Thank you for inviting me to be present and share with you this evening. I feel very honored to be in your midst…
It is very fitting for us to be gathered today to celebrate and rededicate ourselves to friendship between our cultures in our common community. Today is also Armistice Day, when on the ll hour of the 11 day of the 11 month, the combatants of WW I gathered to end hostilities. Almost one hundred years ago, the World was at War. World War I tore into Western culture and divided the nations of Europe. The ferocity of trench warfare and the horrors of mustard gas overwhelmed the sense of civilization of that time. Many of the consequences of this War are well known to you, as it remade the political map of several nations in Europe. Known as the “Great War”, the hope of many was that humankind would move into a new era of cooperation and friendship—never again to release those horrors upon the world. Would that we had stepped more fully into that new day? Would that this had really been the War to end all Wars?
Just prior to that great struggle however, as the shadows of conflict were advancing, there were voices advocating for humanity to take a different path; to learn the lessons of previous wars and to find the paths of peace. In the December 1912 magazine of the French publication La Clochette, the first appearance of a prayer purported to be written by Saint Francis of Assisi appeared. Francis, a man of the twelfth century, knew firsthand the horrors of war as a young man and it dramatically changed the course of his life. His life is a testament to a way of living in harmony with God and Creation. This prayer, while coming from the Christian tradition, is not explicitly Christian. While it may not have actually been penned by Francis, it is consistent with his approach to life—in relationship to God, others and Nature. The prayer commends us to move outside of ourselves and self-centered interests and to seek a closer role with the Divine. It goes like this:
O God, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.[i][i]
I share this with you tonight, because I think, just like the poetry of Rumi who comes shortly after him chronologically, we see this shared vision of hope and friendship, commended to us by many of our spiritual forebears. These two men, as well as many others, urge us on, to step forward and to live more faithfully to God, in friendship with one another. As children of God, we are commended not to live life selfishly, denigrating our brothers and sisters of different cultures, faiths or races. For although we all share, as the children of Abraham, the common story of rivalry between brothers, the witness of Francis and Rumi invites us to live into another way. We are called to be lovers of creation; of all that God has created, including all of our brothers and sisters. This is our true nationality—as Rumi once wrote:
Lover’s nationality is separate from all other religions,
The lover’s religion and nationality is the Beloved (God).
The lover’s cause is separate from all other causes
Love is the astrolabe of God’s mysteries.[ii][ii]
I applaud the work of this organization to build friendship between faiths and cultures. Just as the world stood in the shadow of war a century ago, so we stand now in the shadow of 9/11. The times are different, but the challenge is the same—to step forward and find the pathway of peace. As a fellow lover, I join you on this anniversary of Peace in standing in solidarity for a better world. May we build our friendship together and find more ways to walk together and more fully realize the divine gift that we are to each other.
The Reverend Jeffrey Austin Ross
Rector, Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church
[iii][i] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 833.
[iv][ii] Naini, Majid, The Mysteries of the Universe and Rumi’s Discoveries on the Majestic Path of Love.