“Hey, Mom.” My dog Floey came ambling over to me as I sat at my desk.
“Good morning, Floey. What’s up?” I replied.
“I just saw on TV that it’s supposed to be as hot and humid today as it was yesterday. Do we have to go on any long walks today? I’d rather stay inside where it’s nice and cool.”
“I agree with you, Floey. Maybe we can run up and down the stairs a few extra times for exercise. You let me know when you need to go outside to do your business, and the rest of the time we’ll stay inside.”
“Great plan, Mom! What do you want to do while we’re inside today?”
“I think I’ll get back to writing my next book. It’s coming along pretty well. I’ve completed the first draft of the first couple chapters, and now I’m working on the third chapter.”
“Is this book going to be just like your last one, TALKING WITH GOD THROUGH MUSIC: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns?”
“It’s very similar in style. I’ve made a few structural changes based the on feedback I got on that book, but it’s the same concept – choosing a favorite hymn and reflecting on its history and meaning. The first chapter includes 16 hymns about peace – hymns like Dona Nobis Pacem, Let There Be Peace on Earth, Peace in the Valley, Peace Like a River, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, Make Me a Channel of Your Peace, and lots more.”
“That’s an interesting mix of peace hymns, Mom. One of my favorite hymns is Let There Be Peace on Earth. Can you read me what you wrote about that one?”
TUNE: WORLD PEACE
COMPOSER: Sy Miller (1908-1971)
AUTHOR: Jill Jackson Miller (1913-1995)
SCRIPTURE: Romans 12:18 (NRSV)
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
THE HUSBAND AND WIFE TEAM of Sy (Seymour) Miller and Jill Jackson Miller collaborated to write many songs together. In 1955 they wrote “Let there Be Peace on Earth” for a very specific purpose. They wrote it to be sung at a week-long retreat for young people who had come from very different religious, ethnic, and economic backgrounds.
Sy Miller described the effect of the song this way. “One summer evening in 1955, a group of 180 teenagers of all races and religions, meeting at a workshop high in the California mountains locked arms, formed a circle and sang a song of peace. They felt that singing the song, with its simple basic sentiment – ‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me’ – helped to create a climate for world peace and understanding.”
When the retreat was over, the kids took the song home with them, and it quickly spread throughout all 50 states, and then internationally.
The author of the song, Jill Jackson Miller, had lived a life of many challenges. Her mother died when Jill was only three years old. By the time she was 12 she and her sister were placed in a foster home. One of her two brothers died from an accident with fireworks.
Jill’s life dream was to become a movie actress. After two years of junior college, she moved to Hollywood. She starred as the heroine in several westerns. In 1940 she married Felix Jackson, a German writer and director, and she gave up her movie career at his request.
They had two daughters. They divorced in 1944, which led to Jill attempting suicide. During her recovery she developed a strong belief in God and felt inspired to become a writer. In 1949 she married Sy Miller, and he convinced her to write songs with him – she wrote the lyrics and he wrote the music. After they wrote “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” the quest for world peace became her life focus. She traveled widely to speak about the power of each person to help create peace. She encouraged people to keep searching for their meaning, their inspiration, their true beliefs, and to forgive themselves and others for mistakes made along the way.
“Hey, Mom. If what you said is true, that song was written 63 years ago. Do you think the world is more peaceful now than it was in 1955?”
“That’s a good question, Floey. In 1955, I was seven years old. My fiercest enemy was also my best friend – my 9-year-old brother Danny. I wasn’t very aware of international politics back then. Dwight D. Eisenhower was president – that’s all I remember.”
“Didn’t you watch TV way back then?”
“Yes, we did, but there weren’t any round-the-clock politics channels back in those days. We watched comedies like “I Love Lucy.” We spent our time together laughing, not arguing.”
“How about racial discord?” Floey asked.
“The only non-white kids in my school were Robert and his sister Sandra. Robert was in my class and was a good friend. Sometimes he shared his candy with me. I especially liked it when he gave me a whole envelope of lime Lik-m-maid. We drifted apart over the years, and the last I heard, about twenty years ago, he was in prison somewhere.”
“That’s kind of sad, Mom.”
“Yeah, it is, Floey. Peace can be very elusive – on a personal level as well as community-wide and globally. But the message of this song still holds – “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
“How’s that, Mom?”
“Do you know what day it is today, Floey?”
“It’s Tuesday, August 14, 2018. Is there anything special about today?”
“Yes, there is, Floey. In Wisconsin and a few other states it’s voting day for primary elections. I’m going to ignore the oppressive heat and go out and vote. That’s one little thing I can do to help us all move toward peace on earth.”
“Good for you, Mom! I wish I could vote, too. Maybe I should begin a fight for the right to vote for dogs (but not cats – they don’t have the intellectual capacity that we dogs have).”
“Now, Floey, if you really want peace on earth, you’ll fight just as hard for the right for cats to vote as for dogs. When you accept the universal right to vote as your cause, you’ll have taken the first really big step toward peace.”
“Maybe, you’re right, Mom.”
“Floey, let’s try to find a shady block or two, and walk down the street together. Maybe we can even sing all the words of Let There Be Peace on Earth.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
With God our creator, children all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me; let this be the moment now.
With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow;
to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.