Lanterns are floated on Swy-a-lana Lagoon during the Lanterns for Peace ceremony earlier this month.

Lanterns are floated on Swy-a-lana Lagoon during the Lanterns for Peace ceremony earlier this month.

Peace ceremonies can help light a path

I wonder, what difference did it make for community members in Nanaimo to gather for a peace ceremony?

The paper peace lanterns were adorned with cutouts of doves, fish, flowers and origami cranes. Some were lettered with Japanese calligraphy. Some were quite intricate. All were beautiful, especially at dusk, as they were lighted and floated onto Swy-a-lana Lagoon.

Unfortunately, the lanterns didn’t leave the lagoon. They weren’t carried by the tide into Nanaimo harbour and the Strait of Georgia and the seven seas to some of the places where peace is most urgently needed.

So I wonder, what difference did it make for 75 community members in Nanaimo to gather for the 15th annual Lanterns for Peace ceremony earlier this month, and on the 14 ceremonies before it? The date, Aug. 6, recalls the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, but I like to think that a peace ceremony is about hope for the future more so than a lament for the past.

I suppose a peace vigil isn’t all that different from a remembrance ceremony. Whether we’re murmuring a quiet prayer for peace or observing a moment of silence for fallen soldiers and the wars they fought and the peace they won, it seems the goal is the same.

Still, what are we achieving? Our little gathering, our music, our flickers of light on the lagoon – what can come of it?

“We do it because we want to live in a world where there is peace and freedom,” said Leonard Krog, Nanaimo MLA, who speaks at the event every year.

Yes, but how does launching lanterns bring us any closer? Well, it plants a seed, Krog replied, and it’s about convincing one person at a time. The ceremony creates a poignant visual, and on warm summer nights in the past, he’s seen it draw the attention of passers-by and inspire them.

Sheila Malcolmson, Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP, also spoke at the ceremony and said whereas her generation grew up “in the shadow of nuclear war,” the younger generation hasn’t felt the same threat.

That’s true, though we’re a long way from world peace. In Nanaimo, we live in a nuclear weapons-free zone and we’re lucky to live in relative serenity and security, but at the same time, we live in the world, too, and it’s a place where there’s terrorism, war and mass shootings, where peace on Earth is a long way off.

“We could all feel really hopeless,” said Dyane Brown, president of the local chapter of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, which organized the lantern ceremony. “But as long as people get together and commemorate, then there’s hope.”

More prayers for peace at Maffeo Sutton Park will come next month at an International Day of Peace party Sept. 18. There will be a multi-faith service, a march, ceremonies, entertainment and activities. On a peaceful day, though, in a peaceful park, surrounded by peaceful people, what is there to gain?

“What we think about, we tend to bring into our experience,” said Patricia Zogar, the event’s organizer. “When we’re focusing on all of the negativity and the strife in the world, we’re actually adding to it. It’s really about raising consciousness to see the truth that within all the things that are going on in the world, all of us want to love each other and want to get along.”

Some people fight for peace or keep the peace. Some pray; some hope.

And here’s why I think we need those lanterns on the lagoon: Because until we have peace, we will always need people to keep vigil.

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