[Washington Window] There aren’t many places where Tibetan monks and Indian chiefs mingle, where Sunni and Shia imams sit side by side and listen respectfully to Jewish rabbis, where prayers are offered in Xhosa and Algonquin, where rock stars and bishops share a microphone and where a U.S. congressman sings “We Are All One Tribe” as if he really means it.
But fortunately there are a few, and at its Oct. 16 “Pray for Peace” concert, Washington National Cathedral was one of them, honoring its commitment to be a house of prayer for all people.
The concert, which featured musicians Graham Nash, David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Emily Saliers, Keb’ Mo’, Krishna Das and Rep. John Hall (D-NY), was the centerpiece of a three-day Interfaith Peace Prayer Practices event at the Cathedral. It also honored the Dalai Lama, who was in Washington to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award which may be bestowed by the United States Congress.
“It is given to him as a man of peace and deep prayer to remind us all that the way of peace is the only way we can live together,” Bishop John Bryson Chane said to the paying audience of almost 2,300. Proceeds were shared between the Cathedral Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation and the International Campaign for Tibet.
It was during the Dalai Lama’s previous visit to the Cathedral, on Sept. 11, 2003, that a serendipitous seed fell on fertile soil, blossoming four years later as the evening’s event.
Crosby and Nash had come to hear the Dalai Lama’s “Teaching on Peace,” and stopped by Chane’s office afterwards to discuss music – the Bishop used to be a drummer in a rock-n-roll band and still performs occasionally with “The Chane Gang” – and more.
“I was amazed at the open-mindedness of the church, and I realized that this church was trying to be a real church and a leader of its flock,” said Nash.
After “more e-mails than Graham Nash probably wanted to read,” Chane said, the idea for the concert slowly took shape. But in the end, it was really quite simple: Crosby and Nash brought their fellow musicians and the Bishop invited friends and leaders from other denominations and faiths to come together for an evening of prayer and music.
Entering the Cathedral on the morning of Oct. 16 for a pre-concert press conference, the musicians were enchanted.
“Look at the light!” Nash exclaimed, a diamond sparkling in his ear, while Crosby, sporting a cap emblazoned with a neon yellow peace sign murmured, “It’s just so beautiful.”
“What a wonderful place to be able to bring people together to form dialogue, to open each other’s hearts and to find out how each other works,” Nash said. “We have to work out our differences, because the alternative is complete madness.”
Nash, who is 65, said his children inspired him to work for peace.
“My time in this world is passing,” he said. “But the time of my children is not passing. What we are going to leave to our children, they will have for the rest of their lives.”
The evening began with a prayer service, where Tibetan monks in scarlet and saffron chanted a heart sutra to evoke the blessings of enlightenment in guttural voices punctuated by dissonant bells.
The obstacles to peace are many, said Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the Tibetan Government in exile. These include poverty, a lack of basic amenities, war and violence, terrorism, inner conflict, global warming and religious intolerance.
“Each human being needs to do something to prevent these challenges, to prevent these threats,” he said. “Although there may be differences in perception, differences in ways of worshipping, we all have a universal responsibility.”
Chief Stephen Adkins of the Chickahominy Tribe of Virginia gave a blessing of the four cardinal directions while Bishop Carol Gallagher, an Episcopalian of Cherokee descent, drummed and ululated. The Rev. Mpho Tutu, founder of the Tutu Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage, offered a prayer in her native tongue, Xhosa, and Sheikh Ahmad Bahraini, a Shia imam and director of the Islamic Center of Maryland, spoke of the need for understanding and respect among nations.
“Music is another form of prayer,” Chane said, and then Crosby and Nash took the stage, performing four numbers, including “Jesus of Rio” and a new song by Nash called “In His Name” which Crosby described as being “the right song – you’ll see.”
Emily Saliers sang a “Song For Peace,” and then Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service spoke of the importance of religion as a unifying force.
After Krishna Das chanted the Hare Krishna mantra, segueing into an Eastern-inspired version of “Amazing Grace,” Nash praised Chane “for being brave enough to do this.”
Keb’ Mo’, up next, got the audience clapping along as he sang “Hand it over/Give it up and give it over/Get on your knees and pray.”
The Very Rev. Constantine White, dean of the neighboring St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral, and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, spoke about the need for global peace, and Rep. John Hall, founder of the band Orleans, picked up his guitar and led a sing-along.
Imam Muhammad Majid, director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society and vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, called on people of all faiths to work together to feed the hungry and fight poverty. He called on Shia and Sunni Muslims to put aside their differences. And he received a standing ovation when he pointed to the audience and said, “I wish every network would broadcast this tonight, so people can see America is THIS!”
The Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, president of the North American Region of the World Council of Churches also drew cheers when she said that money spent on the Iraq War is enough to rebuild New Orleans and provide health care for every child in America.
Browne, the last musical act, took the stage amid much applause, performing alone and then with Nash, with Crosby joining in for a third song, “Lives in the Balance.”
The finale brought all the musicians and faith leaders to the stage for a rousing rendition of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young classic: “Teach Your Children.”
“We’d like to dedicate it to Bishop Chane, who is certainly one of the most courageous men we know,” Browne said.