Many years ago in a place across the sea the third grade class tradition was to present the musical Hansel and Gretel. Every student in the class learned to sing every song correctly in German and to dance every dance enthusiastically. As is common with most school plays the action stole the show away from the characterization and the plot. Yet it is in the character portraits of these two brave children that I found my message for you this evening.
As the story went, a little boy and a little girl set off into the woods one day to explore. They wisely took along a basket of bread for snacks. Along the way one of them decided to leave a trail of bread crumbs in case they lost their way in the deep dark woods. On their way home they would simply follow their own trail of bread crumbs and safely make it back in time for supper.
As you may recall, the birds followed the children and ate up all the bread crumbs and the children were without markers to lead them back home. [ Probably not the cheeriest story for little 8 year olds but as I mentioned the songs and dances and the costumes outweighed the story line for them.] On that captivating moment we will bookmark the story for now and return to it another day.
Let's flash forward now to you as you set off into what may seem like deep dark woods of adult life upon your high school graduation. What will your bread crumbs look like? How will you express yourself and leave markers of who you are so that you can always be recognized and always find your way home for renewal?
I have watched some of you at musical concerts, in drama rehearsals, on the sports playing fields, in parades, walking around town, and participating fully in your faith communities. My sense of you is peacefulness. You already carry peace within yourselves and bring peaceful presence to others. Could it be that your 'bread crumbs' may be other people's glimpses and joyful memories of your peaceful presence? If so, then birds cannot eat them and you will always be able to find them to lead you back home.
Perhaps it is your capacity for peace, your ability to carry peace within you and to show peace in your actions, that exemplifies your years together here at Scituate High School. Sitz im leben is German for 'setting in life' or the original context in which a specific genre or form was used (p. 552 Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV, Glossary). Let your genre in life be a new one that I call 'peace-telling'.
Seek to make your defining form, from this day forward, a compassionate belief in the value and love-worthiness of each person you meet. Your setting is these high school years and your immediate task this evening, this week, this summer is to reflect on those moments and those relationships of peace that you may have shrugged off as inconsequential.
A few tips on how to recognize this peace-telling in your life. Peace is one sign of a compassionate justice-seeking spirit. Other signs are love, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (adapted from Galatians 5:22-23 NRSV Holy Bible). Look for these signs and remember when someone mentions that they see them in your interactions. Encourage these signs in each other.
Like you, I learned to say peace in the context of learning to speak each new language - first in English as peace, then in German as ruhe, in Latin song as pacem, Spanish as paz, Arabic as salaam, and finally in Hebrew as shalom. Although no two of these words have the exact same meaning, each captures an enduring aspect of peace. Sometimes peace is inseparable from belief in a faith tradition or spiritual life. In the American context peace is both a way of being and a way of doing.
Often peace is expressed with nature imagery of gently flowing rivers or soaring mountain peaks especially as seen from above the timber line. Peace sometimes is illustrated in advertisements by certain models of cars and trucks so quiet and smooth riding that drivers have no distractions or worries. When at peace you may feel gentle, you may soar, or you may feel worry-free and able to take a few bumps in stride.
Most commonly peace is described in terms of human relationship and in socio-political terms. Peaceful presence with another person calls for trust, companionship, deep listening, and compassion. Political peace is absence of violence or of war or the lack of divisive, hurtful disagreement. Peace-telling prepares requires us to speak truth to power and to deconstruct oppression whether our own or that of others.
Beloved graduating class of 2012, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, you will find it in being peace-tellers.
Mark your way with peace and you will always be able to find your way home (adapted from Phillipians 4:8 NRSV Holy Bible).