Thanksgiving 2011

The poet, Mary Oliver, has written a "Prayer" in the form of a poem:

May I never not be frisky,
May I never not be risque.

May my ashes, when you have them, friend,
and give them to the ocean,

leap in the froth of the waves,
still loving movement,

still ready, beyond all else,
to dance for the world.

How to express thanks on this day?  Last night's concert was one way that has become dear to my heart.  There were little girls dancing in the church.  Think about that:  little girls - the essence of the feminine - dancing - moving their bodies with innocent abandon - in church - a place that is all too often anti-feminine, anti-body and certainly uncomfortable with movement. (Old joke:  why do Baptists never make love standing up?  It looks too much like dancing!)  Little boys were playing instruments with old men. People were shouting and singing - clapping and praying, too - because this was a musical feast grounded in grace and beauty.

And at times, it felt almost magical. Everyone felt it - well, maybe not everyone because the show DID go on for two and a half hours - but almost everyone felt it and stayed around to the joyful conclusion. I know they felt it because not only did we raise more than $2000 for emergency fuel assistance (twice our goal) but people didn't want to leave.  Afterwards they hung out and talked and laughed and just went deeper into the groove. 

There was a palpable spirit of compassionate cooperation in the air and when it took shape in improvisation, the jazz guys - who are masters in their field - connected with the rockers and folkies and lifted ALL our souls into a higher place. The vocalists did the same thing as time and again they jumped into songs they'd never heard before with harmonies that were inspired. As one old timer said to me, "You can't tell me there isn't a love and power greater than ourselves after tonight because... I felt it!" 

We closed the show with all the singers and musicians singing couplets from both the Band's "The Weight" and Jim Boyd's "Million Miles Away."  That was so moving - and afterwards people said to me that hearing how each person interpreted their two lines - and then blended them into the whole - was soul food. I felt much the same way over and over.

For 30 years I have been doing these gigs - and this one was total grace.  (The other remains our post-Katrina benefit in Tucson - and I heard from some of that band last night, too via FaceBook!) Most of the time, in years past, I have gotten too tense about these gigs so that while I loved the final experience, they exhausted me.  And I sometimes became sharp around the edges. I remember one of the first shows in Michigan when I almost decked a guest singer. True, he was a total asshole with no social skills, but then so was I... and I was the band leader!  It was almost like being back in high school when I didn't know what to do with my "big" feelings that were all in competition with my other big feelings. (In fact, I once did deck two of my best friends back in the day. And while there was tons of "boy" energy flowing, there was also way too much tension inside me, too.)

Anyhow, these Thanksgiving gigs have sometimes evoked those old demons and fears where I emphasized the"performance" aspect too much and not trusted the practice and God's presence enough.  But when we came here I vowed that those old ways had to be put away - they may have once been useful, but now no longer served any good purpose - and as a sign and symbol of my repentance, I took off my watch and put it away.  I need to rest and trust the Lord rather than the clock and all it represents.

Trust - and rest - (and feasting and grace) have shaped these later days of ministry - and I am thankful for their presence in my life. Those two commitments were abundantly clear in last night's show.  We worked hard - a good 6 weeks of practice - but by show time the WHOLE group had never once played together.  And still it all came together seamlessly - even the few minor glitches turned into times for grace - so that we were all blessed.  And I mean that word - blessed - a word with origins in marking a place with blood to honor its sacredness.  We gave our time and effort for the greater good - our blood - and trusted that God would do the rest.  Bless eventually borrowed another meaning from the Old English, "bliss," and that was present, too: sharing and pronouncing a deep joy.

I am thankful that I have been given the grace - and the time - to grow deeper in trust and rest. Mary Oliver wrote another poem, "Hallelujah" that speaks to my new experience with our Thanksgiving shows - and our practice of this feast day - like this:

Everyone should be born into this world happy
   and loving everything.
But in truth it rarely works that way.
For myself, I have spent life clamoring toward it.
Hallelujah, anyway I'm not where I started!

And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes
   almost forgetting how wondrous the world is
   and how miraculously kind some people can be?
And have you too decided that probably nothing important
   is ever easy?
Not, say, for the first sixty years?

Hallelujah, I'm sixty now, and even a little more,
and some days I feel I have wings.

Today, we're sitting around in our PJs, sipping tea, reading the NYTimes, napping and cooking a slow, quiet feast. It is a time filled with gratitude.


Philomena Ewing said…
Fabulous and congrats for raising so much money -I wish I could have been there to join in.
Thanks also for the music here and the Mary Oliver poems, both new ones for me, which is lovely.
What you say about your ministry and your community really refreshes me.
All Blessings come from across the pond to you and your family on this special day.
RJ said…
Thanks, my friend. I am so grateful we have found one another.
Black Pete said…
And a well-earned rest to all!
RJ said…
What a wonderful day of rest it was, too.

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