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    Finding Peace of Mind

    What fortress is there in which the soul is safe from fear and trouble?

    By Rufus Jones

    April 28, 2024

    Each tested soul has to meet its own peculiar frustrations. All of us who work for “causes” or who take up any great piece of moral or spiritual service in the world know more about defeats and disappointments than we do about success and triumphs. We have to learn to be patient and long-suffering. We must become accustomed to postponements and delays, and sometimes we see the work of almost a lifetime suddenly fail of its end. Some turn of events upsets all our noble plans and frustrates the result, just when it appears ready to arrive. Death falls like lightning on a home that had always before seemed sheltered and protected, and instantly life is profoundly altered for those who are left behind. Nothing can make up for the loss. There is no substitute for what is gone. The accounts will not balance; frustration in another form confronts us. Or it may be a breakdown of physical or mental powers, or peradventure both together, just when the emergencies of the world call for added energy and increased range of power from us. The need is plain, the harvest is ripe, but the worker’s hand fails and he must contract when he would most expand. Frustration looks him straight in the face. Well, to achieve a peace under those circumstances is to have a peace which does not follow a normal sequence. It is not what the world expects. It does not accord with the ways of thought and reasoning. It passes all understanding. It brings another kind of world into operation and reveals a play of invincible forces upon which the understanding had not reckoned. In fact, this strange intellect-transcending peace, in the very midst of storm and strain and trial, is one of the surest evidences there is of God. One may in his own humble nerve-power succeed in acquiring a stoic resignation so that he can say with William Ernest Henley:

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
       I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
       My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    He may, by sheer force of will, keep down the lid upon his emotions and go on so nearly unmoved that his fellows can hear no groan and will wonder at the way he stands the universe. But peace in the soul is another matter. To have the whole heart and mind garrisoned with peace even in Nero’s dungeon, when the imperial death sentence brings frustration to all plans and a terminus to all spiritual work, calls for some world-transcending assistance to the human spirit. Such peace is explained only when we discover that it is “the peace of God,” and that it comes because the soul broke through the ebbings and flowing of time and space and allied itself with the eternal.

    What fortress is there in which the soul is safe from fear and trouble?

    Few things are more impressive than the persistent search which men have made in all ages for a refuge against the dangers and the ills that beset life. The cavemen, the cliff-dwellers, the primitive builders of shelters in inaccessible tree tops, are early examples of the search for human defences against fear. Civilization slowly perfected methods of refuge and defense of elaborate types, which, in turn, had to compete with ever-increasing ingenuity of attack and assault. But I am not concerned here with these material strongholds of refuge and defense. I am thinking rather of the human search for shelter against other weapons than those which kill the body. We are all trying, in one way or another, to discover how to escape from “the heavy and weary weight of all this unintelligible world,” how to bear the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” We are sensitively constructed with nerves exposed to easy attack. We are all shelterless at some point to the storms of the world. Even the most perfectly equipped and impervious heroes prove to be vulnerable at some one uncovered spot. Sooner or later our protections fail, and the pitiless enemies of our happiness get through the defences and reach the quick and sensitive soul within us. How to rebuild our refuge, how to find real shelter, is our problem. What fortress is there in which the soul is safe from fear and trouble?


    Photograph by Shan S.

    There is, Saint Paul reminds us, another kind of peace of quite a different order. It baffles the understanding and transcends its categories. It is a peace which comes, not after the pain is relieved, not after the crisis has passed, not after the danger has disappeared; but in the midst of the pain, while the crisis is still on, and even in the imminent presence of the danger. It is a peace that is not banished or destroyed by the frustrations which beset our lives; rather it is in and through the frustrations that we first come upon it and enter into it, as, to use Saint Paul’s phrase, into a garrison which guards our hearts and minds.

    In hours of loss and sorrow, when the spurious props fail us, we are more apt to find our way back to the real refuge. We are suddenly made aware of our shelterless condition, alone, and in our own strength. Our stoic armor and our brave defenses of pride become utterly inadequate. We are thrown back on reality. We have then our moments of sincerity and insight. We feel that we cannot live without resources from beyond our own domain. We must have God. It is then, when one knows that nothing else whatever will do, that the great discovery is made. Again and again the psalms announce this. When the world has caved in; when the last extremity has been reached; when the billows and waterspouts of fortune have done their worst, you hear the calm, heroic voice of the lonely man saying: “God is our refuge and fortress, therefore will not we fear though the earth be removed, though the mountains be carried into the middle of the sea.” That is great experience, but it is not reserved for psalmists and rare patriarchs like Job. It is a privilege for common mortals like us who struggle and agonize and feel the thorn in the flesh, and the bitter tragedy of life unhealed. Whether we make the discovery or not, God is there with us in the furnace. Only it makes all the difference if we do find him as the one high tower where refuge is not for the passing moment only, but is an eternal attainment.

    Source: Rufus M. Jones, Spiritual Energies in Daily Life (New York: Macmillan, 1922), 2, 3-5, 9-10.

    Contributed By RufusJones Rufus Jones

    Rufus Jones (1863-1948) was an American Quaker, writer and theologian who helped found the American Friends Service Committee.

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