Inner Peace on Earth

“Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”  How many times have we seen and heard this sentiment . . .

It comes from the New Testament, a scene known as “The Annunciation to the shepherds,”  where angels come to a group of shepherds to tell them of the birth of Jesus.  After their announcement, the angels proclaim glory to God “in the highest” and on earth peace and goodwill.  The phrase we are familiar with differs slightly from the various Biblical translations, and was first popularized for Christmas in carols written during the 18th century, and then on about a billion greeting cards.

For most of us, peace on earth means “world peace,” a state of international friendliness, the end of war.  World peace is not yet at hand, and with each act of violence, whether on the streets of Berlin or in Chicago, this lofty goal seems to slip further and further from our grasp. Some people reasonably question if peace on earth is even possible.

However, in another sense, peace on earth is already here. If you are able to achieve a degree of inner peace then this is peace on earth.  In Peace is Every Step, the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says,

“Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see.  The question is whether or not we are in touch with it.  We don’t have to travel far away to enjoy the blue sky.  We don’t have to leave our city or even our neighborhood to enjoy the eyes of a beautiful child.  Even the air we breathe can be a source of joy.”

We don’t have to wait until Christmas, or any other time, to unwrap peace on earth.  To paraphrase John and Yoko’s anti-war mantra, peace is here . . . if you want it.

“Good will toward men” means compassion.  Buddhism teaches that inner peace is the root of compassion, and if we experience inner peace, we should naturally want to share it with others.

For example, the Dharma-sangiti Sutra reads,

“When one has grasped the fact, that this ‘great essence of inward peace’ for oneself as for one’s neighbors, has as its real meaning the avoidance of pain (such as infinite suffering) and the full attainment of joy in this world, one must cherish enthusiasm through a eagerness for it; even as a man shut up in a burning house longs for cool water.”

So then, I do not wish you peace on earth.  Instead, may you, and me, all of us, have a real eagerness for peace.

“The development of a kind heart (a feeling of closeness for all human beings) does not involve the religiosity we normally associate with conventional religious practice.  It is not only for people who believe in religion, but is for everyone regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation. It is for anyone who considers himself or herself, above all, a member of the human family and who sees things from this larger and longer perspective. This is a powerful feeling that we should develop and apply; instead, we often neglect it . . .”

– Tenzin Gyatsu, 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, A Human Approach to World Peace


little tree

I have a somewhat unusual relationship with December 25th, the day we all know as Christmas – it’s my birthday. Fortunately, I had parents who went out of their way to make sure I didn’t feel slighted, as has been the case with other Christmas babies I’ve met. We had Christmas in the morning and my birthday in the afternoon. When everyone else had already unwrapped all their presents and getting that “is that all there is?” feeling, I still had more presents coming my way. So, I can’t say that I have ever resented sharing my birthday with Jesus, even though he was actually born sometime in April.

As an adult, I could easily do without both Christmas and a birthday. Neither mean what they once meant to me. Obviously since I am neither Jewish or Christian, the season has no religious significance for me, and I still reject the over-commercialization of the season but have come to live with it. It’s bigger than me, so no matter how much I gripe, it ain’t going away.

As everyone should know by now, the celebration of Christmas originated from the Winter Solstice festivals. And I think that fact gives those of us who have nothing invested in the religious aspect of the holidays an excuse to go ahead and celebrate. Now, while I usually start out like a Scrooge, by the time the day rolls around I’ve got a couple of Christmas movies under my belt and I’m ready to get into the mood with some secular holiday tunes like Brenda Lee’s Jingle Bell Rock, or perhaps something more poignant like John and Yoko’s Happy Christmas (“War is over, if you want it”).

This year is different. I have the specter of cancer hanging over my head. And as well, serious health issues facing other members of my family. Stuff like death tends to put a pall on things, if you know what I mean.

Despite all that, I am trying to keep my heart light and hope that by next year all our troubles will be out of sight, to paraphrase the song (Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas) that Judy Garland sang in 1944, which expressed the sentiment of so many people at that time when the world was at war.

Therefore, in that spirit, let me present you with a little poem by e.e. cummings. It is by no mean one of his major poems, but anything by cummings is just all right with me. Accompanying the poem is a painting by the poet himself. You can actually purchase the original here, if you can pony up $12,500.

According to Random House, “In a warm and touching poem, e.e. cummings describes the wonder and excitement of a young brother and sister who find a little tree on a city sidewalk and carry it home, where they adorn it with Christmas finery.”

little tree

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid

look     the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

“little tree” was originally published in The Dial Vol. LXVIII, No. 1 (Jan. 1920). New York: The Dial Publishing Company, Inc.


TGIBF: Thank God, it’s Black Friday!?

Here’s the headline in today’s LA Times: “Shootings, pepper-spray attack mar Wal-Mart Black Friday sales.” I’ll wager that before the day is through, there will be plenty more.

Shootings? Pepper-spray? Shopping rage? No wonder it’s called Black Friday. But why? Shopping on this day is supposed to be a positive experience. It’s supposed to be fun, with everyone full of the holiday spirit. Black Friday sounds horrific. Like the 1940 film by the same name where mad scientist Boris Karloff implants the brain of a gangster into a professor’s.

Since the day is the official start of the Christmas season, you’d think they’d call it Red and Green Friday or anything less depressing.

And yes, it is starting to look a lot like Christmas, unfortunately. Yesterday, as I traveled back and forth to a vegetarian pot-luck dinner, I noticed quite a few street corner lots being set up for Christmas tree sales. It reminded me of this poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, from his volume of poetry, A Coney Island of the Mind, first published in 1958:

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck crèches
complete with plastic babe in manager
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagon sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody’s imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carolers
groaned of a a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated singles
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
he awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the craziest
of Second Comings

Frankly, I have my doubts about Christ coming back anytime soon. Assuming that he did indeed ascend from the earth some 2000 years ago, by my calculations, if he was moving at the speed of light he would have only traveled 11,749,203,343,584,000 miles so far. Now, it takes 100,000 years just to travel across the Milky Way, which is about 5,878,570,000,000,000,000 miles wide. So, sad to say, it looks as though Christ is


The Great Man’s Christmas Letter

Previously unknown photo of Fields

If you know anything about W.C. Fields, you know he was a curmudgeon, a misanthropic, a drunk, and a hater of children and dogs. Actually most of that was an act, he was at heart a softy and he left a sizable portion of his estate to an orphanage. Before talkies, Fields’ forte was as a comedic juggler. After talkies, it was simply being one of the funniest men who ever spoke on screen.

However, it’s true he was a world class drinker and he was good friends with another legendary lush, John Barrymore, who today most people only know vaguely as the grandfather of Drew.

Barrymore as Hamlet

Barrymore was a great actor, considered the finest Hamlet of his generation. He also appeared in the first feature film with a soundtrack (music only), Don Juan, released thirteen months before The Jazz Singer.

Anyway, Fields died on Christmas Day in 1946 (Charlie Chaplin, that other famous comedian, also died on Christmas in 1977), and somehow I have a feeling that “Bill” had a love/hate affair with the holiday. No doubt he loved the sentiment but hated the commercialism.

A prolific writer (he wrote many of the screenplay for his films), Fields wrote thousands of letters to friends, admirers, studio executives, etc. Most of  are hilarious, of course, and they are collected in the book, W. C. Fields By Himself. One year he sat down at Christmastime and wrote a letter to his good friend, Mr. Barrymore. This is how it came out:

Fields and Barrymore: two hams

Dear John,

I have been having a few drinks and I thought I would drop you a note. About this time of the year I usually take a moment to write a few letters to my good friends; the time when I remember all the good things and indulge myself to the extent of getting a little sentimental.

It is a blustery evening, but here in my Den it’s coz-zy and comfuable. I’m sitting before a nice open fire with my typewriter, John, sort of haff lissning to the radio and slowly sipping a nice, very dry double martini. I only wish you were here, John, and since you are not, the least I cando is to toast to your health and happy-ness, so time out, old pal – while I bend my elbow to you.

I just took time to mix another Martini and while I was out in the kitchen I thought of all the time I would waste this evening if I went out to mix another drink every once in a while, so I just made up a big pitcher of martinis and brought it back in with me so I’d have it right here beside me and wouldn’t have to waste time mixing more of them. So now I’m all set and here goes. Besides Mratinis are great drrink. For some reson they never seeme to effec me in the slightest. and drink thrm all day long. So here goes. The greatest think in tje whole wokld, John, is friendship. Anebelieve me pal you are the gertests pal anybody ever had. do you remembre all the swell times we had together “pal??/ The wonderful camping trisp. I*ll never forget the time yoi put the dead skunnk in my sleeping bag. He ha Bow how we laughued didn we. Never did the stin kout out od it. Bit it was pretty funnya anywayh. Nev I still laught about it onec in a whole. Not as muhc as i used to. But what the heck & after all you still my beset old pal john,. and if a guy can’t have a luaghg on good treu friend onc in a whiel waht the heck. Dam pitcher is impty so I just went outand ma deanotherone and I sure wisch you wee here old pal to help me drink these marotomi because they are simply sdeliuccious. Parn me whil i lieft my glass to you good helahth oncemroe John because jjhon Barrymroe best pal I goo Off cours why a pal would do a dirty thinb liek puting a skunnk in nother pals sleeping bagg I&m dash if I kno. That was a lousi thing for anybodyhdy todo an only a frist clas heel would di it. Jhon, wasn a dm dam bit funney. Stil stinkkks. And if you thininkit funny you’re a dirity lous anasd far as Im concerned you cn go plum to hell and stya ther you dirty lous. To hel with ouy.

Yours very truly,

Bill Fields