Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dona nobis pacem

or That of God


It is easy to be at peace when the world is still.  Easy, on a golden day in an unusually warm autumn, nestled into the shelter of the garden.  The leaves aren't particularly vivid this year, but their colors are warm—sienna and ocher, earth tones that soothe rather than dazzle.  Occasionally a leaf falls, riding a light current of air before landing, beached, among its drifted kin.  Sir Marley snuggles up to the west-facing garden wall.  Although the house shades the wall by mid-afternoon, it still breathes out a gentle warmth until dusk.  The cat's front paws curl underneath him; he blinks contentedly at nothing.  For some reason the way he looks off into the distance makes me think of a haiku, a poem whose simple words gesture toward something beyond them in the silence.


The Quakers—or Friends, as they prefer to be called—cherish silence deeply.  In the Friends' view, it is by centering down into quietness, by listening for the still, small voice, that we become attuned to the ways of God.

I considered myself a Friend for several years, but lately I haven't been so sure.  I wonder whether my reticence isn't really a form of rebellion against silence in general.  I may have come to value the quietness that illness has forced upon me, but to seek out more of it when what I really crave is a little noise and bustle and excitement—at this point, it's not happening.  So these observations are not coming from someone for whom "way has opened" (as they—we?— say) into peace, or from a "weighty" Friend of measured wisdom and clarity of insight.  They're just things I'm pondering and offer in a spirit of sharing.

George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, wrote to his followers from prison in 1656, encouraging them to "walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone." Modern Friends still hold this saying dear, perhaps because it reaches out wide in an age when the world has grown small, when radically different cultures and beliefs bump shoulders in uneasy proximity.

That of God.

At its simplest and broadest, perhaps, the phrase refers to the urge toward goodness, to those actions that partake of love or joy; peace, patience, kindness; gentleness; maturity.  To answer that of God in those around you—to respond to the goodness in them, to speak to what is admirable in them—is to base every action on kinship, on respect.  It is to be generous in giving the benefit of the doubt.

The point of listening in silence for the still, small voice that lies beyond you is to learn to recognize its sound, to know its distinctive timbre even in the midst of noise and activity; to hear the voice of God speaking through a person's life, even when that person differs from you.  Then one can answer in kind.


Today, November 4, 2010, marks the seventh BlogBlast for Peace from MimiWrites—a day when bloggers from around the world all post on the topic of peace. It comes hard on the heels of a more than ordinarily acrimonious election here in the USA, and as I write I find myself thinking less about peace between nations than about peace between neighbors—because frankly, peace among nations seems like the more accessible goal right now.  I have never seen people with so much in common so divided, so entrenched in fear and egotism (why do the two so often go together?), so eager to insult and smear and slam doors, so loathe to engage in discussion, so unwilling to bridge differences. 

The BlogBlast's theme is "Dona nobis pacem"—grant us peace.  I can't say the words without also hearing the round we sang many years ago in high school choir.  I don't normally wax rhapsodic about high school, but experience has taught me what an extraordinary ensemble that choir really was.  Our director had a gift for awakening talent and enthusiasm and for bringing out his singers' best efforts, but he especially had a gift for uniting us that I didn't realize was rare at the time.  While I can remember some petty squabbles and hurt feelings and teenage angst behind the scenes, I don't recall any of the poison and backbiting and spite that can often destroy a group from within.  All of that was checked at the choir room door, because once we started rehearsal, we were there to make music.  Our director filled us with that vision.  He showed us something beyond ourselves.  He taught us to listen to one another for balance and blend, to watch each other's breathing, to pool our resources in a common endeavor.  We respected the different gifts we each brought to the table. 

Our worlds were noisy, full of internal and external commotion, with big and little egos, rank immaturity, raging hormones, and problems of all kinds that loomed over our inexperienced heads.  Yet when we sang "Dona nobis pacem" and our words asked for peace, all along we were engaged in the process of making peace.  We looked beyond ourselves, we listened to each other, we worked together.  I can't help thinking now that what we really did was to answer to that of God in one another.

So yes, dona nobis pacem.  May we have peace, may we be given that grace from beyond us that somehow, miraculously, makes the unlikely all work out.  But in the meantime, let us go make peace, even amid the noise and clamor of a sound-byte world that pits neighbor against neighbor.

Walk cheerfully over the world, my friends, answering that of God in everyone.


  1. Found you from the Dona Nobis Pacem. I love your site. I’m going to poke around a little bit, but don’t worry I’ll put everything back where I found it!!

  2. Do you know the blog - Walking Nature Home? Susan also has quaker roots. Writes interesting books. And has a flourishing organic garden on reclaimed industrial land, with some serious indigenous,native planting as well.

  3. This is SO beautifully written. Thank you for such an inspirational offering - and for the way you walk in the world. You are Being Peace while everyone is writing about it. I will be back to visit. Your words about gratitude, quietness and friendship really resonate with me. I loved reading every word you wrote.

  4. Oh wow, I just saw, on the right, that you have chronic fatigue and fibro. I do too.......I'll be back to visit, am going thru all the peace posts right now:)

  5. These are thoughtful words. I have no roots in religion. My own spirituality has little to do with deity. But I recognize some of our common values in your words.

    I wish you the noisy peace your spirit craves.

  6. Kate, thanks for stopping by. Make yourself at home, and don't mind the dust bunnies under the furniture!

    Walk in the Woods, glad to have you here. Peace to you as well.

    klbrowser, I'm so glad you joined me in this!

    EE, yes, I encountered Susan's blog a little while ago and really love it. The last month or so has been a little discombobulated, but I'm looking forward to reading more of her work as things calm down.

    Sherry Blue Sky, thank you! What kind and lovely words. I enjoyed my visit to your blog as well, with your beautiful photos of the river! Please do come back—it sounds like we have much in common.

    Travis, thank you for your comments and kind wishes. I'm glad you were able to see the common values—I spoke in my own spiritual native language and am glad you were willing to translate it into your own.

  7. :-D This brought a smile to me...especially when you speak of your choir teacher and how he brought you all together. It reminded me of what I said in my post about Mimi Lenox!

    Wishing you and yours every happiness, and peace x

  8. Stacey, this is a great post, or posts, I should say. I've not kept up reading blogs due to various reasons and am so glad I've stopped in today.
    I hear your soul and your doubts and there is much room in the Spirit for them to be honored. Thank you for sharing your honesty..I find that I used to refer (and still do often) about my life of faith as a journey. A journey some how has a destination, and so these days, I catch myself calling it a pilgrimage-to be open to what the Holy Spirit has for me. I think perhaps God is more interested in us and our heart attitudes than the labels, such as 'Quaker' that we take on along the way. You have a beautiful heart attitude. All manner of things will be well.
    Jan Lyn

  9. Annelisa, thank you for visiting and for commenting! I see that we are both Elvis-lovers and rejoice. Blessings to you and yours.

    Jan Lyn, your words mean so much to me. I find that Quakers, perhaps more than most, are aware of identity, maybe because Quaker identity stands so far apart from the world's values. I'm hesitant to take on the label because I don't feel like I can do so honestly, even though the Friends' values resonate so powerfully with mine. Thank you for reminding me how irrelevant the label is compared with the pilgrimage toward the Light. —Stacy

  10. "To answer that of God in those around you—to respond to the goodness in them, to speak to what is admirable in them—is to base every action on kinship, on respect. It is to be generous in giving the benefit of the doubt."

    Beautiful concept. You wrote so eloquently.
    I loved your muse among the Quakers and the Latin. Rarely do folks write on the actual song on Dona Nobis Pacem day. Thank you for doing so!

    Thank you for joining us today.
    You are #1873 in The Official Gallery at

    Peace to you and yours,

  11. Mimi, thank you for your comment. Quakers talk often about peace and consider it a bedrock testimony, but I haven't always stopped to think about what it means, or about how to engage in peace in daily life—how peacefulness might be different than mere "niceness." Thank you for your work in creating the BlogBlast—it's been a real opportunity to think.

  12. Your peace post is now linked in my blog: Peace Bloggers Unite