Deep river...

Sometimes you just have to go with the heart, yes? Today I did something in worship that was counter-intuitive and risky: I told a series of four "spiritual autobiography stories" - linked by a few tunes - trusting that the Spirit would guide the congregation in ways greater than my prose. I didn't exegete the biblical texts out loud, I didn't spend much time (if any) explaining how I had come to discern a connection between the scriptures and my stories. I just acted as St. Paul once encouraged us knowing that the Spirit will intercede for us with sighs too deep for human words. I like the way Peterson reworks Romans 8:

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Years I go I learned from my feminist friends that  the "the personal is always political." Various working artists have also affirmed this same truth: what is true at the most deeply personal level is also usually true in a universal way in sculpture, dance, visual art and music. So, on a day when I was feeling particularly vulnerable and fragile, I stepped off the banks of my time-tested and "safe" style and trusted that my quest for "the river of faith" would resonate with the experiences of others. I think some folk got it... and that's the best any preacher can hope for, yes?

+ I spoke of nature and the mystical union of soul, prayer, music and experience. Who knows why or how God chooses certain moments to embrace us? I just know that when it happens, it is deep, powerful and demands gratitude.

+ I spoke of learning - or not learning - from our mistakes: how so much of life involves doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.  And how God's grace is relentless in spite of our stubbornness.

+ I spoke of how our past shapes our future - and how our children often know us better than ourselves.

+ And I spoke of how the most unlikely people can open our hearts to new love and grace if we are willing to be surprised.

The music we used was shared with tender conviction and sheer artistry: Carlton's piano playing on "Moon River" was exquisite, same for "Deep River" with Eva and Dianne singing a soulful jazz take that was chilling, Jon and I did a loving job with the "Ballad of Easy Rider" and the whole band cooked on Garth Brooks' "The River." It was a public expression of faith without any certainty that what made sense to me would matter to the faithful who gathered hoping for some good news today. We shall see...(this version of "Moon River" will have to suffice until I get a copy of C's most excellent rendition later this week!)

There is an irony taking place in my heart today that is not unusual: you see, after celebrating our grandson's glorious first birthday with my dearest family yesterday, tomorrow we will leave for Maryland to be with my father as he moves closer to his death. There is an ebb and flow in all of this that I am being called to trust. Today I trusted that my stories and the music would be all the interpretation of scripture that the congregation needed. For me, the music was yet another "rainbow sign" of God's abiding presence and grace a midst all the trials and suffering (my text was the story of Noah.) Tomorrow I will trust that the road and being present will be enough, too.

I like this prayer from the Iona Community: artists' prayer:


God of vision
you give us gifts of creativity.

Bless us
with courage to take new risks,
boldness to be adventurous
and faith to know your presence.

Inspire us
to open our eyes to fresh vision.

Awaken us
to our creative possibilities,
enabling us
as empowered artists
to transform our lives
and the life of the world.
Amen.

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