Dona nobis pacem: rest stops

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.

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A panoramic view of Memorial Park facing west from the path.

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The grotto at Elmwood Park with its natural spring running through the channel.

“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.

IMG_2007There 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.

IMG_2011This 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)

Song

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:

Precious cornerstone,
Sure foundation
You are faithful to the end.
We are waiting on you, Jesus
We believe you’re all to us.

sounding stone brokenness

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.

St Margaret Mary's PeaceAnd 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.”

St Margaret Mary's St FrancisShalom.

Salam.

Pace.

Paz.

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.

Amen.

 

 

 

Sounding Stones

sounding stones panoramaI took a walk on a beautiful day in Omaha this past Sunday. On days like that, I just set out and let my feet go where they will, and on this day, they took me south toward Elmwood Park and the Sounding Stones.

This five-piece concrete sculpture was moved to this corner of the park along Dodge Street several years ago from another park about two miles east. A new development in midtown called for changes to Turner Park and so the sculpture was carefully packed up and moved west. There was quite a bit of resistance to this move by folks in my neighborhood. “That’s art? It’s ugly!” The NIMBY crowed was vocal, but city officials were unmoved and the Sounding Stones arrived.

Personally, I like them. I drive by them daily on my way home, and now several years later, they are a part of the landscape.

So Sunday, my feet took me along the path where they sit and for the very first time I saw them up close.

sounding stone brokenness sounding stone submission

sounding stone humility     sounding stone simplicity

sounding stone communityThese are the sounding stones. Five values or attributes, five nouns that describe my life of faith. And amazingly, when I went home to search out the story of this sculpture, this is what I found in artist Leslie Iwai’s own words:

“The location of these stones in Omaha – a city in the middle of our nation – is important. Soundings are taken in the middle of a body of water to measure its depth. Likewise, in taking the ‘soundings’ of our community, we measure its depth. The open core of each stone is to be a place for crying out. God purposes for all people to break complacency and praise Him. But even, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’ (Luke 19:40),” Iwai wrote in her artist statement about the work. (Wayne State College Magazine, Summer, 2006 issue)

I don’t know what the depth of faith is in the middle of my city of Omaha, but on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the middle of Omaha, I lay down in the hollow of that first stone labeled “brokenness” and knew that the depth of my faith starts there, in the brokenness of my life. Loss of my mother at age 7. The child abuse of my siblings by an evil stepmother. My sisters’ near life-ending car/train collision. My brother’s HIV diagnosis. The death of my father from renal failure. The rape and murder of my baby sister.

All those broken parts of my heart have brought me closer to the one who can heal.

And I wondered where the stone of brokenness would take me on that path and so I left that hollow in the middle of brokenness and walked on. I found myself looking upon humility and submission; I found myself at the foot of the cross where I kneel in obedience to a Lord whose blood was poured out for me and for all of us. Humbly. Gratefully.

And then I wandered on to simplicity, because it is so simple. He takes it all away: the loss, the pain, the horror, the fear, leaving just me, the Julie he created me to be. He is all I need and all I want.

And just when I think there is no more, he leads me down the path to community. He has shown me his body – the global church – and connected me into something so much bigger than I could ever imagine.

A depth sounding in the middle of Omaha, landlocked in the middle of the USA, on the staple of the map.

But even as I lingered at community, I thought how each of those stones has become more real to me as I have traveled far from the staple of this map to the places where human sounding stones have fleshed out the depth of faith for me in the past five years.

I thought of the brokenness of Syria and Iraq. I saw the humility of people who have lost everything and yet serve their neighbors who have lost even more. I saw the simplicity of life lived without stuff, yet lived in joy because of their love for a God who holds them and comforts them in their losses. I have seen the obedient submission of those who stay where they have have been planted and grown deep roots, to continue to share the good news in a place that needs to hear it more than ever. I have seen the community of orthodox and catholic and protestant come together as one family and love their Muslim and Yazidi neighbors who are also broken.

My friend Marilyn is currently in Iraq sending back stories of this faithful community of God’s living stones, and two lines in her recent emails struck me as I ponder these five sounding stones standing in my park nine time zones to her west:

  • “Do not cry for us—we have may have lost everything, but we still have Jesus.” – A woman driven from Mosul by ISIS, now living in a tiny space in a former Sunday school room of a church in the safer northeast
  • “how strange that we (Muslims) try to kill you (Christians) and you help us anyway.” -shared by an elder of the church in Kirkuk

As Marilyn added, “What a powerful testimony to the of sharing Christ’s love and of God bringing good out of evil!”

They are the living stones who cry out in thanksgiving and praise for the one who made them and saved them and loves them still.

And from the depth of my heart and soul, I cry out in thanksgiving and praise to him along with them.

And pray for his peace to descend on us all.