There's the Gold

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Last week I sat in the middle of the auditorium while the first Easter rehearsal was getting underway. It was a music run-through. In some ways it was just a following-through kind of rehearsal, beginning to do all the things they've been planning for the last couple months. No performance, really. Just practice. The vocalists and band were all situated on the stage to face one another, ignoring the rest of the room, focused on each other and the work ahead. Underneath work-lights, and sometimes even in the dark, they tuned and tested and chatted, readying themselves to cement harmonies and plan transitions. 

In some ways, it was the farthest cry from the celebration it will become in just a few days. 

But then they started the first song, and I started getting emotional. In the midst of the first verse of the very first song I was reminded of how good it is to do this work. I thought, “There’s the gold.”

I once walked into a working mine, into the dark of the cave and the cold. I watched as the men loaded onto an elevator, the lights affixed to their helmets shining back at me. I watched as the elevator descended into the earth and swallowed them whole. 

Making things feels like that sometimes because the things we’re most called to make means excavating our souls. With a sense of purpose we descend and begin to dig, and it often feels like all we have is a hard hat affixed with a light that’s begun to dim and flicker. We dig in the dark until we find what we came for. Then begins the even harder work of bringing it back to the surface, and once that’s done whatever we’ve found still needs to be fired and refined and finally made to shine. 

Making things is hard work.

But along the way we catch these glimmers, these flashes of light, these flickers that remind us why we started digging to begin with. When we’ve been digging in the dark for awhile those flashes sometimes seem even brighter. 

Or maybe we’re seeing them for what they really are. 

As I sat in that bare-bones rehearsal and the first song began to swell, I caught a glimmer of what will come to be. I felt for a moment just a little bit of what God is going to do. Every time that happens I am reminded again that any amount of digging is worth it.

They Came Marching: Charlottesville

They came marching,
heels clicking perfectly
in step with the most shameful shadows of history
while disbelievingly,
we watched
and were awakened
to a rank and
wretched evil,
a cabal of hell. 

They came brandishing torches,
marshaling the vilest of forces,
their faces contorted
with sordid
fear cast in the flickering fire
they held in hand
and eyes
and hearts.

I could not comprehend
how I was witnessing these men
in my own time
and not in one resigned
to archaic and tedious tomes
and black and white photos.

But no,
these scenes blaze
with beet-red bigotry,
with white-hot hatred and insanity,
with blue-flamed depravity,
all under the tri-color banner
before which we cover our hearts and laud,
One nation, under God.

Again, don't scenes like these
belong to other chronologies,
back when we
were less enlightened,
more frightened
by bogeymen,
superstitions,
and folklore fictions?

And... by the color of other skins? 

Yet these scenes
confront us upon the glowing screens
of the little machines
we hold in our hands.
They are not estranged
by grain,
or glossing
and monochrome processing.

We cannot dissociate
due to a veneer of black and white,
for black versus white
is still a fight, and even bigger and broader now than then.
Really, it always has been.

Because our world has always been willing
to accommodate hate,
a manifold spate
of vitriol
toward any and all
manner of men and women.
Black, brown, and every other color is ground in
to the soil of which we were once formed
and then adorned
with His image.

Color and hue,
heritage and views,
beliefs and religion,
sexual identification,
and gender
continue to render
us as something less than human,
the targets of the most craven havens
of hate, slander,
murder, and all manner
of reprehensible
and untenable
confederals.

So I will march,
in step with the God who trod this earth,
giving birth to the flame of hope.
For love—
that eternal torch—
can surely forge
a way through the scourge
of evil.

I don't yet know the way,
but I'll follow,
trusting this:
there will be a day
when the hate-filled hollows
of those mouths that stretch wide like open graves
will reckon with a God who blazes
with Love and also with Justice.

The Privileged Avenue

There’s a peace lily on a stand in the corner of our dining room that’s twice the size it was the last time I took notice of it. It has new, white flowers unfurling themselves. I stopped and admired it for a few moments. 

I stopped and looked.

The alarm goes off. The day flies by. Breakfast together. Drive to work. Home from work. Dinner together. Stories. Bed. Our rhythms are the stuff life is made of, but the familiarity means I can all too easily miss the beauty. 

Looking and seeing aren’t exactly the same thing. Everyday I look at my family, my kids. I don’t always see them. This week I’ve had a few moments when I’ve stopped and really admired my kids for a moment. I’ve seen them. 

Finnden: Dad, can I tell you a joke?
Me: (Half listening) Sure. 

My expectations were low. His jokes are usually ones he makes up, things like What did the moon say to the sun? Stop shining! You’re too bright! They’re not really funny because they’re not really jokes. But this one…

Finnden: What do you call a pirate with two eyes, two hands and two legs?
Me: I don’t know.
Finnden: A beginner. 

A little laugh escaped my lips, not so much at the joke but at my astonishment. When did you learn to tell a joke?

I came home from work and Ona, the youngest, barely two, came running from the kitchen, yelling, Daddy, hurry, I hungry for dinner!

I paused in the process of putting down my bag and looked at her. That was a full sentence, I thought. Sure it was a garbled mess, unintelligible to anyone but Karen and me, but she’d given us a glimpse of just how much her mind was at work. 

The most profound moment came while I was putting together a little photo book to send to both grandpas for Father’s Day. I scoured through all our pictures over the past year or so and put them in an album, and as I looked at them all there together I was seeing my kids anew. I saw them when they thought no one was watching and when they were putting on a show. I saw them being silly and being kind. I saw them being pensive and deliciously weird. Each of them came through so clearly, and in a way that was so definitively them, that it took my breath away. Frozen in place like that I finally stopped and saw and admired them in all their created glory, marveling at how much they were not mine but their own.

Perhaps there is nothing in this world as powerful to break selfishness as is the simple act of looking at our own children. In our love for them we are given a privileged avenue to feel as God feels—to burst in unselfishness, in joy, in delight, and in the desire to let another’s life be more real and important than our own.
-Ronald Rolheiser

Rest

Sometimes ideas are borne out of inspiration and sometimes out of desperation. Ideas rooted in inspiration come most often when I feel I've been given something, something I can also give, something to say, something I can audaciously add to the world. 

But the ideas that come from desperation, while not being more true, are certainly more raw. Those ideas are often what my heart most needs to hear, the messages I need to receive, and the process of making them gives me the very selfish opportunity to repeat them to myself over and over and over again.

Life has felt like a blur lately, everything moving quickly past, and I’m not sure if I’m the one running or the one standing still. 

In the midst of it I’ve been reminded of an invitation Jesus extended to his friends, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Those words feel like some kind of sigh, an unwinding of tension, a chance to press pause. 

I wanted to make a piece that felt like a release, an exhalation, a sense of quiet, and even prayer. 

Thank you to Jenny Potter, Andrew Schuurmann, and the incomparable Meena Cho on cello. Even the process of making this with all of you felt like an invitation to a quiet place.