Dona Nobis Pacem – 6/12/2011

The beautiful piece of music we just heard, an arrangement of the traditional Roman Catholic mass in Latin, closes with one final request. ‘Dona nobis pacem,’ – ‘give us peace.’ It is a prayer whose sentiments can be found in many other traditions. The Mourner’s Kaddish, one of the most central components of Jewish liturgy contains the lines, “ʻoseh shalom bimromav, hu yaʻase shalom ʻalenu” – “May the One who makes peace in the high places, grant peace for us.” And in the five daily prayers observed in Islam, we find the words, “Assalamu ‘alayna wa ‘ala ‘ibadil lahis salihin,” which means, “May God’s peace be upon us and upon all who pray.”

The hunger and the hope for peace is a common yearning in the human heart, and its expression can be found in the poetry of nearly every faith. And yet, despite the petitions of thousands of years of prayer, we human beings continue to find reasons to wage war. As Unitarian Universalists, our shared covenant includes The goal of world community, with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Following that goal means more than basic kindness or abstaining from violence ourselves. It requires of us something much more deeply active and personal.

Several years ago, during the Bosnian civil war, there was a bombing outside a bakery in Sarajevo. 22 people were killed for no particular reason other than their desire to buy bread. These are the sorts of things that happen in the waging of wars; there is no saying for certain who will die from them.

In Sarajevo, after that bombing, there was a musician, a cellist, who made a personal, active response to the tragedy and the ongoing horror of war. For the next 22 days, Vedran Sailovic went to the square where the bomb had gone off, and he played his cello. It was a defiant act; the city was under siege and to be out in public was a constant danger. To honor the dead with his music, Vedran put his body in harm’s way.

He survived the war, and the image of a classical cellist in fine clothes sitting on a burnt chair beside a bombed-out building, playing beautiful music – that picture traveled all over the world. It inspired other people to make music; similar acts of protest and solidarity were carried out by other musicians in other cities. It even set a young boy in Indiana to raising money for a memorial to those 22 people. Vedran could never have expected to influence the particular people that he did, the first day he showed up at the broken bread shop with his cello. These are the sorts of things that happen in the waging of peace; there is no saying for certain who will learn from us.

In an imperfect world, torn by injustice and strife, and in a nation at war, let our songs and our prayers cry out for peace. But let it not end there. Each of us has it within us to answer those same prayers as well. Not to change everything on our own, but to change many things, together. Let us listen for the music of life, and stirred by its strains, let us use what we have to change our world for the better.


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