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Faiths exchange insights on peace during service

Welcoming people to an interfaith celebration of peace on the International Day of Peace, Sept. 21, Dennis Ashley of Unity Church gave recognition to the many names of God represented at the gathering:  

“God, Allah, Lord Krishna, Jehovah, Great Spirit, Divine Mind, Father, Elohim, Grandfather, Mother/Father God, Dharma, Udana, Mwari, Paramatma, Ek Onkar, Govinda, Yahweh, Adibuddha, Ahura Mazda,” he said.

Jaylynn Leadercharge
Jaylynn Leadercharge lights a candle while
a Native American peace prayer is read.

“Peace begins with us,” Dennis believes.  “It is an internal decision to experience a consciousness of peace, an understanding that we can see the good in everyone regardless of outward appearances.

“When we experience peace, then and only then can we begin to extend love to others,” he added, recognizing that each of the congregations, centers and movements gathered “helps people experience love and peace as individuals.”

Dennis encouraged accepting people who differ on the outside, knowing “we are all the same inside.”

Meditative flute music, drumming, Hindu and Buddhist chanting wove through the service along with the “joyful noise” of the Spokane Community Gospel Choir singing, “we are Kingdom builders,” and the Unity choir singing “teach us the way of peace.”

flutist

Flute music sets tone.

The Rev. Clare Austen, pastor of Unity Church, said that last spring, after seeing the movie “Peace One Day” about British filmmaker Jeremy Gilley’s journey to have the United Nations establish an annual International Day of Peace, members of Unity Church decided to help organize some events from Sept. 11 to 21. 

“Our aim was to bring together faith organizations to create an interfaith celebration, post a calendar of events, invite media attention and promote practical things to do to create peace—such as practicing stillness, kindness, generosity and forgiveness,” she said.

The organizers wanted to transform the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001—when the International Day of Peace was to be announced at the United Nations—“into energy to create a movement for peace,” Clare said.

Organizers invited speakers, musicians, choirs, ministers, prayer leaders and candle lighters to participate.

drummers

Drummers give the beat.

Presenters at the peace service offered music and reflections.

David Browneagle of the Spokane Tribe and his niece, Shanelle Harvey sang two Native American prayer songs. 

Shanelle’s song invited appreciation for “what we have based on what we have lost.”

David said his song belongs to the grandchildren—the children, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters.   It is about the balance needed to bring peace.

“We look in our homes, at different people and at different nations, and sometimes there is violence in each setting,” he said. “The spirit of the songs creates understanding.”

His prayer recognized: “At time we are pitiful as human beings.  We turn to hate and greed.  We ask for the understanding we need to love.  Greed causes wars.  When we have balance in ourselves, we see the riches within.  Somewhere, sometime, somehow riches within were replaced by material riches like money.  We fight, die and kill over those types of riches.”

He envisions a day when there is peace, when “our children and grandchildren thank their elders and ancestors for teaching the message of peace.”

He closed, saying: “My prayer is that in time our children’s children’s children will one day look at the violence today and ask, ‘Did they really do that to one another?’ Peace begins within.”

Representatives of Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Native American, Muslim, Baha’i and Christian faiths read peace prayers from their traditions—prayers read at an interfaith gathering to pray for peace in 1986 at Assisi, Italy.

Sree Nandagopol
Sreedharani Nandagopol leads a Hindu chant.

The prayers, said the Rev. Joan Broekling, event coordinator, “begin in our minds to open our hearts and inspire us to do something in our lives to engender peace.”

After each prayer, a child from that tradition lit a candle on the altar.  The following are summaries of the prayers:

Hindu Prayer

Oh God, lead us from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.  Shanti (peace) to all.  O God, may there be peace in celestial regions and on earth.  May all things be a source of peace to us…

Buddhist Prayer

“May all things everywhere plagued with suffering of body and mind quickly be freed from their illness.  May those frightened cease to be afraid, and those bound be free.  May the powerless find power and may people befriend one another…

Ronane Cain
Ronan Cain carries the flame.

Jewish Prayer

Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and walk the ways of the Most High.  We shall beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.  Nations shall not lift up sword against nation nor learn war any more.

Native American Prayer

O Great Spirit of our ancestors, I raise my pipe to you.  Give us the wisdom to teach our children to love, respect and be kind to each other, so they may grow with peace in mind.  Let us learn to share all good things that you provide for us on this earth.

Muslim Prayer

In the name of Allah the beneficent, the merciful, praise be to the Lord of the Universe, who has created us and made us into tribes and nations that we may know each other, not despise each other.  If the enemy incline towards peace, do thou also incline towards peace and trust God, for the Lord is the one that hears and knows all things.  The servants of God, most Gracious, are those who walk on the earth.  In humility, when we address them, we say, “Peace.”

Baha’i Prayer

Be generous in prosperity and thankful in adversity.  Be fair in thy judgment and guarded in thy speech.  Be a lamp unto those who walk in darkness and a home to the stranger.  Be eyes to the blind and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring.  Be a breath of life to the body of humankind, dew upon the soil of the human heart, and a fruit upon the tree of humility.

Christian Prayer

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be known as the children of God.  I say to you that hear: Love your enemies, do good to those that hate you, bless those that curse you, pray for those who abuse you and as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

Four young women share reflections on peace

Peace Reflections
Anusha Gollapalli, Natalie Wendt, Nasreen Sadaf Shah and Josie Woodfield share their reflections on peace.

Peace is the relinquishment of all prejudices and biases.  Peace is the acceptance of anyone and everyone despite their flaws or differences.  Peace is focusing deeper on understanding people, and loving them for who they truly are.  Peace is cherishing even the littlest and most precious gift God gave every one of us.  Peace is the celebration of friendship and knowing the value of forgiveness.  Peace is respecting morals and noticing change.  Peace is the value of unity. Peace to me is love.

Josie Woodfield - Baha’i
Lewis and Clark High

I experience peace in my life through my daily prayers. Muslims pray five times a day, as it is one of the pillars of Islam.  In addition to the mandatory prayers, we are always encouraged to do extra prayers anytime day or night.

Prayer forms a strong connection between people and their creator that gives the people reassurance and fulfillment in their lives.  I’ve learned that when you nurture your relationship with God, you will always have your faith to turn to.  It will give you inner peace in difficult times.

When I feel troubled or lost, when I am searching and cannot find the answer, I turn to God, I turn to my prayers, and a sense of calmness comes over me, telling me that all I need to do is trust in God to protect me and guide my life in the right direction and that everything will be ok.

The inner peace that Islam gives me is the strength that guides me through my day-to-day life. Seeing all the blessings God has provided, countless day to day things that we all have but take for granted, such as good health and being able to spend time with my family.  These are all blessings that strengthen my faith. Just knowing that God is there to protect and watch over me gives me inner peace.

Nasreen Sadaf Shah - Muslim
Eastern Washington University

My vision of peace in the world is not only the absence of violence but also the presence harmony and equality among all people.  It’s a world where everyone’s needs are met, communication is honest, and human beings balance our lives in ways that allow other species to coexist.

Lasting peace is a world where inner peace, compassion and wisdom are valued and cultivated, and people support one another in pursing these qualities.  External peace and internal calm depend on other another.  A violent, destructive society, where harming others is considered a viable way to solve problems, makes it hard to overcome anger, hatred, greed and ignorance that disturb the mind.  Without ending wars in our hearts, external peace will be difficult, maybe impossible, to maintain.  A peaceful world and peaceful mind cannot exist without each other.  Developing both is necessary and possible.

Natalie Wendt - Tibetan Buddhism
Substitute teacher Spokane Public Schools

In my opinion, peace is living with a relaxed mind and body.  We all possess a source of joy and wisdom already inside us.  Consciously or unconsciously, we are all seeking peace of mind.  All of us have different ways of finding our peace.

If peace of mind is shattered by anger or unhappiness, calm yourself by focusing on the opposite emotion.  For example, replace hate with love, doubt with faith and hope. Most importantly, keep your thinking as positive as possible. 

I experience peace in my life when things go the way I planned, such as finishing my homework, playing outside, eating my favorite food, interacting with friends and spending time with my family, especially my little sister Esha.  All of these give me peace and happiness in my life.

Anusha Gollapalli - Hindu
Seventh grade - Greenacres Middle School

Reflections:
Empathy is path to peace; God does not want us to kill

There are two rules related to peace beginning inside each of us:  First, peace begins inside when we hang on to empathy.  Second, as people of faith we do not believe in a God who wants us to kill people.

Bill Ellis
Bill Ellis

Empathy is the path to peace.  It’s about realizing every person is a human being with the same wants, needs and desires.  If we live in someone else’s shoes, we can’t be violent.  When we lose empathy and dehumanize people, we justify violence and turn enemies into things.  Every culture justifies war by dehumanizing its enemies.

In the present war, the Administration and media describe what happens by saying:  “Allied troops killed 14 terrorists and 34 insurgents.”  They never say:  “Allied troops killed 14 parents and 24 children, all of whom were loved by their families.”

Governments need to dehumanize people to kill them.  They destroy empathy to justify violence.  So the first thing to do to end violence and bring about the day of peace is to hang onto empathy. 

When we empathize, we can’t be violent, not just on the big level of war but when someone cuts into the grocery line or cuts us off in the car.  If we consider that person a jerk, we begin to dehumanize the person and justify our violent thoughts.

If I have empathy, I imagine how I feel and act when I’m in a hurry, afraid of being late.  If we understand that we are cut off by human beings who are being human, we lose our capacity for violence. 

Empathy holds us together.

Similarly, by not believing in a god who wants us to kill, we will question those who quote sacred texts—the Hebrew Bible, the Christian New Testament, the Koran or any other Scriptures—saying they prove god wants us to kill people.

Do not believe it.  If we become convinced, we need to find another God.  God, as revealed in our traditions, would rather die than kill. Do not believe it. If we become convinced, we need to find another God. God, as revealed in our traditions, would rather die than kill. We do not become violent because God is violent. We believe God is violent because we are violent. How often do people drop bombs in God’s name? How often do people drop bombs in God’s name?

When we drop bombs, we need to think that the bombs are falling on God—“the least” among us.  Who could justify that?  The God of our sacred traditions lives at Ground Zero, not with those in planes that hit buildings or drop bombs.

God is the victim of our violence, not the perpetrator of it.  If we remember that, how can we ever be violent?  How can we justify taking arms if we truly believe our traditions?

In summary, empathy makes it impossible for us to be violent.

We need to realize that when we respond to terrorists’ violence with violence, we are hurting human beings God loves, too.

In addition, we should not believe in a god who tells us to kill.  If you start to step in that direction, get another God.

The Very Rev. Bill Ellis - Fig Tree Board - Cathedral of St. John Reflections at Peace Celebration

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The Fig Tree - Copyright © October 2008