It was good to be there and good to be home as well. England, that is. I had the opportunity to travel with young singers from our choirs at Christ Church Greenwich just a couple of weeks ago. It was wonderful -- great music (they even let me sing as one of the adult musicians!), abundant learning and delightful community life.
I am always thankful for the many singers of all ages who give of their time and talent at Christ Church, and I am particularly aware of my appreciation and thanksgiving when I get a full immersion of the musical experience and its excellence.
We were in Britain while something of great international significance was occurring all around us: the Olympics. There was a great deal of excitement in England and, indeed, throughout the world as outstanding athletes gathered for these historic games. We remembered these events and those athletes in our prayers in the great churches in which we were singing.
This was a meaningful and poignant combination.
The Olympics were all around us every day. Of course, I was aware of the competition and the athletic accomplishment in this noble tradition. There was another dimension of Olympic heritage that also captured my attention and imagination. In the ancient games, an "Olympics Truce" was observed whenever the games occurred. During that period, war and conflicts came to an end. People were assured of safety in passage to and from the games. Irenic spirit became the dominant force that went hand in hand with athletic excellence.
I have come to understand that part of the revival of the Olympics in modern times was generated by this same desire for peace. Those individuals and nations that worked to re-launch an Olympic tradition in the modern world wanted it to represent peace and international respect and understanding as much as athletic accomplishment. That was evident in many of the English churches I entered while the games were going on last month. People were in the midst of a prayer pattern seeking 100 Days of Peace in our conflict-ridden world in relationship to the nations gathered together for the Olympic Games.
I prayed diligently and continue that prayer now that I am home. Oh, I am thankful for excellence, and part of my British sojourn made me aware of the excellence offered by athletes and musicians, too.
But, I am also keenly aware that we must have peace if art, athletics and humanity itself will thrive. The traditions of faith call for peace. Just read the Scriptures of the Jewish and Christian faiths and you will find such an emphasis on the call for peace and reconciliation as gifts from God and as utter and absolute necessities for human life.
To think that the same hope for peace was also present in the emergence of the Western civilization in ancient Greece causes pause. Here was a world in which there was much war, and warriors were held in mythic regard. Yet, they knew that when the tribes and nations gathered together there needed to be a cessation of hostility, safety and respect for everyone, and the expression of peace and new beginnings.
I know that I am more aware of the gift and call of peace. Peace is of God -- whether it is peace in the world, peace in a nation, peace in a local community or peace in the human soul. There is too much violence and hostility in the earth and in the human spirit. But that can be overcome by the "peace of God that passes human understanding," as the Christian Scriptures puts it, or by the promise of "Shalom/peace to those far off and those who are near," as the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah proclaims it, or even by a time of truce in the world, as the ancient Greeks observed it.
What a precious, precious thing, peace. May it be yours. May it be ours. May we work and strive for it in our world, in our homes and in ourselves.
The Rev. Dr. James B. Lemler is Rector of Christ Church Greenwich. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.