Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. – Psalm 34:14 (NRSV)
The interstate highway signs as you enter Pennsylvania read, “Pursue your happiness.” I laugh and roll my eyes every time I see them.
In part because happiness is a state of being, not a state in the union.
In part because the sign’s slogan is written in a ridiculous font. Probably a state government employee said, “The sign should feel visually as upbeat as the slogan,” and an ad agency employee responded, “Let’s stylize the letters like a sixth grader stylizes a love note with wispy flourishes. Also, let’s not capitalize anything.” Someone should be fired for those choices.
Not that I have a strong feeling about typography.
But if Pennsylvania wants us to pursue happiness in memory of those who signed the Declaration of Independence, the psalmist instead encourages our pursuit of peace.
Peace as escape from trouble.
Peace as a constant chorus of praise.
Peace as the freedom from shame.
Peace as relief from jealous cravings.
Peace as satisfaction with the good.
The pursuit of peace requires the practice of peace. The pursuit of happiness, on the other hand, requires the practice of impatience with current circumstances: the need for a quick high, in the shallowest understanding of “happiness,” but more substantially the need for well-being, the need for loving community, the need for our neighbors to pursue happiness too. Such happiness is a worthy pursuit – a marathon of a pursuit, to be sure, but a worthy one. Even when it’s written in the most foolish of fonts.
But my pursuit of happiness – maybe yours too – is inevitably endless if I am not also pursuing peace. Practicing peace. Appreciating the good. Resting in God’s care. Releasing shame and fear. Here and now and always.
This very breath is my pursuit of peace.
This very breath is my practice of peace.
To love the good. To welcome the good. To share the good. O God, may this be my pursuit and my peace.
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.