Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Peace He Left With Us

Christianity for the Rest of Us
by Diana Butler Bass

I posted about Diana Butler Bass's Christianity for the Rest Us just a few days ago. I had an experience tonight, though, that brought to my mind some of what she had to say about beauty as a signpost of the healthy mainline churches. Bass writes on page 210:
"Perhaps unexpectedly in this highly technological age, young adults may well have found their way back to an untapped stream of American theological mysticism. Postmodern and ancient at the same time, new and old, innovative and traditional. Truth is moving beyond the categories of reason, beyond provable facts to a different realm. Christianity is changing-from being the Truth of rational speculation to being an exploration of the exquisite truthfulness of beauty."

Bass is writing here about the revival of the creative arts and music in the mainline church, and I agree with her that we are rediscovering that avenue to spirituality and communion with the Holy One. I want to take her one step further, though. I believe that music and the arts have the power to unite us across faith traditions, to help us sense the spark of the divine in one another. My guess is that an ability and a willingness to recognize and celebrate that spark will ultimately be part of the mainline revivial.

Stick with me here. Tonight I went with two church friends to the "Pray for Peace Concert and Prayer Ceremony" held at the National Cathedral. The event opened with a prayer service led by Tibetan monks. They were chanting in honor of the Dalai Lama receiving the Congressional Medal tomorrow. Anyway, initially I was NOT up for it. I am exhausted, as a beloved church saint is desperately ill. I had been rushing around dealing with work and trying to get the boys situated with a babysitter and meet up with my friends, etc. I felt like I had made a mistake in even coming to the concert.

Anyway, the first monk started chanting, and it was this unbelievably low, guttural sound. Kind of like a lawnmower. I thought "Jeez, that sounds awful. How long are we going to have to listen to this? Why do people think chanting is so great?" So . . . I figured there had to be something going on here that I was not tuning in to. Decided to make a conscious effort: for however long the monks chanted I would NOT:
a) fidget
b) look at my watch
c) anticipate or second guess ("Did I see they were selling fair trade chocolate out in the narthex? Wonder if Jackson Browne will sing 'The Rebel Jesus?'")

I closed my eyes and tried to block out all other stimuli (and not go to sleep). To my very pleasant surprise, the music DID draw me in. After awhile, with the lulling, hypnotic sound of the chanting came the gentle ringing of a bell. The combination was strangely beautiful. The bell sounded like the beckoning of the divine, inviting all of us to envision a better world. Afterwards, I felt unexpectedly refreshed. I am not a Buddhist and have no plans to become one, but I had a new appreciation for their customs as a spiritual discipline and pathway to something I cannot quite articulate.

The concert itself was great - Graham Nash, David Crosby, Keb'Mo, Emily Saliers, John Hall, Jackson Browne. But the best surprise of the concert was this guy named Krishna Das (Google him). He is a chanter who studied in India and now chants here in the US. Accompanied by drums and finger cymbals, he performed an absolutely breathtaking chant. He has a voice like an Appalachian folksinger, which seems incongruous in a Buddhist chanter, but it really worked. About 3/4 of the way through his chant, he switched over to "Amazing Grace," but to the tune of the chant. The whole place started spontaneously singing along. At that moment, I happened to look up from our seats in the transept and saw the ornate carving at the top of the arch of Christ on the cross, flanked by the two thieves. It was so clear in that moment: He was up there for all of us. The Christians in their clerical collars. The Muslims with their beards and headscarves. The Jews with their yarmulkes. The Buddhists with their mulberry and saffron colored robes. We are all the people of God. An appreciation of the beauty in one another's traditions can draw us together.

Two things I believe:

1) Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
2)God loves us all.

Somehow it all works out in the end.

With humility and hope,

Reverent Reader


At 10/17/07, 5:13 PM , Anonymous Nancita said...

Read about this in this morning's paper. Wish I had been there.


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