My last few weeks have been consumed with preparations for the annual Lake Junaluska Peace Conference, for which I was Chair of the Worship and Arts Committee. This year’s theme was “Peace for the World’s Children.” You can find out more about it at www.lakejunaluska.com/peace. The Conference was highlighted with presentations by Jenni Stepanek, mother of peace Poet Mattie Stepanek, who died at age 13, and by Marian Wright Edelman, founder/director of the Children’s Defense Fund.
In the past two years we have worked hard to include the three Abrahamic religions, with an openness to other traditions, especially Buddhism. As we went into final details, I felt increasingly that we should open and close our meeting with a “singing bowl,” which has figured strongly in Tibetan Buddhism and has become a widespread part of other prayerful gatherings. My wife Sylvia knew of this interest and found me a lovely bowl – an early birthday present!
In preparing for the event, I learned from Sara Jenkins, my collaborator in the ringing of the bowl (and also my editor for Red Clay, Blood River), that Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of “inviting” the bowl into song. I found that “inviting” the bowl is not easy. The bowl vibrates when stroked with a round piece of wood (I turned a piece of cherry for the occasion) in two tones – a “masculine” low tone and a “feminine” higher tone about a fifth above it. So the bowl already begins with a reconciliation of the yin and yang of our lives. If the stroke is too fast or lacks the right pressure against the rim, the bowl will “chatter,” letting you know that you are not in peace and centered calmness. You have to work with the bowl, with this “inanimate object,” in order to invite its song. The act of invitation leads into a dialogue with natural material that is at the heart of any craft. In conversing with the bowl, seeking to invite it into song, you enter a deeper level of peacefulness and mental focus. It becomes a bowl of peace, overflowing with its song.
At the close of the conference I began to invite the bowl just as the bells on the chapel next door began to intone the noon hour. Twelve strikes of the bells melded with the song of the bowl. It was a magical moment.