Thea, a baby in the womb is the song of its parents, a composition revealed movement by movement by you, o Holy Muse. Inspire expecting parents to look beyond mere expectations toward your untapped vision of what might be. Amen.
Thea, When you set your people free from bondage in Egypt, Miriam led the song and dance. When you set me free from bondage, I led the song and dance. May your voice ever be on my lips and your wisdom ever written on my heart. Amen.
These last few weeks, I've wrestled hard with the news I've read about what's going on in the United States and abroad. I've also reflected at length on the role I play in perpetuating and reinforcing the sin of the world. As a Christian, I am called to hope in Christ, the lamb who takes away the sin of the world--the sin I've helped nurture. As a Christian, I am also called to recognize that I am a member of the Body of Christ, the one who stands forever slain. To be a Christian is to be both the slain and the slayer, the risen and the rising. The past few weeks have also been a hard lesson about my own capacity for empathy. The weight of the world's pain and suffering has settled heavily on me. Seeing any flicker of light in all this darkness has been a mighty effort. When I've prayed the hours, I've prayed for those who are oppressed and for those who oppress. When I've led the singing at ECMASU's Sunday night Taizé service, I've prayed for my heart to be opened wider, so I might discover in what ways the world needs my gifts and my radical transformation. When even prayer has left me empty, I've clung to the trust that the dawn will arrive eventually, no matter how much darkness the world and I have created.
Someone told me recently that I was in a chrysalis, a cocoon, being transformed in the midst of palpable darkness from one form of life to another. I wonder if that's not true of the world. I wonder if all this darkness isn't leading us to a brilliant cascade of color that flutters lightly on the wind, bringing about God's peace and joy for the sake of all.
Yesterday I completed the construction of a bridge spanning over two thousand miles and thirteen years. I sang Suzanne Toolan's "The Call" with two other young women during the 10:30 liturgy at St. Augustine's Episcopal Parish. This is a song I learned at Historic St. Peter Church (now the Community of St. Peter), and it is a song that gave me a taste of the potential for liturgy and symbol to crash together to reveal the holy. Leave all things you have and come and follow me, Jesus urges. Thirteen years and two thousand miles later, I hesitate to leave behind all I've accumulated on this journey. My baggage is mine to keep. But the invitation is so insistent, echoing softly even when I clang and screech. Could I just leave it all behind me? Would I be doing it for the right reasons? What if everything changed as a result? And come and follow me.
Sister Thea Bowman was a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, and she changed the face of the African-American Roman Catholic Church. Sister Thea was a woman who led with joy, story, music, and a sharp intellect. She was a woman who had the power to speak prophetically against injustice in ways that would soften the hearts of even old white bishops--again and again. Her power was the power to tell a story, to preach without a fourth wall, to engage others at the level of senses and emotion and experience. She died from cancer a couple of weeks before I turned eight years old. It was another twenty years before I knew who she was. When I make my solemn profession as a Benedictine Canon next spring, I plan to take Sister Thea's name as my religious name. I see in Sister Thea a bright, strong, gentle, humble, magnetic leader who could tear down any Jericho walls with the dulcimer sounds of her story-telling-and-transforming voice. Do I have the courage to be more than I am? Do I have the humility to let go of my own weighty importance so I can fly with the wild, light Spirit in whom I put my trust and hopes?
My dear friend, Denise, has given me a number of CD's in the past--she gave out CD's as party favors for her daughter's fifth birthday party, and she gave me a couple of CD's to listen to as travel music for our journey out of California and into Arizona. One of the songs on one of those CD's caught my attention a month or two ago: "It’s Amazing" by Jem. It's one of those songs that catches your ear--her cool, low, non-urgent voice makes the song very singable, and my humming has turned to singing as I've listened to the song more closely. I was surprised to realize that this was a song about following the deepest desires of one's heart. Do it, now, you know who you are You feel it in your heart and you're burning with ambition But first, wait, won't get it on a plate You're gonna have to work for it harder an’ harder And I know, ‘cause I've been there before Knocking on the doors with rejection [rejection] And you'll see, ‘cause if it's meant to be Nothing can compare to deserving your dreams This has become an anthem for me, both for my discernment process in particular and for my life in general. The trouble I've discovered with intentional listening is that I often listen through the voices I have heard before, and often the most powerful voices from my past have shut me down.
Patience, now, frustration’s in the air And people who don't care well it's gonna get you down And you'll, fall, yes you will hit a wall But get back on your feet an’ you'll be stronger and smarter And I know, ‘cause I've been there before Knocking down the doors won't take no for an answer And you'll see, ‘cause if it's meant to be Nothing can compare to deserving your dreams
It turns out that it was usually the unpowerful voices--the voices who had little if any influence over my opportunities--that urged and whispered and cheered me on, naming my gifts in truth and freedom. As I listen to the prophetic sung words of Jem, I find that the power in the voices of my life is shifting. Don't be embarrassed Don't be afraid Don't let your dreams slip away It's determination and using your gift And everybody has a gift Never give up Never believe the hype Trust your instincts and most importantly You've got nothing to lose So just go for it
The great challenge of my life, at age 32, is to speak with the conviction of my heart without holding back for fear of anything, whether it's fear of being misunderstood, fear of being perceived as arrogant, or fear of being regarded as simply wrong. In order to embrace my conviction, I've had to let go of my ego's desire to manage everyone's image of me and simply present myself and my call--my heart's deepest, most life-giving, energizing desire--as I understand them in their fullness. The conviction of my heart bears a truth that is greater than power.
It's amazing, it's amazing All that you can do It's amazing, makes my heart sing Now it's up to you As I continue to listen and speak in my discernment circle, I bring my whole self to the conversation with the intention of being fully seen--by others, by God, and by me. The hardest questions have invited new clarity; the easiest questions have affirmed how much work I've already done to hear God's call for my life. As I seek to balance the voices that invite deeper questioning and voices that deeply affirm, how do I hold all the voices in tension with the longing that God has planted deep within me, which only I can speak?
As I awoke this morning from a night of grief-laced sleep, the first three verses of this hymn, whose words were written by Jean Janzen, spilled from me: I sing to you from summers of my heart My voice a field of surge and greening My roots established in the long-lit hours Your presence in the throbbing I sing when fullness burnishes my day The mellow spices of completion The harvest of my life in you which yields A juice of joy and feasting But when in silence nothing rises up Into my soul, and I am frozen When iron days refuse to split and thaw The clutch of ice to flowing I struggled to remember the final verse all morning, till it came to me just now: Then give me faith that warmth will swell the bud to song, which like a leaf will open For from the urgings of your steadfast love There flows my truest singing Easter's Aurora draws near.