What if she said no?

Have you thought about what would have happened if, when approached by Gabriel, Mary would have said “umm…thanks, but no.”

Unthinkable, right? After all, Mary had been specially chosen. Besides, God clearly knew her answer would be yes (or so I’ve always been told); otherwise, God would not have chosen her.

Right?

Hmmm. Maybe not.

In the image of God, male and female, was humanity created – and with free will, to boot. After all, free will had come into play in a big way before (think Abraham, Sarah and Hagar as a good example) and history kind of got rearranged. Eve and Sarah have long been blamed for leading men astray. (Funny how free will gets forgotten there!)

Mary could very well have said “no, thanks, and have a nice day” when Gabriel came to call.

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Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation

Had she said no, would God have given up on this creation of humanity as a sort of failed prototype, feeling that humankind was a little too feisty, a little too uncontrollable? Or had Gabriel been dispatched with a Plan B? Was it a case of “if Miriam says no, then go ask Salome, in the next village, she’s also a good Jewish girl, and hopefully more agreeable than this one” or would it be “well, your loss; we’ll wait a while to proceed with the Messiah business…another millennium or so.”

Mary – indeed, women in general – played a critical part in the Incarnation. Sure, God could have popped out Jesus fully grown in the middle of the Temple one day, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect. God could have said “tough, it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be,” but that wouldn’t jive with God’s gift of free will.

Now, I’ve always felt very strongly that women are called to full inclusiveness in Christian leadership because Jesus was inclusive in His ministry. Some denominations have women in leadership roles; others do not. Those who don’t ordain women count among their chief reasons that 1) Jesus, our Savior, was a man, and 2) Jesus didn’t call women to be apostles.

I’ve touched upon reason #2 before in this blog in writing about Mary Magdalene, Apostle. In my mind, though, the first reason loses all validity when you consider that Mary could have said no.

We do consider Mary to be an integral, necessary part of the Incarnation, don’t we?

If Mary had not agreed, Salvation would have taken a detour. (Unless, of course, the Holy Spirit said “that’s ok, we’ll find another woman.” Ouch.)

Mary’s participation was vital in the redemption of humanity. Jesus died for our sins; Mary gave birth for our sins.

 

Those rascally quanta!

This morning, Fr. Matt delivered a sermon that had several of us standing outside after church talking about it. Now, that happens…but this one really struck a chord. It was on a subject I’ve thought a lot about (and alluded to, just a bit, in previous posts) but it’s so nice to know that I’m not the only one wandering into what I’m calling the “physics of prayer.”

Like most of us, I hung onto my concrete childhood concepts of prayer. Asking God was like asking mom or pop.

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Somewhere in high school, I listened to my inner self that said that prayer could be something more, and could be found throughout everyday life…and of course, my cynical teen self didn’t buy everything from religion class, either. For example, I had never bought the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation. (Perhaps I had an overzealous religion teacher or two. Or three.) And when I heard the my catechism teacher explain that “Jesus could never deny His mother anything, so pray to Mary” I thought that was pretty much along the lines of “if daddy says no, go ask mama.”

As I reached young adulthood and attended a Jesuit university, my concept of prayer expanded to, well, “hanging out with Jesus” and trying to listen to the quiet voice of the Divine. The Zen courses I took at Loyola helped with that (as did my physics and philosophy classes), and partly because of Zen, the book The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav appealed to me. I finally read it in my late 20’s.

dancing wu li

Now, why hadn’t physics been like this in high school and college? The concepts were fascinating, and made actual sense. Yes, on the “macro” scale everything is totally different from the teensy-tiny-itsy-bitsy quantum scale. Those rascally little quanta! Just when you’re not looking, there they go…. but I digress.

Suddenly, the power of prayer and prayerful intention that I’d learned about and tried to practice in some fumbling way started to make some weird sort of sense.

In his sermon today, Fr. Matt spoke of this. He spoke of quantum entanglement. Put simply, quantum entanglement is when two particles interact at some point and then are separated…except that they can never be truly separate again. Their quantum state is such that they can no longer be described separately. It is as though they have a “forever connection,” and that connection is not dependent on space or time. (That’s my 2 cent summary of quantum entanglement; just don’t ask me to do the math.)

quantum formula

No, please do not ask me to do the math.

So what does this have to do with the power of prayer? Well, think about it, because at the very foundation of who and what we are is energy, and we are all “entangled.” Each encounter we have with another human being has an effect, however slight, on our spirit. How can it not?

I remember having this mind-blown feeling when I first learned about quantum entanglement. This meant that intercessory prayer had a legitimate foundation beyond “I don’t know why it works, but it does work.” Here was an explanation for the power of prayer, especially of group prayer and group intention.

My inner cynic/skeptic loved it. For the first time in my life, I realized that Transubstantiation seemed possible. Intention is critical. I’m not going to wander down a rabbit hole of discussion on under what exact circumstances Transubstantiation may actually occur. I’ll use the all-encompassing answer that I learned from the Sisters of Mercy: “It’s a mystery.” (This is why I prefer the explanation that Christ is uniquely present in the Eucharist.) Niels Bohr, one of the fathers of quantum theory, said something along the lines of “all the stuff we think is real is made up of stuff that isn’t real.” That’s not “new age woo-woo,” that’s a Nobel Prize winner. In physics.

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Niels Bohr. (Image from famousscientists.org)

We don’t know exactly how the power and intentionality of prayer connects to quantum mechanics. There’s really no way to measure for this connection, either, unless you subscribe to superdeterminism, a group of theories that says that everything is determinable. Taking the quantum physics thing a step farther, Bell’s theorem says that basically…there’s no way to measure absolute outcomes in this quantum landscape because you can’t know all the variables; in other words, free will. (Take THAT, superdeterminism! It occurs to me that I am skating dangerously close to discussing Predestination and the paradox of free will. Physics, theology…is it really that different?)

Free will. Mystery. (Let’s not forget the Uncertainty Principle.) Starting to sound familiar?

No matter what we pray for, we – and the one(s) being prayed for – are dealing with free will. How do things happen? How are prayers answered? Why do we see those mind-boggling flashes of coincidence that Jung called synchronicity (meaningful coincidence)?

How many times have we been thinking of someone when they called us? How many times have we been reunited in a completely unexpected way with someone we haven’t seen in decades – right after we were thinking about them? I experienced synchronicity just yesterday when, at a luncheon, the keynote speaker used the very same quotation I was planning to use in my summary remarks.

I’ve written of some synchronistic events that clearly had a “God touch” to them. There’s the story of finding Nancy’s lost earring, and another one about finding my singing bowl.  I wrote about the power of joined intention at Pentecost.

I recently picked up another copy of one of the God Winks series by Squire Rushnell. I love his books about synchronistic God-winks. A departed friend, Janette, used to call such synchronicities “cosmic post-it notes.” These are those odd coincidences that let you know you’re on the right track (or gently steer you onto the right track).

christ project

What is the right track? Well, we all have a “Christ project.” (I used to hear it called “God’s plan,” but I really like “Christ project.”) How can I become more fully a part of the Body of Christ? This is my Christ project, and those God-winks are like…well, little cosmic post-it notes that remind me about my Christ project, and remind me what I’m supposed to be doing.

rascal quanta

Somehow, through quantum entanglement and through the ripples of energy sent forth by our actions, thoughts, prayers and love, we get back on track when we wobble. We hold each other up, and help each other out.

Following the terrorist bombing in Brussels last spring, I wrote about the power of prayer. News media was sneering about calls for prayer, but I posited that the need for prayer is real. It always is, and always will be; for through prayer we are entangled with others, and entangled with God, working on our Christ project.

We often use the term “quantum leap” thinking it is a huge jump. Well, it’s actually a miniscule jump on a subatomic level, but it results in a jump from one energy level to another. How does that fit with prayer, with being a part of the Body of Christ, and with our Christ Project?  I’ll leave you to ponder that – that, and the nature of those rascally quanta!

 

Stay grateful, my friends.

Here it is, Thanksgiving Eve, and I’d like to say that I’ve written an insightful, well-thought-out, finely-crafted post on gratitude.

However… an outdoor fire and a margarita called my name. I’m weak, human, and subject to temptation. Instead of writing, I sat around said fire with the margarita, family and friends, and a Sonic hamburger (and mosquitoes).

We’ve much to be grateful for in the simple things.  So instead of writing, I thought I’d just share some photos of just a few of the many everyday things I’m grateful for.

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An evening walk with my dog.

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The August flooding didn’t get bad at all here.

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Planting cane.

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This little guy by my office. Fortunately, he’s not far from home.

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Bird sanctuary at Avery Island, Louisiana.  Yep, I’m 15 minutes away from where they make Tabasco.

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Sugar cane, by home.

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Harvest time, hauling cane to the mill.

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This little fella by my kitchen door. He sings, too.

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A route in Pecan Island, Louisiana.

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Rain for the cane. (Sugar cane fields)

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Sunset seen from my front porch.

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The view on my morning walk to work.

Life is filled with challenges, trials, fearful things, obstacles and broken dreams.  There will always be an unsoothed ache, a hidden hurt, a lost chance.

Thankfully, there will also be more beauty, chances, hope and love in life, in plain sight, waiting for us to grab it, share it, celebrate it.  The choice of where to look is up to us, and I prefer to see the beauty and hope in the world.

Stay grateful, my friends.

Become the prayer for goodness your lips have uttered.

A couple of years ago I wrote about singing at Temple Gates of Prayer in New Iberia, La. There is a small Jewish congregation here, and I have been blessed and honored to sing for their rabbi-led services for some time.  Fall is the season of High Holy Days, which encompass Rosh Hashanah, Shabbat Shuvah and Yom Kippur.

This is a Reform congregation, who uses the New Union Prayerbook.  There are many beautiful prayers within the covers of the regular book as well as Gates of Repentance, used during HHD.

Monday, during the morning service for Rosh Hashanah, these words leapt off the page at me:

“Be among those who cherish truth above ease, and whose prayers are shafts of light in the darkness….Aspire to be loving, compassionate, humane, and hopeful.  Become the prayer for goodness your lips have uttered.” *

Become the prayer for goodness your lips have uttered.

Sounds deceptively simple.  It’s certainly challenging.  I know I am often overwhelmed with day-to-day minutiae, and tend to get onto the “just get-it-done” track.  I’m not rude, cruel, dishonest or treating anyone badly, I’m just…getting things done.  Work. Errands. Housekeeping. Paying bills. Doing laundry. Autopilot.

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Peace window in memory of Jack Wormser, who was a man whose life was his prayer of peace.  Temple Gates of Prayer, New Iberia, LA

The apostle Paul wrote:

Rejoice always, pray continually. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-17

What if we were to become the prayer?  I cannot bring peace to the world, but I can be peaceful.  I may not be able to cure someone, but I can be a healing presence. Kindness towards others – even a smile – can be prayerful.

Intention is the difference.

Now, more than ever, our country and our world are torn by voices of division.  We hear so much about what’s wrong, about oppression, aggression, unfairness, shaming, blaming, hatred.  Individual pain is exploited for political gain, and groups and individuals become game tokens in power plays.  Individuals wonder what can I do?

snail-1

Make a difference.  Even this snail makes tracks.

Do what you can. Be open and aware.  Set an intention for kindness. Show gratitude.  Smile.  Pray continually.

Then, become the prayer for goodness your lips have uttered.

~~~~~~~~ * 1984, Central Conference of American Rabbis: Gates of Repentance: The New Union Prayerbook for the Days of Awe.  P. 187.  (New York)

Singing Bowl 2

I recently wrote about how a singing bowl came into my life.  I’d wanted one for a while, but didn’t really know where to find one, and wanted to choose one “hands on.”  I found the bowl (or rather, it found me) at the Summer NAMM show in Nashville in June.

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This lovely purple Ovation guitar also found me at NAMM, but unlike the bowl, didn’t follow me home.  whew.

The day I found the bowl was a Friday, and the next afternoon we were scheduled to play a concert featuring selections from Women at the Well at Grace Episcopal Church in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. We left the NAMM show  at 6, ate supper and decided to do a quick practice.  We use backing tracks for some songs and had recently decided to switch to using an iPad for tracks, and wanted to make sure everything went smoothly as technology has a tendency to invite gremlins and other “ghosts in the machine.”

One song (without tracks) is titled Our Father, Our Mother. It has sparse instrumentation, is a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer, and is…well, a chant. When I wrote it years ago, it came to me easily and suddenly. I love the song, and love singing it.

We moved quickly through the set, reviewing all songs with tracks first to ensure that the iPad would behave.  So far, so good.

Then, I had an idea.

“Hold on a minute,” I told Bubba, and walked to where the bowl was sitting.  I had just bought it that afternoon, and had been enjoying its tone in a more quiet environment.  I picked up the bowl, struck it, and began singing.

Father, Mother, God, Creator, hallowed be thy name. Upon earth; thy will in heaven, be all things the same….

Bubba joined in on the keyboard.  The bowl was the right pitch for the song.  No wonder this bowl and I got along so well; I was tuned to it. I asked Bubba to keep the keys sparse, and we continued the song.  To my delight, it worked…wow, did it work. What synchronicity!

Grace Episcopal Church, Hopkinsville, KY

Grace Episcopal Church in Hopkinsville, KY

The next day, we packed up the bowl along with our instruments and headed to Kentucky. It was an easy drive, a beautiful day, and a lovely church. Rev. Alice Nichols met us, and made us feel most welcome.  I love older churches.  Not only are they beautiful, one can feel the echos of generations of worship deep in the structure itself.  We set up, and the sound of this handmade, prayer-filled bowl filled the church.

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Setting up.

Even the iPad was still behaving!  We relaxed and took in the sights of this lovely church, which included panels honoring church members who had fought in the First and Second World Wars.  The needlepoint cushions at the communion rail were filled with rich symbolism, and the baptismal font told stories of generations of new lives.

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Some of the needlepoint at Grace Church

The evening began with a Eucharist, and then it was time for the concert.

That was the moment that the iPad officially became an iPest.  Or perhaps an iPain.  The volume control, which had behaved perfectly during all run-throughs and tests, vanished. Well, not vanished, exactly, but the dreaded greyed out.  It was visible, but infuriatingly nonfunctional.

It’s times like this that try the mettle of any musician.  Happily, the congregation could all relate to techno-glitches, and when it comes to technology, we have triple-redundant backup readily available…so we switched to the CD player. (I figured that the iPad would find its wayward volume control by the end of the concert.)

In the meantime, it was the bowl’s debut.  One strike, one tone,  and I began to sing. I could feel the vibrations of bowl and voice.  Later comments indicated that others felt the richness of the bowl in that song as well.

At the end of the concert, sure enough – the iPain worked.  We all shared a good laugh, and then a lovely reception with fellowship and good food.

Grace has a beautiful labyrinth across from the church.  Alice and I had originally discussed the idea of performing at the labyrinth, but it had been too hot (and humid) that day. After packing up instruments and gear, we took some time to walk over and enjoy it.  I took a quick walk, breathing in the aftereffects of the concert’s energy.

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Joshua at the labyrinth

The following day, we packed up and headed south, with a stop at Moony’s Market in Monteagle, Tennessee.  We’d found this delightful health food store / gift and antique and herb / yarn shop on our April visit and performance in nearby Sewanee. Oh, the yarn! Oh, the food! I purchased a small African handbasket – which I later realized was the perfect size for transporting the bowl.  More synchronicity, or at least my subconscious mind at work.

traveling bowl

Ready to travel! And why not? Bowl and basket both have come halfway around the world already!

In addition to bringing me daily beauty and mindfulness, I think this bowl and I are meant to go places and make music together.

Filling in the Gaps

Our church has a small but dedicated choir, but we often  compliments such as “it sounds like the loft is FULL! It sounds like there’s a lot more people singing up there than there is!” It’s a lovely comment, especially as we’re often more of a quartet than a choir.

My friend (and fellow chorister) Margaret recently observed: “I think that God comes in and fills in the empty spaces for us.”

hymnals

We do sing with intention. We want to give our best to God, to our church family, and to Leon (our choir director who brings out the best in us).  I think Margaret got it just right: God does fill in the spaces and magnifies our efforts. God can enlarge what we do if we allow it. Here’s an example from my own musical life:

On December 27, 2011, I lost my hearing in my left ear.  Unable to find any other explanation for this sudden change (I’m meticulous about hearing protection when performing), my doctors figured it was the result of “a virus.”  Over the next year I went through multiple tests, consultations, and listening to well-meaning folks telling me that it might just be wax in my ears, and why didn’t I just have surgery? I clung to hope of a spontaneous return of hearing (it might happen, my doctor said, we have to give it a year).  I resisted the idea of a hearing aid for a while, and then began to look forward to the one year mark when I could begin the process of being fitted for a hearing aid.

That was not to be.  The sensorineural hearing loss I have does not respond to a hearing aid.  Welcome to life in monaural. I cried a river.

I’ve had to adapt.  In the case of Epiphany’s choir, small is a blessing for me.  I’m able to hear and enjoy the other parts without being distracted or confused.  You can’t sing harmony without listening to what else is going on. While that’s not a problem with two working ears, it’s very tricky with only one. Unison singing can be challenging if we’re not all completely unison.  My fellow choir members have become used to my moving around to find just the right spot to stand in the loft so that I can hear. At least solos are easy.

Recording vocal parts requires adjustment, too.  My music partner Joshua and I recently remixed and re-recorded some demos from our Women at the Well program and released a short CD.  A main objective was to re-record vocals and add vocal harmonies on several of the tracks, and there’s where God filled in the blanks.

Adding the harmonies required overdubbing – me singing different lines over myself.  You can’t do that without hearing everything, and hearing everything with only one ear means the brain is  processing some signals differently.  I can’t exactly describe it, but I do know I had to completely re-learn how to manage this.

Since the only budget for this project was earmarked for CD replication, we were recording at Joshua’s house.  The bathroom was the vocal booth.  Contrary to what you may think, that’s not because of “bathroom acoustics” but rather because it was the quietest room in the house. Since a vocal booth needs to be “dead,” we had a lot of blankets and towels draped everywhere!

It’s a pretty funny picture.  I was standing in a tiny bathroom, blankets draped over the shower curtain rod and piled in the bathtub, a big stuffed teddy bear crammed into the closet-without-a-door, scribbled notation taped to the wall in front of me so I’d remember exactly what to sing (what line am I singing now?) and I’m holding one headphone a couple of inches away from my ear so I can hear where to come in – but not so much as to be confusing….In the middle of all of this, a daddy longlegs spider appeared in the corner to watch.

Our budget also doesn’t allow for autotune, so it had to be perfect.

When I heard the final product, I cried with joy and relief.  I’d feared I’d never be able to do this again, yet there it was, beautiful harmonies and all.

One of the first people to hear the final product was our friend Danny, who plays keyboards and sings backup in a world-touring zydeco band.  Danny knows of my hearing loss, and also understands what’s necessary in overdubbing harmony lines.  How did you do that with just one ear?  he asked.  That’s a miracle.

God stepped in to fill in the blanks inside of my head and ears.  A next-to-nothing budget, Joshua’s considerable production skills and a whole lot of Divine assistance gave us a CD we could be proud of, that we could offer to those who heard our Women at the Well program and wanted to revisit the music again and again.

God fills in the empty spaces wherever we allow God to do so.  My hearing loss makes me realize that if I’m going to keep doing what I love, I need God to fill in those empty spaces.

This morning I was fixing my tea and thinking about Margaret’s comment, our “heavenly choir” and how God fills things out for us.  My eyes fell on a mail order catalog that my husband had left open on the kitchen table.  There was a teeshirt that simply said:

God greater than

God is greater than. Can I get an AMEN? God is greater than anything and will fill in the blank spaces when we allow it.

To learn more about the Women at the Well program, visit www.women-at-the-well.com. For information about the Living Water CD, visit www.cdbaby.com/cd/bbontherock The CD page has the latest recordings.

Faith…and Prayers for Lafayette and all of Acadiana

One week ago, a madman opened fire in a theater in Lafayette, La., killing 2 people and injuring others before killing himself. I don’t often use hashtags, but #AcadianaStrong #LafayetteStrong and #PrayforLafayette strikes home because yes, this is home, and people and families from throughout the Acadiana area were deeply affected.  I’ve been to that theater, and have brought my children there over the years as well. AcaianaStrong

The day before the shooting, my daughter and I shared latte and conversation at Johnston Street Java, a coffee shop in the parking lot of the Grand.  I (and everyone I know) share connections to those shot, and we are all shell-shocked, grieving, and wondering why. Reasoning and political posturing (which isn’t always reasonable) fly in the aftermath.  I would like to think we all agree that we want a peaceful society. 

Sometimes, though, I wonder. Do we really, really want a peaceful society?  If the answer is yes, then why do we worship violence through our choices of entertainment? Consider the changes in Hollywood over the past several decades.  Violence is invited into homes on a daily basis, and not just through the news.  Millions flock to movie theaters, and Hollywood glorifies violence in ever-increasing graphic, sometimes even sadistic, detail.  Many video games encourage participation in bloodlust.  Numerous actors, directors and others who make their living (often a very, very good living) in the movie industry call for gun control, but then don’t live their convictions. hollywood gun glory

If you want to make a difference, please start by setting an example.  As for the rest of us, we don’t have to patronize movies or other media that glamorize violence.  If enough people feel that way, profits for such media will shrink, and its presence will diminish.

Another point to ponder:  If we really want a peaceful society, then why are we becoming more and more of a secular one, afraid to touch anything that might bear the hint of religion or spirituality? We are, still, a nation of laws, and there are basic laws of God and nature that must be upheld.  Thou shalt not commit murder.  Thou shalt not steal.  The strengths of these truths are watered down by a constant barrage of violent images and messages coming at us on television, in movies, games, music, online, etc.

I don’t think there’s any single or simple answer to this violence.  Humans are flawed, and some choose evil.  Those who would commit evil can find a way to do so regardless of whatever laws there are to prevent them.  Evil can use anything as a weapon, be it a gun, homemade bomb, club, car or airplane. The rage of a madman exploded in an act of violence that took the lives of two shining, vibrant young women and rocked the souls of an entire region. Prayers4Lafayette

But I know that there’s something in this region, in our Louisiana culture that comes through in every disaster we face. It may not be unique in the world, but it’s more important today than ever before: Faith.  Over 250 years ago, the Acadians were forcibly removed without warning from their homes in Nova Scotia. Families were separated, all property and land was taken, and the Acadian people were literally shipped across sea and land. Many were removed and displaced several times over decades before finally finding a place to settle. LoveLaf In most cases, they could bring nothing with them – except their faith.  No Crown, no government, no soldiers or guns or threats or ships could strip that away, and they clung fiercely to God and to each other. Generations later, we still turn first to God in times of need, regardless of religious denomination. Our ancestors learned that no one can take faith away from you.  It may be shaken, it may be temporarily misplaced, but no one can take it away.  Not hurricanes, not economic disasters, not oil spills.

Not even a madman.

As the eyes across the nation and beyond focus on Lafayette and all of Acadiana, I hope they can see and sense our prayers, our faith, our trust in God. Tonight there is a concert and gathering in Lafayette for strength, prayer, hope, music and togetherness.  For every person in attendance, there will be countless more who cannot be there physically but are present in prayer and spirit. And yes, we feel, and deeply and humbly appreciate, the prayers from around the world.

I think of the song Let There Be Peace on Earth.  We all want peace on earth, as impossible as it may seem at times.  The lyrics “…let it begin with me” resonate with more truth than ever, for where else can peace begin but with the individual? The response of Emanuel Church in Charleston give us a beautiful example of this. As we all wonder why, and what can I do, the answers come back to those answers known for generations, entwined in our DNA. Keep faith, pray, and know that the first step in achieving peace on earth lies with each one of us.