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COLUMN — Let there be peace on Earth

Decorations have sprouted all around town, trees are erected indoors and colorful lights sparkle through the long nights. Once again, it’s time to tell the Christmas story and present seasonal pageants. One of the most familiar lines of dialog comes from the heavenly host quoted in Luke’s gospel, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

The longing for peace on earth has persisted for millennia. According to biblical narratives, the ancient Israelites received instructions for peace offerings, they prayed for peace and their prophets described visions of peace. Many other religious families and cultures have also embraced the ideal of peace. Buddhists seek an inner peace that they believe will ultimately lead to its manifestation in the world. The Islamic faith takes its name from the same root as the Arabic word for peace, “salaam”. In 1991, the United Nations established an International Day of Peace (September 21). Yet, achieving peace on earth seems an elusive goal.

One of my favorite symbols representing the longing for peace on earth is a photograph taken on December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 moon mission. Perhaps you’ve seen it. It has come to be known as the Blue Marble. It shows our planet from the astronauts’ vantage point. Earth’s oceans create a predominantly blue orb. White clouds swirl across its face. Stripes of brown desert flank streaks of fertile green lands.

The image shows the earth amidst the blackness and emptiness of space, a solitary vessel sailing across a vast celestial ocean. It is beautiful, fragile, and small, just a tiny piece of the cosmos, but it houses all of humanity. Our families, our friends, our neighbors, and even our enemies. Ordinary people, those we admire as heroes, and those we view as villains. Everyone.

Additional images taken from orbiting satellites and by other astronauts reinforce the Blue Marble’s message by showcasing earth’s beauty. They show river systems, mountain ranges and coastlines. They highlight auroras, clouds and icebergs. They capture moon rises and sunsets and show off the thin azure wrapping of atmosphere that separates our planet from the inhospitable void of space beyond.

Other images highlight the planet’s fragility. They depict the sad results of natural and man-made calamities that have upset delicate balances needed to sustain living ecosystems. These images portray algae blooms, deforestation, air pollution, light pollution, smoke plumes from giant wildfires, habitat losses, coastal erosion, drought, landslides, floods, oil slicks and the effects of hurricanes, tornadoes, and derechos.

Whenever I see the Blue Marble picture, it makes me think about how the earth must appear from God’s perspective. I recall the song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and envision everyone and everything featured in its many and varied verses. The itty bitty baby, my brothers and my sisters, the birds in the air, the fish in the sea, the rivers and the mountains, the wind and the rain, the sun and the moon, everybody here, everybody there. He’s got the whole world in his hands. All in God’s care.

As this challenging year of 2020 winds down and we approach Christmas, I am reminded that God thought the inhabitants of planet earth were sufficiently treasured to warrant a personal visit and heavenly message of peace and goodwill. I also recall what Jesus said to his disciples near the end of his earthly life, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all people know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34-35).

My Christmas hope is that we can set aside the divisions, the slanders and the anger that have seeped into our world, our nation, our communities and even our families. Instead let us focus on the fact that all of us and all of them, everybody here and everybody there, all creatures big and small and even the earth’s life-sustaining ecosystems share this magnificent bit of God’s creation. Let us resolve to love one another and spread peace and goodwill.

Merry Christmas.

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.com.