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Is the song of peace out of reach?

December 16, 2007|By LLOYD WATERS

"Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright" are the words that flowed from the pen of an Austrian priest named Josef Mohr in 1816 as he wrote this popular Christmas carol. As he sat near his fire on a wintry night, I wonder what was going through his mind as he wrote these lyrics.

Perhaps he was thinking about those members of his congregation, maybe a widow trying to make ends meet; maybe an orphan who had no parents; maybe the elderly and sick; or maybe a young soldier off to war or away from home.

As those words are sung throughout the world this Christmas Eve, many people of the world continue to search for that calmness and peace in their lives that Silent Night proclaims.

Misery, poverty and oppression remain brothers to many of the world's population today. Hatred and violence are unfriendly neighbors who often come to visit at all hours. How can we find this silent, holy, calm and bright place we seek? Is there a refuge for the oppressed? Comfort for misery? Food for those who hunger?

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As I thought about this song, I remember reading of a great war, which occurred in 1914 - a conflict that in all likelihood was started by one assassin's bullet.

That conflict was World War I, or the "war to end all wars," as it was popularly known.

Because our memories have faded with each passing generation, we no longer can smell the blood of the 14 million casualties created by hatred in the world at that time. When we think of our global countryside today, the odor of blood and death is not very much a consideration to the living.

Although our inward spirit seemingly seeks to find a peace that is filled with calmness, our outward actions are tilted toward violence and wars that have dotted our history.

We sing the song, "silent night, holy night, all is calm all is bright" and think we must be in the wrong room when we look at the news of our streets and the world.

As I thought about the Great War, I remember reading of a Christmas Eve in 1914, as the British and German soldiers laid deep in their trenches and foxholes separated by a small piece of earth covered with the sharp razor barbs of wire created either to keep animals out or to keep animals in.

I thought about their comrades lying dead and frozen on the white ground around this wire stretched between the two trenches.

On this particular night, the opposing armies must have had some thoughts of home. Maybe they were thinking about a calmness and peace; maybe a wife or a child; perhaps a mother, a father, a nice meal near a warm fire. Whatever they were thinking, something very strange happened on this Christmas Eve in Europe.

During a pause in the fighting, it is written that the German soldiers began to light candles and sing Christmas carols.

As the song "Silent Night" was sung by the Germans, the British soldiers soon joined in. Although the words were presented in very different languages the tune was known by all. Some 100,000 troops reportedly took part in this Christmas truce of 1914.

A brief glimpse of a peace through the eyes of warriors who were trying to desperately kill each other only moments before.

It was reported that these enemies shook hands, sang songs and removed the bodies of their friends from the dirt of no man's land and the barbed wire while this temporary truce lasted.

What a strange occurrence for the world to see and read. Perhaps this mutual pause created a real concern for the generals and politicians of the day.

Sad to say, this truce didn't last very long. But I find it a little more than interesting to know that people share the same basic needs and the same basic hopes in whatever part of the world they happen to live.

As you sing "Silent Night" this Christmas Eve in your home or church, or just happen to listen to it on the radio or television, you should never stop seeking that peace the song suggests.

When all else is said and done, the search for that peace, is a noble journey, and the destination is worth seeking.

Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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