For most of my early life I wondered why all of the "God-talk" I heard - in both the Reformed and Roman traditions - were so angry and harsh. To a child and teen, Jesus sounded like a man of compassion - an advocate for justice and hope, too. But God was regularly framed as the Judge (in the worst sense of that word.) Truth be told, I couldn't make sense of the affirmation that Jesus was the clearest embodiment of God - one with God in every way - when God was so god-damn mean.
Then, in my 30s I discovered the Christian mystics, the way of St. Benedict and the writings of Hasids and all bets were off. Here - finally - was a way of being loved by God that spoke to my heart. Yesterday, Fr. Richard Rohr wrote:
God always entices us through love.
Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change. If the mystics say that one way, they say it a thousand ways. But because most of our common religion has not been at the mystical level, we’ve been given an inferior message—that God loves me when I change (moralism). What that does is put it back on you. You’re back to “navel-gazing,” and you never succeed at that level. You are never holy enough, pure enough, refined enough, or loving enough. Whereas, when you fall into God’s mercy, when you fall into God’s great generosity, you find, seemingly from nowhere, this capacity to change. No one is more surprised than you are. You know it is a gift.
Rohr nails it for me - and I've been searching for allies ever since. As many of you know, I've found many in music - playing, listening, creating and enjoying music has been soul food for me - mostly because it is an embodied mysticism. Poetry and film have become allies, too along with visual arts, sculpture and dance. Pastor Eugene Peterson, a great advocate for the arts, puts it like this:
Writers and angels share a quality - a penchant for elusiveness - for staying out of the way. Our best writers hide themselves in their work. And angles are for the most part invisible and inaudible, neither noticed nor heard. For transcendence cannot be forced upon us. It doesn't yell, doesn't announce its presence with a bullhorn, doesn't advertise itself on roadside billboards. There is nothing bullying about transcendence.
What it requires is noticing. Witnesses to transcendence don't create transcendence. The transcendence is already here, or there. But in our hurry to get someplace else, we miss it. There is always more here than meets the eye. We miss a lot. We need friends (or allies) who will grab on our shirttails, turn us around and show us what we have just now missed in our hurry to get across the street on our way to the bank. We need friends who will tap us on the shoulder, interrupting our non-stop commentary on the talk of the town so that we can hear the truth. We need witnesses to transcendence. Writers. (Artists) Angels. We stop, we look, we listen.
My hunch is that one of the reasons I so cherish playing our annual Thanksgiving Eve gig with a wild collection of musicians who are also friends and allies is that they not only feed my soul with their beautiful insights about God's transcendent love but also help me pause a little more to stop, look and listen. We do a bunch of group songs - adding a few musicians to small group spots, too - and then let each performer do his/her own thing in a solo setting. It is always a delight to listen to these creations. Each artist brings something beautiful and unique into the mix that is unexpected and holy. And then we bring it home with a few big closing numbers.
One of the highlights is the BIG practice we hold a few days before the show: it is a massive honking potluck of food and brew with lots of laughter. It is a little like the opening verses of Genesis where the Spirit slowly but surely brings order and beauty out of chaos with her creative presence. It is always healing for me to be a part of this process - each person brings their best gifts - and then shares them together in community. And by the end of the evening, we've found a way to be one in the Spirit. We have to get out of our own way sometimes - back off and hide in the music so that it works - and that is just as important as the final song, yes?
If you are around, please join us on Wednesday, November 23rd @ 7:30 pm. The spirit of Occupy Wall Street will be there for sure. An old-fashioned hymn sing, a meeting of the Wobblies with some Prairie Home Companion and an acoustic Grateful Dead party, too.
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