209…one at a time

Paper cranes 209My one thousand paper cranes for peace have been a journey through this month of May. I have made 209 so far.

One at a time.

I started with two sheets of prayer-printed pages from my church, West Hills in Omaha. My friend and colleague on staff here, our Mission director Caitlin O’Hare, publishes prayers of our mission partners each quarter. When my friend Mark Borst was here visiting in March, he saw our wall of crosses in the reception area and told me about the paper cranes that carry prayers heavenward in the sanctuary at Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.

Connectivity being one of my strengths as measured by the Clifton Strength Finder assessment, I connected the two. All those prayer booklets…what do we do with them every quarter when the new come?

Paper cranes, of course!

After folding three of them with that paper, I decided to order 500 sheets of 8″x8″ origami paper from Amazon. Beautiful colors. Lighter weight. Easier to fold and to be held by a delicate nylon string.

I am now a master folder of paper cranes. Stop by my office and see the 209 flying here and I will fold one for you with the prayer of my heart for this project:

Paper cranes dona nobis pacemDona nobis pacem. Grant us peace.

These first 209 are a reflection of the places I have traveled in the last five years with The Outreach Foundation. They are photographic memories developed onto the pages of my heart of the people who live there, the people who love there, the people who are loved there by an amazing God who made us all. Each one. In his image.

And all these God-imaged people are suffering now, as they have suffered in the past. War is a journey no one should have to take.

But at the end of it should come peace. In the midst of it, they seek peace.

And that is what I pray for.

As I have folded these cranes and prayed over them in the process of folding and stringing and hanging, it has renewed my spirit to know that God hears every one of them.

And as I have continued to watch the news, I have found more to pray for, as if I didn’t have enough already. And some of those stories just emphasize that God hears those prayers. They seem to me to be answers for the peace I pray for.

You can read about Karim Wasfi, a cello player in the orchestra in Baghdad, who plays in the aftermath of a car bombing in his city.

A prayer crane for Karim. Dona nobis pacem.

You can read about Zahed Haftlang and Najad Aboud, two former combatants in the Iraq-Iran war who are now friends as they live in Canada. And on the battlefield one said of the other, “He became a human being, not an enemy.”

A prayer crane for these brothers. Dona nobis pacem.

And there is a prayer crane for Hope Came Down, in the prayer and the hope that people will watch it and be moved to send their monetary gifts to a place that is bringing hope and encouragement to those who are suffering.

A prayer crane for Hope Came Down, and others for the scriptures that inspired it, John 1:14 and Hebrews 11:1.

Dona nobis pacem…prayer by prayer…crane by crane.

One at a time.


Dona nobis pacem

Paper cranes in vitroI have very faint memories of the Roman Catholic mass being said in Latin from when I was very young. I remember mouthing what I thought were actual words, although they meant nothing to me, and thinking that I was an active participant in the mass like my sisters and brothers and parents, next to me in the pew. When I investigate now when the change from Latin to English happened, it began in 1964, right before I turned six. Mostly I just remember mass in English.

So my Latin was non-existent through most of my life, if I had ever even known any!

At Girl Scout camp in 1970, I learned this beautiful song sung as a round. It went like this:

Dona…nobis…pacem, pacem. Dona…nobis…pacem.

I didn’t know it was Latin; I only knew when four groups of girls’ voices sang it in offsetting phrases to make the round, it sounded like angels.

Years later when Jana and I attended one of our annual Lobby Day gatherings with Bread for the World, a wonderful singer named Beth Nielsen Chapman sang the blessing at a large banquet. Fascinated with the song she sang, There’s a Light, when I returned home I bought her CD called simply Hymns. There were great songs from my RC childhood that we sang in church. And there was this:

Dona…nobis…pacem, pacem.

She laid down all the tracks, so the round was recreated with her beautiful voice filling out the angel chorus. As it went straight to my heart and triggered that memory of camp and singing and angel choirs, it made me want to know more.

So all those years later, I finally looked up what those Latin words mean.

Dona nobis pacem…grant us peace.

Grant us peace.

Paper cranesAnd that has been my prayer ever since in the midst of family upheavals and tragedies, in the midst of transitions at church, and of course, in my journeys into the deep waters of a relationship with God in the Middle East.

Dona nobis pacem. Grant us peace.

And as I have delved into this old Latin phrase from my childhood, I have reconnected it to the beginning of that part of the mass:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Not only does this prayer in an ancient language remind me of the generations of people who prayed it in community before I was conceived and born, but it reminds me to whom I am asking this request. It is a prayer to the Jesus who knows suffering because he experienced it. Because of his great mercy, he redeems us and wipes our slates clean. And we know this, and I know this. And so we come to his feet and ask him: have mercy on us. Grant us peace.

And he can. And he will. And he does.

And I know this because I have seen it in Lebanon and in Syria and in Iraq. I have witnessed those living this suffering even now as they are put upon by forces and evil that would wipe them out.

And they stay. And they pray in ancient languages: in Syriac, in Latin, in Arabic.

Grant us peace.

Dona nobis pacem.

Their prayers take flight and arise heavenward to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

And mine join with theirs in this upward trajectory.

Prayers, like birds on the wing, flying to the throne room of the Lamb of God.

Paper cranes Shaheen TomehAnd because the Clifton Strength Finders tells me that one of my top five strengths is connectivity, I have connected my journeys with the faithful of the Middle East to my prayers of peace for them to this visible expression of those prayers in origami cranes.

The legend of the one thousand paper cranes comes from Japan, and is especially poignant when you read of a young girl who was poisoned with radiation from the bombing of Hiroshima. Folding one thousand paper cranes is supposed to bring you luck or a wish granted. She was hoping for healing of her cancer, which didn’t come to her. She was not healed, but maybe one day her wish will be granted in another way: maybe nuclear weapons will be eliminated so the threat of cancers and destruction caused by them will be wiped out. Maybe. Maybe there will be peace.

Paper cranes prayers ascendingI have folded 96 so far on my journey to one thousand. On each one is written the name of a person, or a place, or a piece of scripture, or the words of a hymn, or simply the word peace in any language I can find. As I fold each one my simple prayer of peace is attached to each one in the motions of making the crane.

The prayers are repeated and joined as I string them on nylon thread, separated by beads. It reminds me of the act of praying the rosary.

The prayers are repeated again as I hang the strings of cranes in my office near my map of the world – God’s creation – where this peace is so needed.

Every day as I enter my office, I have this visual reminder and expression of those silent prayers. And it gets larger every day with another crane, ten more cranes; another string; five more strings. And one day it will reach one thousand.

My wish – my prayer! – in folding these cranes is simply this:

Dona nobis pacem…grant us peace.

Grant peace to the people of Syria, whose war has dragged on for over four years.

Dona nobis pacem.

Paper cranes Micah 6 8Grant peace to the people of Iraq, whose troubles and war run on unabated since our country’s terrible decision to invade in 2003.

Dona nobis pacem.

Grant peace to the people of Lebanon, a country that becomes a proxy and pawn for the evil ideas of others; a small country that has borne a heavy burden from these other two wars as they are overrun with refugees.

Dona nobis pacem.

Grant peace to the pastors and churches and their congregations who stay and serve and minister in the midst of extremist attacks and destruction and death.

Dona nobis pacem.

Grant peace to those who have lost everything and are searching for new homes.

Dona nobis pacem.

Grant peace to your world, Lamb of God. Let us know your peace which surpasses all understanding.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Dona nobis pacem.