This past weekend, two colleagues and I were privileged to participate in the 24 Hour Interfaith Chant for Peace at the Great Vow Zen Monastery, in Clatskanie, Oregon, just south of Seattle. Each of the hours is led by a different spiritual tradition, and we were there to represent the Gregorian Chant tradition.
Great Vow summarizes this annual event as follows:
As the world continues to struggle with great changes to our society, environment, and economy, finding the place within ourselves that is always at peace is crucial. Chanting is one way to direct our bodies, hearts, and minds with our highest spiritual aspirations and touch the compassion of our hearts.
During the 24 Hour Interfaith Chant for Peace we come together to appreciate each tradition’s unique expression of the universal desire to be free from violence, hatred, and suffering. We form one community and join our voices together, beginning to cultivate the peace and understanding that is so desperately needed in the world.
Beginning at noon on Saturday, we chanted for peace. Sometimes just one mantra, sometimes complex and foreign litanies, but always with a fervent desire to be a force for meaningful change in the world through our intentions. We came from all places and all backgrounds. Our ages were as diverse as our traditions, yet there was something so ineffably meaningful that bonded us as one.
My colleagues and I sang at the 11am hour on Sunday. We set our intention, breathed deeply, and then sounded ‘Ave Maria’. People of all faiths, all traditions and all backgrounds ceased dancing as the sound of the Dakota drums faded. They turned to their meditation mats, invited by the sound of Maria, however they understood her. Crossed legged, lotus position, hands facing up asking to receive her blessing. Who was she to them? What was their relationship to Mary? What did they see in her? These questions gently floated in my mind as we chanted.
Gratia plena, full of grace. What is the grace they sought? Did we understand the same grace? They came seeking and they found divine assistance, simply because we are. Mary, so full of God’s light, shined the undimmed light upon us as we sang her sacred name.
Dominus te cum, the Lord is with you. The Lord, God, Almighty, the Presence, Allah, the Divine Presence…something that we experienced as connectedness with one another was with us, and was us. It was with her, and as we came into contact with her divine energy, we came into contact with her source, the original source. Mary was with us; but, just as surely, the Lord.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus, blessed are you among women. Did we all feel a bit of our own blessedness as we marveled upon hers? Did some even know what they were singing? These words were in Latin after all. It seemed to not matter, as the words became a vehicle to take us. Where? Was it into her embrace? What did she want to tell us?
Et benedictus fructus ventris tui…and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Blessed be your creation, the Savior that grows inside of your womb. So humble to accept such a weight and bear a savior who would, one day Himself, bear the weight of this world. What were we bearing? What had we brought to the chant, or what had this chant brought to us? What will be the fruits of our lives? How could we bear love to this world?
We were all different faiths. There were Sufis, Hindus, Buddhists, and those who claimed nothing except a desire to love and to do what is right. But for these moments, we were all children embraced in the loving arms of a mother. Some wept. Some sat, eyes closed. Others still chanted, eyes open, smiling from within at knowing such a love.
We sang ceaselessly, with great tenderness, yet with intense passion. After some time, we began to come back. We chanted ‘Ave Maria, Ave Maria, Ave Maria.’ We faded more and we chanted ‘Maria, Maria, Maria…’ We whispered her name, and then sat in silence in her presence, intimately connected as we, in silence, beheld our mother.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me (you). Amen.