by Sarah Crowley Chestnut
This week I am pondering what it means that Jesus Christ is our peace. I have long loved John 13-17: Jesus’s final meal with his disciples before his crucifixion, his humble act of washing their feet, his longing to see them love each other the way that he loved them, his promises to them–that he is going to prepare a place for them, that he will always come for them, that he is not leaving them alone, but in the gentle care of the Holy Spirit. And there is this: his hard words to Peter, predicting his zealous friend’s betrayal. Really? Of all the disciples, Peter would turn tail and run?
Because our Bibles have chapter breaks, I never noticed that the very next words from Jesus’ mouth are these: “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” In this poem, I imagine those words spoken directly to Peter, whose anxiety (I imagine) was beginning to go through the roof. And as the conversation unfolded, and all of Jesus’ weighty words about his leaving spilled out, I hear Thomas’s and Philip’s and (the other) Judas’s nervous questions rising from this same foreboding anxiety. Jesus’s response? “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). This is the kind of peace I want (and need) in the face of my own anxiety.
Simon Peter’s Anxiety
Questions rose like a wave in my throat, questions
I could not wash down with the wine, the bread.
The water in the basin trembled as he drew breath
to speak words that rolled in my heart like stones—
until you have denied me, the rooster will not crow…
My questions stretched anxious hands, snatched
at tail feathers, the doorknob—I was an empty-armed child,
aching to be pulled close. The crumbs
around my feet grew heavy like bones, glinted white,
set the darkness in relief.
And there was a wild bird on that wave, rising
angry in my heart, beating frantic wings, hammering
a sharp beak from inside the cage around my soul.
He could have tossed a handful of seed to feed
that insatiable beak, and quieted, for a moment, those thundering
wings. But instead he lifted new words
from the floor (those crumbs), slipped them between
my ribs like a key, turned until he heard the click,
set that wild bird free—
there’s a room inside you,
he said, where the Spirit will be, cupping warm hands
around the grist mill of your heart where these words will turn
and turn, will help you breathe: let not
your heart be troubled, I leave you with my peace.