria in Santa Barbara. I felt it when I visited the exhibit of Agnes Martin paintings at the Los Angeles Museum of Art this week. I am always engulfed in peace when I hear concerts by the Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney Hall. And I am learning more deeply, and leaning more fully into “the peace of wild things,” as Wendell Berry calls it, as I encounter and attend to the natural world.
This morning as I went out early to pick up the newspaper, as I was musing about the new stalks of irises about to bloom, yet again, I heard a thrilling and joyful birdsong which I was able to follow to a mockingbird perched on a “No Parking” sign directly across from my house. No one else was visible, no other noises were audible, and this moment there was a peaceful beauty as the sun rose in the east, that tuned my own heart to the Peace of the Holy. I sense in my body and soul when I have entered into a place of peace.
I wonder why I don’t seek out these places with more regularity. Between my enslavement to the clock, my anticipatory anxiety, and my restless mind, I find it difficult to follow Wendell Berry, to turn aside into the places and the things that foster peace. I don’t lack possibilities. Several years ago my husband and I each bought each other simultaneously, and unbeknownst to the other, a book called Peaceful Places in Los Angeles (Laura Randall, Menasha Ridge Press, 20010). Each week that summer I explored one of the 110 “tranquil sites” listed in the book. I selected a place for each Thursday morning, setting out with a sacred book, journal, hat, and sunglasses. I sat in the courtyard of Union Station downtown, perused the collection of the Long Beach Museum of Art on the ocean, savored the UCLA Murphy Sculpture Garden, and and browsed Small World Books in Venice. I visited for the first time the Lake Shrine Temple in Pacific Palisades and the labyrinth at the Neighborhood Church in Palos Verdes Estates.
Several things happened in these pilgrimages. I was removed from my quotidian routine and daily distractions; my sojourn was intentionally to seek the things that made for peace in my being. And I discovered delights and challenges right around me that I had never known were there. Not every single one felt like what the Celts call a “thin place,” where heaven and earth intersect, yet every one had things of beauty and interest. Moreover, the time and attention that I gave to this quest brought me nearer each time to that place of peace for which I yearn day after day.
So! my spiritual practice in this ordinary time leading into the summertime is to pick up the practice again. According to the book, there are many place that still await:Amir’s Garden in Griffith Park, the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, Jin Patisserie in Venice, Wattles Garden Park in Hollywood, and many more. My guess is there are also hidden places of peace not even catalogued in the book.
And I need to bring my open heart. The apostle Paul write in Philippians that the steps to that openness are gratitude–again and again; gentleness to everybody; letting go of worry and anxiety, and: the peace of God which surpasses understanding will keep our hearts and minds safe (Phil 4:7) as we enter into the peaceful places.
Here’s to a summer of entering the places and practicing the attitudes that make for peace!
Personal photo taken in courtyard, Immaculate heart Center, Casa d Maria, Santa Barbara.