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A song that saves people


In the movie Walk the Line, Johnny Cash auditions for Sam Phillips. He is hoping for a record deal. He is playing an uninspired and insipid version of a gospel hymn.
And Phillips tells him no.
When Cash demands a reason, Phillips says, “Because I don’t believe you.”
Cash looks crestfallen.
Phillips continues, “We’ve already heard that song a hundred times. Just… like… how… you… sing it.
Cash says, “Well you didn’t let us bring it home.”
Sam Phillips answers “Bring it home? All right, let’s bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing ‘one’ song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing? That same tune we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it’s real, and how you’re gonna shout it? Or, would you sing somethin’ different. Somethin’ real. Somethin’ ‘you’ felt. Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song people want to hear. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people.

I want to sing that kind of song.
I want to sing a song that touches where we hurt, where we care, where we heal, where we give, where we reconcile and mend, where we make and are made whole.
Here’s the deal: This song is alive and well inside every single one of us.

Phillips was inviting Cash to live into his best self. He’s telling him, “You are more than acquiescence.”
Although there is no doubt that we’ve been conned (or programmed) to connect stuff – anything outside our self as the gospel about our identity. I tell myself that only what I consume or earn validates me, so my worth and my capacity to sing somethin’ real is predicated on willpower or talent or creed.

You’re tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing?
I love this invitation. Because it emboldens me to access—to draw on—what is at the core of human dignity. That at my core, I touch the capacity to grieve and to give, to tremble and to be courageous, to doubt and to be faithful, to be uncomfortable and to love, to be watchful and to be generous… to be fully human and fully alive… compassionate, patient, resilient, kind, unselfish, responsible, spirited, high-minded, a listening heart.
Now that’s a song worth singin’.
The kind of singing (to paraphrase Jesus) that takes the bushel off this little light of mine.

The bump in the road comes when I mentally turn this invitation into a duty (more like a burden), as if life—my spiritual and emotional well-being—is a project or an assignment to be graded. And if being fully alive is about success or achievement or compensation; it is no wonder that I live cautious or afraid. I only sing the song that I think I should.
Apparently, I’ve swallowed the notion that it is not enough to be just Terry.

Sometimes we are not ourselves (or we lose sight). I overheard this entertaining (half) conversation the other day waiting in my Toyota dealer. Eavesdropping being my favorite sport.
“Mom. Mom. Mom. Wait. You don’t sound right.”
“No Mom wait. Mom, are you on some kind of medication?”
I think this will be my new line when I talk to any friend or loved one. Just sayin’.

I know that when I live afraid, I live restricted.  And constrained.
So what does it take to reconnect us with our heart? To let us sing somethin’ real?

In the low-budget feel-good comedy (this is a must watch), Joe versus the Volcano, Joe (Tom Hanks’ character) is a raging hypochondriac, stuck in a lifeless, hopeless job.  Joe is diagnosed with an incurable disease, quits his dehumanizing job, and accepts an offer to briefly “live like a king, die like a man,” but to fulfill his agreement he must willingly jump into a live volcano on the island of Waponi Woo in order to appease the volcano god.
A part of his job-quitting speech, “…now I know. Fear. Yellow freakin’ fear. I’ve been too chicken to live my life so I sold it to you for three hundred freakin’ dollars a week!”
Meg Ryan is sailing Hanks to the obscure island where he is to be sacrificed.  She has consented because her reward is the yacht, owned by her rich daddy, his strings still very present in her life.  She tells Hanks, “I feel ashamed because I had a price.  He named it and now I know that about myself.  I’m soul sick and you’re going to see that.”

I know that feeling.
And like Cash, I sing a song that is easy.

Saved was an essential word in my religious upbringing. Saved bought my ticket to heaven. It’s just that my Christian faith is predicated on the incarnation; which is the embodiment of God.  The fully “humanness” of God.  And yet, my upbringing placed a premium on being “saved.”  And in many cases it was about being saved “from my humanness.”  It was all about “arrival,” which turned out to be code for knowing whether I would be “in” or “out” of heaven.  Even though I was taught the magic words, a sense of fear pervaded my days. Why? Because I was not quite sure whether I believed or said or practiced the correct creed or prayer.  My understanding all hinged upon a cerebral connection to God or salvation.  This much was very clear: any connection to my humanity or passion (that I knew to be true, deep in my soul) was to be mistrusted and kept buried.

Saved isn’t about escaping (or earning afterlife points). Saved is about living full into this life. A life full of mercy and compassion and inclusion, connecting with a heart now engaged, ignited, fueled.
I want to sing a song that touches where we hurt, where we care, where we heal, where we give, where we reconcile and mend, where we make and are made whole.

The good news? It spills. When we sing that song from the core of our human connection, we play a role in making a difference. “Human history is a history not only of cruelty,” Howard Zinn reminds us, “but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

On Vashon this week Mary Matsuda Gruenewald received her high school diploma. Here’s the fun part. Mary is 92. She grew up on Vashon. But spent her senior year of high school in Tule Lake Concentration Camp in California. It would be 3 years before she and her family were all free. Hundreds of Japanese families were removed from the PNW islands in 1943. The children in the camp had this motto, Today we follow. Tomorrow we lead. Thank you Mary.
The garden is convalescing after a couple days of hard rain, plants eager to reach again for the sun. Tonight a treat, a concert with Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal. Mercy. They sing it. From the heart.

Quotes for your week…
Imagine what the world would be like if we treated others with inherent and equal dignity and respect, seeing the divine DNA in ourselves and everyone else too-regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality, appearance, or social class. Nothing less offers the world any lasting future. Richard Rohr

Why am I afraid to dance, I who love music and rhythm and grace and song and laughter? Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and beauty of flesh and the living colors of the earth and sky and sea? Why am I afraid to love, I who love love? Euguene O’Neil 


We cannot really experience anything without being
present to it. True presence requires that we be attentive
to what is happening here and now. It is an offering
of our awareness, our participation, and our willingness.
This is a basic and profound courtesy.
By such courtesy we are deeply transformed.
In Silence we discover ourselves,
our actual presence to the life in us and around us.
When we are present,
deeply attentive, we cannot be busy controlling.
Instead we become beholders – giving ourselves up
to the mystery of things. We become more willing to
let things be. And, as a consequence
we can also let ourselves be.
This is so simple… yet so hard.
Gunilla Norris

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
John O’Donohue


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