The wind...

Once, in the early days of exploring whether or not our current community of faith was truly open to spiritual and numerical renewal, an often caustic critic complained that our "new" music was just reworked tunes from the 60s. The point, besides being snarky, was to diminish and diffuse the energy being unleashed by our genre-bending commitments in worship. In an effort to discredit my wisdom and experience, a small but active cadre pulled out all the stops. Because, as someone wiser than I used to say, "they prefer a burial society to the living body of Christ." So, time and again I would hear things like: "This isn't NEW, it is just a retread of the same old same old..."
This comes to mind this morning on our Sabbath for a few reasons - the most obvious being I saw Yusuf Islam's picture in our local paper at his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now I have been a fan of the Cat from the start - and have heard the sacred within his songs for over 50 years - so it does my heart good to see that he has reclaimed this truth over the past 10 years, too. He's been touring and playing songs new and old to capacity crowds all over the globe.  And it is my contention that it isn't nostalgia or marketing smoke and mirrors that draw people out to his music: it is the call to peace, hope and love.
In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Yusuf noted that after September 11th he played "Peace Train" for a grieving New York audience. He also observed that one of his heroes, Nelson Mandela, loved to sing and dance to his music, too. Songs of faith, hope and love seem to have no shelf life - they are timeless - and actually need to be heard again and again to nourish our souls. That has been my experience in finding music outside the Reformed church tradition that helps people in worship reconnect their experiences to the sacred words. 

Two times in the past three months I have found myself praying the new/old songs of Yusuf.  At our 250th anniversary as a congregation, the words to "Peace Train" took on a deeper significance for me both because they still describe the reality of the world, and, they highlight our hopes for reconciliation with our African American sister congregation. As often happens to me, as I sang the verse, "Now I've been crying lately thinking about the world as it is and why must we go on hating? Why can't we live in bliss?" I was weeping tears of sorrow and tears of compassion. That song - and it's bookend "Don't Give Up" - defined our festival of faith and gave it shape and form. This may be an old tune, but it has just a much juice as "Amazing Grace" or "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past." 
The other time came as we were burying our dear friend, Rick, who was one of the congregation's saints. A noble, gentle and faith-filled man who turned most of his pain and difficulties into ways of growing closer to God in love, I found myself praying "Moonshadow" as I wrote his eulogy. It so aptly described how Rick lived that we had to sing it - and did so a week later in my children's moment - because it rang so true. 

For years, I have prayed "The Wind" as part of my own centering prayer so it did my heart good to see that as the Cat came back he played this same prayer on Jimmy Fallon's show. After seven years I can say that I endured the snarky and often mean-spirited comments - and the periodic ambushes, too - because one of my antidotes came from Yusuf. He continues to be both a musical guide and a spiritual mentor of peace, hope and love.
Next month month I will be part of a three person panel of pastor/musicians at an American Guild of Organists dinner. It will be fascinating as we each talk about how we discover and use music in renewing the spiritual lives of the people we serve in God's love. You can count on the fact that the "Cat" will be a part of my reflections - and may actually show up on my guitar, too.


Phil Ewing said…
Beautiful post R.J. and I'm delighted to read your comments on The Wind. This version is new to me and it has always been a favourite. Wishing you abundant blessings for Holy Week. I haven't been commenting much as life is racing by these days but I always read you !
RJ said…
So wonderful to hear from you, Phil. Blessings as Holy Week dawns - I miss seeing your wisdom and insights - be well.

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