reviving our hearts for justice...

Today is a snow day in these parts - looks like about 9" so far with no end in sight - so it is chill time in the Berkshires. Last night I had the privilege to be a part of a diverse "reviving our hearts for justice" gathering.  Young poets, dancers, jazz musicians, Christians, Muslims, SBNRs, politicos, labor organizers, old time activists and newbies, Black, White, Asian and Latino, students, men, women, children, gay, straight, trans and questioning allies embraced one another in solidarity. As is said in the spiritual directors realm, I "noticed" a few truths worth commenting.

+ First, the young poets were vulnerable and angry.  Speaking from the heart, each artist shared a part of their story with us in ways that helped us experience their fears and alienation. Sometimes it was jarring, other times tender, and always honest. Poetry can evoke deep truths and insights using words and tone that are greater than words alone - and this cadre of poets did so with verve. They gave shape and form to what they feel in a world gone mad much like Ginsberg did in "Howl" 62 years ago. 

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated....

I am so glad that poetry from young artists held such an essential role in driving this revival.

+ Second, the music was passionately eclectic. There was a crazy symmetry at work in this event that kicked the night off with a student group playing their take on Ornette Coleman's free jazz. Coleman spent time in the Berkshires at the influential but short-lived Lenox School of Jazz. During his 1958 summer of resting and practicing the sax in this integrated gathering of artists and students, Coleman discerned a way to take the freedom of his music and the heart of the civil rights movement in new directions. Next came a visiting scholar from Williams College who shared a freedom song from his native Zimbabwe. He played a large kalimba-like instrument, taught the participants to clap lightly to a highly syncopated rhythm and then sang over and through our shared sounds. A classical music choir sang a setting of the Prayer of St. Francis, the NAACP speaker started with his version of an old gospel tune, a young dancer shared a jazz track evoking the experiences of Black women in the USA, I played an unplugged version of St. Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane" on acoustic guitar and an a capella gospel choir brought the night to a rousing close. 

What spoke to me was the breadth and depth of beauty honored in each musical offering. I was also moved by the way each different genre fit into the whole. To my spirituality, this was an audible parable of the blessings diversity promises rather than the all too regular cries of fear from the America First crowd.

+ Third, the most moving spoken address came from an imam who reminded us that we are to move and change the world with love. If timing is everything, it was serendipitous that I played my gentle love song celebrating the heart just before he spoke. His words of meeting the challenges of the day with strong love resonated with my counter-intuitive, non-movement song of protest. Fascinating the way the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for human understanding. Kudos to my colleague, Mark, who organized the event and planned its unfolding. 

As the snow keeps falling, I give thanks this day for the totality of the revival and each of its discrete parts. It was, as Carrie Newcomer likes to say, a bit of the beautiful but not yet...


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