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Group gathers in Tempe for peace

By Lawn Griffiths, East Valley Tribune

It was 5 a.m., dark and chilly in south Tempe, and most folks would be sleeping in because it was New Year’s Eve, the designated workers’ holiday.

But about 50 people gathered at Unity of Divine Love for the 19th annual World Peace Meditation — an interfaith tradition on the last day of each beleaguered year. They were trying to get a jump-start at praying that the next year would see a breakthrough for peace and global understanding.

At that same moment, in all 24 time zones of the planet, people of many religious faiths were spending an hour in interfaith prayer for peace, often speaking with unbridled idealism. Participants hoped such massive, simultaneous prayer would create "one vibration" to God.

It had to start at 5 a.m. because Mountain Standard Time is the seventh time zone west of Greenwich Mean Time in England, where the meditation was starting at noon. Throughout the hour, lofty words for peace resonated in each speaker’s remarks.

"Lead us from darkness to light, lead us from death to immortality. Let there be peace, peace," said N.V. "Shama" Shamasundar, speaking for the Hindu religion at the service, sponsored by the Arizona Interfaith Movement.

"We have been chosen to be the ones to leverage for peace," said the Rev. Kyra Baehr, pastor of Unity of Divine Love. "We feel that presence and take it into our every moment, into our everyday lives. We live peace, we live love."

At one point, Wanda and Floyd Land stood and took turns reading the names of 191 nations of the world from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. As they called out the names, the countries and their flags were projected onto an overhead screen, and audience members were implored to hold each nation in their hearts after it was called out.

Willie Kindred of Unity noted a newspaper reporter had written that "what we are doing must not be working. ‘Look at the state of our world today,’ " But Kindred said that after the World Peace Meditation began in 1986, "we saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism as we know it, so prayer is powerful. What we are doing is really working and is very powerful."

A three-member Sikh music ensemble, led by Sat Kartar Kaur Khalsa, sang the late John Lennon’s wistful ballad "Imagine," with its haunting lines, "Imagine there’s no countries; it isn’t hard to do; nothing to kill or die for; no religion, too; imagine all the people; living life in peace. . . . You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. . . ." The group blended that song with Lennon’s "Give Peace a Chance." Later, they weaved chants from 12 faiths into a song called "From One Vibration."

At a lectern declaring, "Many paths, one God," a representative of the Baha’i Faith, Susan Weidner, said it was a "time for people of the spirit to join together and to collaborate to bring about the enlightenment of the world." That starts, she said, with universal education and "the independent investigation of truth so that no one is duped." Prejudices related to both men and women need to end, she said. Weidner said that the concept of peace is "more widely accepted than practiced." She lamented those left widows and women who lose their offspring in hostilities.

"We have contradictions working in the world today: While more and more people are acknowledging a strong desire for peace and harmony," she said, aggression and greed prevail.

Weidner shared the "Prayer for America," first given in 1912 by Abdu’l Baha, the son of the founder of her faith, during Baha’s visit to the United States. ". . . Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees, even as it has aspired to material degrees, and render this just government victorious. Confirm this revered nation to upraise the standard of the oneness and praiseworthy among all the nations of the world. . . . This American nation is worthy of thy favors and is deserving of thy mercy. Make it precious and near to thee through thy bounty and bestowal."

Azra Hussain, a Muslim who is active in the Arizona Interfaith Movement, explained that in her culture, "we are taught that our neighbor is not just someone who lives next door, but people who are 40 houses in any direction for you." That calls for one to be aware of what is going on all around, as well as the world community.

"We believe in justice for all, and through true justice comes peace," she said.

People should embody and live out the true teachings of their individual religions, Hussain said, quoting Islamic scholar Shaykh Muhammad Nazim. In his remarks in 2000 to the United Nations, Nazim said, "To all humanity, I urge you to seek out the essence of your religion, then obey it, as it will be your vehicle to safety," he said. "Obey your Lord, because your Lord and our Lord are one God. If we all obey, as we have been taught, there will be no more suffering, no fighting, no hatred and no killing."

Nazim said servanthood and humility are the keys to achieve unity and contentment for the human race.

In her meditation, Baehr called on people to close their eyes and "turn to that place wherein you find communion with God of our understanding" and to help "anchor peace in our planet — just be an ambassador for peace."

At the end of the service, in which participants were invited to make donations to the victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster in Asia, everyone joined hands and sang the popular peace anthem "Let There Be Peace on Earth," which ends with the line, "and let it begin with me."