H.W.S. Cleveland was a landscape architect of the 19th century, and as I have been walking through my own neighborhood these past two months, I have come to appreciate how he helped my city develop some beautiful parks.
I live on Happy Hollow Boulevard, part of the system of city streets that were planned to link the Omaha parks together. Happy Hollow winds beautifully along two of the bests parks in Omaha: Elmwood and Memorial. And in my daily steps along the sidewalks and paths, I have come to find rest stops for my journey.
“He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake…” goes the 23rd Psalm. Beside still waters. Green pastures. All these things are in this amazing section of Omaha that I find myself wandering through.
As I think about my friends in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, or my family in crisis, walking has become a prayer time for me as I put one foot in front of the other, and doing it in green pastures with still waters and carefully planted trees and flower beds, is a reminder that this God who made and loves us all, is there with me at each step.
Between the two parks is my college alma mater, the University of Nebraska – Omaha. As I walk through the campus, I have found other places that also remind me of how God has unique ways of encouraging me on this daily journey as I seek his pace, his peace.
There is the Castle of Perseverance, an outdoor amphitheater designed by Andrew Leicester of Minneapolis. I came upon it one day several weeks back as I chugged uphill from the College of Fine Arts, and the first thing I saw was this: the word peace on a missile-shaped sculpture. I followed the semi-circle around and found justice, mercy and truth to complete the set. “Act justly. Love tenderly. Walk humbly.” My six-word reminder from Micah 6:8 was echoing through my head.
This place also brings Romans chapter 5 to my mind, a scripture shared at my father’s memorial service and one that speaks to my heart about the church in the Middle East that I have been humbled to walk with:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 NIV)
Suffering, perseverance, character, hope. Steps on the journey of the family of God in Syria, even as I write this. Never have I seen a people who model hope in such times of suffering.
Or walking south through campus as I approach the east side of the soccer stadium I found “Song,” another art piece, many of which are sprinkled around this urban campus. With my earbuds bringing “All to Us” by Chris Tomlin into my head and heart, all I can do is sing aloud, just like the little bird:
You are faithful to the end.
We are waiting on you, Jesus
We believe you’re all to us.
Walking down the hill and into Elmwood Park, past students scurrying up the hill to class, I come up the east side of the park and find the Sounding Stones, which I’ve written about before, Sounding Stones. Brokenness. Humility. Submission. Simplicity. Community. Each of those is part of our journey, my journey. And each one invites a prayer. My prayers for peace – dona nobis pacem – are so centered in that stone of brokenness these days.
And if these special rest stops on the journey don’t invite me into peaceful places (which they do), there is yet another spot I can wander between the two parks. Saint Margaret Mary’s Catholic Church stands facing the university from the north side of Dodge Street, right next to Memorial Park. If the words carved into its entryway aren’t enough to remind me of God’s peace, the sweet statue of my favorite saint, Francis of Assisi, is there, too. And though the words on his statue there are the canticle of Brother Sun, the ones he is speaking to me are, “make me a channel of your peace.”
Whatever language the word is spoken in, I want to be a conduit of peace. Let my words speak it. Let my actions be its witness. And I am so grateful for these reminders in these rest stops along the way – in green valleys, in still waters, in righteous paths.
Dona nobis pacem.