Magazine article Pastoral Music

Spirituality: Many Paths, One God

Magazine article Pastoral Music

Spirituality: Many Paths, One God

Article excerpt

I tend (or, at least, try) to work out of my particular passion, out of what makes me come alive. Here's what I mean by that. The Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981) was a theologian and mystic and a mentor to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who used to keep one of Dr. Thurman's books in his pocket. When Dr. King spoke during the March on Washington in 1963, that book was Jesus and the Disinherited (1949). Thurman famously wrote: "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive" (Meditations of the Heart, 1953).

My hope is that I am in a community of people-the National Association of Pastoral Musicians-who have come alive, people on a journey who are working out of their particular passion. That passion was planted in your heart by the Holy Spirit.

Last night, you heard from Father Tony, a preacher. Now, I'm not a revivalist; my passion is teaching. I have taught since I was a child, gathering my dolls into a pretend classroom. I used to gather the kids in the neighborhood to play "teacher." I love teaching, and my favorite things to teach are spirituality, theology, and ministry, so I'm planted where God wants me to be!

This past year, one of the classes I taught was "Religious Experience in Context." That class is the source for this presentation because it explores how we experience God from our particular context and how we are able to be in dialogue, work together, and affirm the differences in our experience and our contexts. In that class last year, there were almost twenty students-students from China, Korea, Brazil, Ethiopia, Mexico; students born and raised here in the United States-Black, White, Latino, Native American. All were in this classroom: This class was rich. On the first days of class, people were in their own little silos, very quiet, wondering what was going to happen, what the expectations might be. But over the course of thirteen weeks, they became a community-a learning community. They became a ministerial community. They were enriched by guest speakers and by each other.

That is who we are to be as Church. We shouldn't be in our own little silos; you know, come to the convention and get yours and go back home again. Our gathering here should be about how we are connecting, how we are telling the story, how we are sharing good news, how we are becoming one.

There's a lot of bad news out there, and you give power to what you focus on. So if you only focus on the bad, you give it power. Here's an exercise I use: I ask people to look around a room and pick out everything that's yellow. Decorations, clothing, carpeting-find whatever's yellow. Then I have them close their eyes and concentrate on all those yellows, all those shades of one color. Then, with their eyes still shut, I ask them to tell me where the reds are in the room. And they can't, because they're so focused on everything that's yellow. They have given that color the power to dominate what they see and imagine. In a similar way, God's grace is all around, but if we focus only on what's wrong with or what's lacking in the world, ourselves, and other people, we can't experience God's grace. We sap ourselves of energy; we block ourselves from receiving God's Spirit, from doing the work that God is calling us to, from being prophetic, as Father Tony said yesterday when he reminded us of the bishops' call to be prophetic. Our focus is off, so we need to recognize God's presence, especially the presence of God in each other.

Of course, we need to understand the context in which another person lives. If we offer help, for instance, people may refuse it for one reason or another, but that should not stop us from being who we are and offering the help. Sometimes we block our blessings, who we are, by trying to anticipate another's response, by hesitating or not even offering in the first place. God calls you to be you; God calls me to be me. …

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