Only two times in 34 years have I missed making or joining the music making over the Thanksgiving weekend. The first took place when my Aunt Donna was dying of cancer and we had just moved to Tucson. We flew out on Thanksgiving Eve, had a feast with our daughters the next day and spent some time with my Aunt before she passed from this life into life everlasting. I should note that we did make it into Cambridge for Bob Franke's gig at Club Passim on that trip, so maybe it doesn't really count as a full miss.
But last night did. There was a wicked bad storm that dumped at least a foot
of heavy, wet snow on us. As the storm fell throughout the day, I received more and more calls and notes asking, "Wouldn't it be wise to call off our evening concert?" I knew my colleagues were right - I could see the weather going from bad to worse - but my heart just didn't want to quit. In time, I let reason and prudence rule the hour and we postponed the gig. But it hurt and left me feeling angry, empty and alone.
Now I understand my feelings - I don't often like them - but I understand them and know that what I am feeling is rarely the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You see, there is a wisdom to our wounds that we can learn to honor over time. And while I often fight the wisdom trying to break through my inner despair, I know it is there. More often than not, it is calling to me with blessings if I will just be still and listen. Most of the time, you see, the wisdom of our wounds ask us first to listen and feel what is going on inside, and then act in ways that are the polar opposite of our feelings. We are never asked by God to bury our feelings, just own them and learn from them.
So I spent a very agitated night trying to practice what I so often preach. Mostly I felt like throwing in the towel on almost everything I do. There is a lot more to say about that, but not right now. I just realized that every time I tried to figure out a way to reschedule this concert, I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. "Fuck it," I finally said, "there's just no point. Everyone's lives are too fucking busy to reschedule this... and now Advent and Christmas are upon us. Fuck it - its not worth it." That is how I was feeling - and am still mostly feeling - but there are a few deeper truths co-mingling with my feelings.
First, the hurt I felt in cancelling this gig has a lot to do with bringing to close a long history of tradition. When I was in seminary and my babies were small, we started going to Carnegie Hall to see Pete and Arlo do their Thanksgiving weekend shows. When I took my first church in Saginaw, MI, I was inspired by Bob Franke's song, "Thanksgiving Eve," so we made his tradition our own. Gathering up some singers, we called out to our friends in the community and invited them to join us as we sang and played the songs of the Americas. My children tell me they developed a love for group singing from those shows and that is a blessing that warms my heart still after all these years. As churches and locales changed, we kept gathering together musicians and calling out to the community to join us in song - so from Cleveland, OH and Tucson, AZ to Pittsfield, MA - Thanksgiving Eve became a tradition filled with a little taste of heaven for me. Forsaking it last night meant more than giving up making music with my friends. It meant letting go of the joy of our harmonies and the fun of creating something unique and beautiful together. It meant letting go of a unique and sacred tradition for me - not for everyone, I know - but certainly for me.
That is probably the genesis of the second hurt: most of the year my public life is offered up to the Lord on behalf of my congregation. I have a friend who says that many times what we do in ministry is both for the well-being of the congregation as well as our own soul. We practice giving up and letting go - pastor and congregation - and learn the foolishness of Christ and wisdom of the Cross. A few times each year, however, I want to worship in a community of musicians where I can be embraced by God's comfort in song. That is part of what Thanksgiving Eve has become for me: a time of worship where I can sing and play, sit back and soak up the songs, share with others as best I am able and revel in the goodness and beauty of the moment. For a few hours, time seems to change in ways that are sacred to me. Last night I felt a crack open up my inner longing for God's comfort: when we had to pull the plug on our small concert an enormous ache was exposed that I have been looking to soothe. Small wonder I was overwhelmed with grief and melancholia when I had to give it up.
That should be a clue, of course, right? Ain't it just like the Spirit to blindside me with something I cherish: where do you find your hope and grounding now? Have you made an idol of your music-making? What does it feel like when your consolations come to an end and you have no control? That is the third hurt I'm carrying around these days. It begins with the death of my father but has much deeper roots. I know that for the past 6 weeks I've made myself busy, immersing myself in work and music-making so that I didn't have to feel the sorrow. I have been holding back my grief like I always do. I've been aware, too, that something would come along and crack my sadness open unexpectedly, I just had no idea how and when it would arrive. And damn but didn't it sneak up where I least expected it to kick me in the gut?
Like most of us, I hate not being able to be in control of the things I love the most. I hate having my father gone from this life. I hate sitting beside other loved ones as they move towards death. I hate having to rethink my calling at this stage in my life as I see it, too inching towards some type of end. I hate it - and there's nothing I can do about it. Except accept it - and listen for the new song God wants me to sing when the endings are completed. I know this and trust this by faith and I still hate it.
Like the weather outside last night, there was a lot of storming within me. In the light of Thanksgiving Day, the raging has abated for now. We'll feast today and be together in the quiet of our warm little house. We'll watch some movies and mysteries and savor the goodness that is still ours to hold. And I will keep waiting and listening - sometimes gently and then in a rage - to see where this leads. This is much bigger than Thanksgiving Eve. I don't know if we'll be able to reschedule our concert. It would be sweet, but it may just be too much work for this moment in time. Like Siddhartha, I'm back at that same place before the river yet again saying: god damn there are still some things I have no control over! To paraphrase the late St. Ray Charles: "The grieving time has come... you're going to leave me... I can see that far away look in your eyes..."
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