Sept. 2, 2011: 1960s folk song urges us to find common ground, by Sister Mary Jo Thummel

September 2, 2011 by

A few nights ago I was watching a PBS special on the 1960s folk singers Peter, Paul, and Mary and the influence of their music during the Civil Rights movement. I was familiar with many of the songs and remembered how they had spoken to me about a world united.

The piece included conversations with the three —  Peter Yarrow, Noel “Paul” Stookey and Mary Travers — about their music and the influence it had on people.  Peter and Paul said folk music is a form of art that draws people in because it speaks to the commonality of their lives.  It is a culture all its own that unites because it comes from the root of common experience.  Mary referenced the children in her remarks.  Many of songs — especially ones like “Puff the Magic Dragon” — appealed to children because of the rhythms and lyrics which were easy to learn. Mary said it’s important that the music speak to the children because they are our true hope for peace.

One of the songs they sang, and of which I was not familiar, was “The Great Mandala (The Wheel of Life).” Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning “circle” or “round.” In a religious or spiritual context, it is a symmetrical representation of the universe — and the lyrics really captured my attention. They spoke of the importance of each of us deciding how we were going to take our place on the wheel of life and what stance we will take toward our sisters and brothers.  Some may find the words offensive, but they simply made me think of what I can do to stand on common ground with my sisters and brothers around the globe.

As I pondered, I was reminded of something my mother had done in the latter years of her life.  After I left home, we had always corresponded via letter.  Hers were always newsy and clever and ended with “Love, Mom.”  As the years went by, Mom wrote less and less.  Instead, she started picking out cards that expressed want she wanted to say and always signed them “Love, Mom.”

Then, at some point — and I’m not sure I noticed the first time she did it — she began signing them “Peace, Mom.”

I was a little surprised, but knowing my mom, I felt sure there was a reason for the change.  It wasn’t long before she told me that through prayer she had become aware of the importance of peace in our own hearts, among family, friends and all the people throughout the world.  Her wish of peace at the end of her cards was her attempt at being a peacemaker, her way of taking a peaceful stance in the wheel of life.

My question to myself and to you is, What little thing can we do to take a stance at being peacemakers?

As the song says,

“Take your place on The Great Mandala

As it moves through your brief moment of time.

Win or lose now you must choose now

And if you lose you’re only losing your life.”



— Sister Mary Jo Thummel is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, presently serving on the Leadership Council.


Feel free to leave a comment...