Some stories are like restorative prayers. They invite (no, they require) retelling, for the healing of our spirit and our soul.
In 1942, the Nazis were actively and forcefully rounding up Jews in France. In the picturesque farming village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon (in southern France), Reformed Church minister Andre Trocme inspired an entire village to change lives. And, as it turns out, the world in which we live.
Each of the citizens of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon voluntarily risked their lives to hide Jews–in homes, on farms, and in public buildings; Jews who were being rounded up by the Nazi SS for shipment to the death camps. (It is said that there was not a single home in the village that did not shelter a Jewish family.) Le Chambon-sur-Lignon became known as the “City of Refuge.”
Whenever Nazi patrols searched the village, the Jews were sent, surreptitiously, out into the woodland countryside. One of the villagers recalled, “As soon as the soldiers left, we would go into the forest and sing a song. When they heard that song, the Jews knew it was safe to come home.”
Can you imagine the feeling when you heard the song?
It is estimated that as many as five thousand lives were saved–many given passage to Switzerland. One reason for this display of compassion? These French villagers were descendants from the persecuted Protestant Huguenots. Their own history of persecution connected them to the plight of the Jewish people hiding in their homes.
Perhaps that is true, I do not know. But three things about this story struck me.
One, the extraordinary power of compassion (and the courage to practice compassion in a world that places a premium on power and control).
Two, compassion is born in the soil of vulnerability, humility and the awareness that we are all connected. Thich Nhat Hanh’s reminder that, “We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”
Three, the power of love and music to bring each and every one of us, home. Home, the place where we are given value and love and dignity, and from that place, value and love and dignity spill to the world around us.
What song did the villagers sing?
What kind of music represents freedom and safety and well-being and home? Or maybe it’s not that important. The song, I mean. (Although I’m torn between a Mozart Requiem and Stairway to Heaven.)
There is no denying our knee-jerk need to figure it out. But maybe, just maybe, the song is compassion. Plain and simple.
I only know that for whatever reason, the villagers chose love. They chose Grace. And the rest, well, the rest is history.
Sadly, we bury the music of Grace in rhetoric.
We bury the music of Grace in the need to be right.
We bury the music of Grace in the need to demean or diminish.
I want a world where is it safe to come home. To be honest, my druthers would be that this all kicks in after life is tidy and all straightened out. That would be nice.
In the Post Office this week, I heard this conversation. “I’m trying to stay sane and healthy. Or is it healthy and sane. I’m not sure of the order.”
Of course the first Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is filled with suffering. So much for tidy. Or for my wish to eliminate sorrow. The (very old) Sanskrit word for suffering is Dukkha. (It can mean stress, anxiety or dissatisfaction.) The contrast is Sukha, which can translate happiness (which throws me because I’m not real certain what happiness looks like, except that it seems to describe someone other than me).
What is helpful to know is that these words date to a time when humans traveled by horse or ox drawn carts, and the words were literally used to mean, “having a bad or good axle.”
Okay, I love this. (Plus, I’m good at mixing metaphors.)
Yes, there will be ruts—life can be precarious and unsafe—but the axle (not the ruts) determines the ride.
Now back to our villagers and the song… Everyone knows what it means to be afraid, or at risk, or at wits end, or discombobulated, or fragmented. Their spirit depleted, or without hope. More than ever we need refuge; safe places for sanity and restoration.
Okay. So, what is next?
Mother Teresa was asked where she found her strength, her focus, her fuel. The fuel, she explained, is prayer. “To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.”
To be replenished is to be reminded of what is true, of what tethers us. This is not just someone saying, “you’ll be okay.” But to know, at our core, that we are safe and we are home. And now we have something to draw on. And that means we have something to give.
In one of her journals (in the early 1900s), Raissa Maritain wrote, “Yesterday I had a good morning. Once again when I recollect myself, I again find the same simple demands of God: gentleness, humility, charity, interior simplicity; nothing else is asked of me. And suddenly I saw clearly why these virtues are demanded, because through them the soul becomes inhabitable for God and for one’s neighbor in an intimate and permanent way. They make a pleasant cell of it. Hardness and pride repel, complexity disquiets. But humility and gentleness welcome, and simplicity reassures.”
Yes. And I say that’s the oil Mother Teresa is talking about. Our sanctuary is not just for solace, but also indispensable as deterrent. Because with sanctuary, we build immunity; to not be as easily susceptible to fear, or to being at the mercy of every threat.
Our values — gentleness, humility, charity, interior simplicity — tether us.
And we are reminded of them when we hear the song that invites us home.
However, here’s the deal: our story doesn’t stop when we hear the song.
We leave different than when we came in.
And now, we sing (spill) the song to others.
The song gives us the power to change our paradigm. Even though there is suffering, the axle determines the ride. And the song always invites people home to safety.
I cannot tell you what song will bring you out of hiding. But I can tell you this: you have one. Count on it.
And if you sit still, you may hear it. Really.
It is the “song” that reminds us we are beautiful, when we feel ugly.
It is the song that tells us we are whole, when we feel broken.
It is the song that gives us the power to literally give a damn, on those days when we feel done in.
Whatever it is, the song brings people out of hiding, out of unease and out of fear. The song invites courage and renewal and resilience.
And that, well, that is music worth singing. And it is the music of Grace.
I had the best Fourth Celebration. Because Broadway came to my house. Hamilton. I’m a happy camper. And here’s the good part; I get to watch it again.
I didn’t miss the big show fireworks. Although islanders found ways to boom and erupt until well into the morning.
“It was crazy loud last night.” One lamb says to me this morning on my walk. “What’s up with that?”
I smile. “That’s how we tell people we are free.”
“Really? Wouldn’t a smile and a hug be better?”
Tonight, I’m listening to Sara Bareilles, A Safe Place to Land. And reading Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns.
Quote for your week…
The function of freedom is to free someone else. Toni Morrison
Update… I’m shifting gears as my work has changed. No speaking events for 2020. And now into 2021. All of you who attend the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim know that the event is cancelled for next year (Although yes, there will be a video event). So… coming soon; a new book. The Gift of Enough–a journal for the present moment (Franciscan Media). And I will be making another eCourse available at no cost – This Is The Life. And there will be Zoom gatherings involved. More info to come. And please join me… NEW. Sabbath Moment Daily Dose. A quote, a paragraph and a prayer to refuel us. Daily nourishment. This is in addition to Monday’s Sabbath Moment.
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Two of my most cherished referred to in today’s Sabbath Moment: butterflies and Merton! I can reflect on them all morning as I begin a new week. Pam
–Hi, Terry. Have you heard of “Nature 365”? It’s comes daily, a video that usually lasts about a minute. It often reminds me of Sabbath Moment in that it helps me to pause, be quiet, notice. The one from today that I have forwarded is a good example. Peace, Mick
–Hi Terry; I just did the S&P Creating Sanctuary course (with a friend who had recently moved away). Perfect timing for us to use as a connection for 12 weeks as she established a new home and I revisited mine of 47 years. Your Sabbath Moment morning conversations with sheep remind me of an England garden walk I did a few years ago where early every morning we walked down a rural lane and had conversations with the various types of sheep we met. Some varieties were much more curious about the weird Okies talking to them than others. Nature is my way to try and stay sane in this scary changing world. (Climate change is as frightening as covid). Thank you for the work you do. It takes so much more conscious effort to find peace these days. Janet
–Hi, Terry, Bless you for sharing your garden flowers with us! Like prayer, you cannot have too many flowers! I have been watching the CNN documentary on the year 1968. I was a freshman in college that year, and remember the huge societal upheaval with civil rights, the Viet Nam war, long hair, and a new generation bent on changing things for the better. Many people could not understand; many people fought the changes; but change came. And change is still coming in the birth of a new generation and a new world. Bless you for always sharing your light with us! It means the world! Godspeed! Sky Ann
–Terry, What a crazy time this is. So glad you have your sheep friends to discuss it all with. Praying for an end to racism as well as the virus. Love and blessings. Kathy.
–Terry, Good Morning. Blessings to you for placing emphasis on the importance of staying in the sacrament of the present. The present moment is where life IS, and if we don’t stay in it, we are missing life. Very sorry about your adventure with pain, and thankful that you are safe and well. My prayers are with you. You are such a blessed gift to us and to so many. Please stay safe and be well. Lois and Milton, working on 59th anniversary.
–Terry, I sat with my coffee listening to God sing a love song to the world. The messenger was a mockingbird. The time was first light and the subsequent sunrise. What peace and love and joy I felt. And a deep knowing that all is well and that I can choose to be present and loving and live that wonderful day God has given me. Your Sabbath Moment was perfect for me this morning (as it usually is). God speaks through you every morning, you and the sheep too, and for all of it and you, I am grateful. Suchin
–Your Sabbath Moments always bring hope. These are times when rumors spring forth often because folks have little else to do but fabricate. Sometimes that seems to be a national pastime. I also particularly treasure the way your messages set God free to be God to us. Too often religion attempts to keep God in a box, a box of human creation. Follow these rules. Do that. We have all the answers if you simply do it our way. Not so. Your sheep, flowers and messages invite us to follow God’s way as we hear it with butterfly hearing once we quiet the cacophony of the world. Thank you! patti
POEMS AND PRAYERS
We need stories that tell us the reason why compassion and the humane treatment of our fellows is more important–and interesting–than feathering our own nests as we go on accumulating
property and power. William Kittridge
A Safe Place to Land
When holding your breath is safer than breathing
When letting go is braver than keeping
When innocent words turn to lies
And you can’t hide by closing your eyes
When pain is all that they offer
Like a kiss from the lips of monster
You know the famine so well, but never met the feast
And home is the belly of the beast
The ocean is wild and over your head
And the boat beneath you is sinking
Don’t need room for your bags
Hope is all that you have
So say the Lord’s prayer twice, hold your babies tight
Surely someone will reach out a hand
And show you a safe place to land
Oh, imagine yourself in a building
Up in flames being told to stand still
The window’s wide open
This is leap is on faith
You don’t know who will catch you
Maybe somebody will
Be the hand of a hopeful stranger
A little scared but you’re strong enough
Be the light in the dark of this danger
‘Til the sun comes up
Great Ocean of Love,
help us turn the tide toward global compassion.
Move through minds and hearts caught
in the choking seaweeds of
indifference and selfishness.
Wash out to sea discrimination and systemic racism,
ignorance, hatred and bigotry.
Let all of this dissolve in your vast waters
of transforming love.
Your indwelling presence is much stronger
than the moon’s energy urging the sea back and forth.
Inspire us to use our energy to overcome
what causes division and inequality among humankind.
Let us not lose heart.