For as long as I remember when I’ve heard people talk about “planting their flag” in the sand, it was talking about places they would stop. It was as if they were staking their claiming, saying, “This is it.” Like the ending of an exploration, it marks the spot. `From here, I go no further’.”
Peace poles open up that image in whole new ways (see The Peace Pole Project).
My first experience with a Peace Pole was back at Central Congregational with a gentle man in our congregation, Cecil Hess. Cecil was a “retired” Christmas tree farmer and one of the hardest workers I’d ever met. He carved a peace pole for the church, first shaping the pole, then adding to it one letter at a time until it proclaimed a new symbol for community’s envisioning peace.
Linda built one as part of the pond-space beside our side porch. And she, too, carved letter-by-letter peace in four languages. In English it reads, “May peace be on the earth.”
Much of my life seems to have been moments of planting my flag in the sand or on the hill. Marking a spot. Claiming a spot. So often what I was saying was “I go no further.” Camped out. Standing firm. Immovable. Moments that seem smaller now (blue jeans to school) and not so small (falling in love with Linda, working with folks who were HIV+, being ordained) ~ these were places where I drew my lines of conviction and planted my flag. And in many ways, I would stand firm for those things again. But these days I’m wishing that somehow I had marked them differently.
Seeing Peace Poles now as I go for walks and seeing one (literally) in my own backyard bids me to stop these days. What would have been different for me, if instead of planting that flag and claiming a place, what would have been different if I’d chosen another symbol? There’s the act of planting a flag…and there’s the act of raising a Peace Pole.
Can’t go back. Only here and now and what’s next.
For now I’m choosing to carry with me this peace symbol. It’s a bit heavier, bulkier. It will take more effort to dig its spot. But by its definition it is an invitation, not a declaration. It’s a four-sided piece, so the truth is ~ there’s always more to see, and there’s always something that isn’t seen yet. It’s a message in languages I don’t even speak, so with it comes humility and the reality that more will come that I (literally) can’t even bring to words. The possible. The broader. The universal wisdom that is beyond what I know or can control.
Both mark a spot. For me, while one says, “it’s mine,” the other recognizes “its way bigger than me.” Peace poles bring the recognition of a greater whole, a fuller future. It matters that I bring something bigger for these oft mind-boggling and still tender days, for these hectic and once-in-a-lifetime days in which we are living. It matters to live into the notion of seeing beyond ourselves towards what’s next for us all.
(P.S. We’re heading out on our family vacation. Linda and her mom, the boys and the dads and I are going to Kenya. Daddy John has been working there with Emory’s Public Health School for the past four or more years. He works with HIV education and we want to see some of what he does. It promises to be the trip of a lifetime. I’ll let you know in a couple weeks. In the meantime, “Paz. Shalom. Salam. Peace.”)
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.