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.

 

 

 

Shoveling with St. Francis

Pine tree with bent topWinter arrived in Omaha this week. We don’t have as much snow as Buffalo or Boston or Bangor, but we have what I consider to be our share. It came on Saturday, canceling church on Sunday, and it came again today, Wednesday, causing another snow day.

It came mostly today after Steve left for work, and if I was going to get out I would have to shovel. My small snowblower is busted and Steve’s is too big for me to handle, so the shovel would have to be my tool.

I was facing another 4” in our lengthy driveway, and thought if I could just shovel the top part I could make it out to the office.

Wrong.

Two hours later I am back in the living room, boots off, jean bottoms soggy with melting snow and a pulled muscle in my left arm. No getting out today.

And the thing is, I went out to do the task in the darkest of moods. More snow? Sheesh! Can’t winter which just arrived on Saturday be over already?

When it was just Jana and me on Chicago Street, we had an equally long driveway, front stoop and stairs and miles of sidewalk to clear as we lived on a corner. And once my dad got that snowblower for me, I would head out and clear it all, even doing the whole west sidewalk to the next block! Steve and I have made a great team here on Happy Hollow Boulevard with our his-and-hers snowblowers, but mine is twenty years old and out of commission. I knew the shoveling would be hard, and it was. I am older now and don’t have the strength. My weakness makes me mad and grumbly.

So I knew it would be rough, but amazingly, there was this blessing of quiet time where all the cares of the world just rolled off my shoulders.

Without the noise of the gas engine turning the turbine of the blower, there was the sound of the wind in the pine trees, which reach to the sky. And the sky was this beautiful shade of pale grey blue as the clouds were dissipating. The sound of the wind in those tall graceful trees was like music.

And that’s when I realized there was music, too.

“All creatures of our God and king. Lift up your voice and with us sing. Alleluia! Alleluia!”

Dundee Church towerThe carillon at Dundee Presbyterian Church was playing this wonderful old hymn, written by my favorite saint, Francis.

“Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!”

And I just sang along as I shoveled, the trees keeping a rhythm with the gentle blowing of the wind. It was a moment of worship. And I took the time to pray a prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving for turning my grumbling heart to joyful praise.

I came inside, arm hurting, soggy jeans and all, to look up the story of St. Francis’ glorious hymn. And what I discovered is that he was paraphrasing Psalm 148, which begins this way:

Praise the Lord!
 Praise the Lord from the heavens; 
praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels;
 praise him, all his host!

And down a bit further in verses 7 and 8, after the psalmist has exhorted sun and moon and stars and so much of the rest of creation to praise God, he says this:

Praise the Lord from the earth,
 you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Snow and frost and stormy wind: Praise the Lord!

Julie B. with pulled muscle and soggy jeans: Praise the Lord!

How could I not? And so I do!

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Amen.