I spent last week in Chicago, working with friends old and new. Two days were spent at an editorial meeting for a hymnal revision, while Wednesday brought me to the Lutheran School of Theology at the Univ. of Chicago with some friends. We had some church, talked with some students at lunch and sat in on a 3-hour class. The rest of the week I co-led a conference called "Music That Makes Community" at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Parkridge. There were some people I'd met in Feb at a composers' retreat in FL, a UCC pastor who lives on a tiny island (Pop. 300) and is totally connected to spirit (we fell in love right off the bat), a spiritual director, a folk singer, a guy who leads centering prayer, a couple of youth ministers, a few other musicians, and a bunch of Lutheran pastors. I had altogether way too much fun with about 45 beautiful people, 35 of them complete strangers. I think most of them had fun, too. I've heard from about ten of them already and it's only been two days.
I always worry that I won't know what to do in the moment, that certain songs won't work their usual magic, that people won't be willing to step out of their comfort zones, or trust the group enough to let themselves be vulnerable (especially during the improvisation segment - sometimes they just can't let go - much to learn either way). A pastor came up to me and was so excited after the composing segment because no one had ever given him permission to compose before. I say "Why wait?" (RULE #13,879: It's better to ask forgiveness than permission!). There are always great tunes written at these things, and they're never by the people I expect.
I don't know why I always worry, it's not about me, and God is quite good at making new life, especially in Spring. I'm always amazed as I watch the people drop their defenses and enjoy the reality of playing together and building community. There are endless teachable moments as absolutely everyone is included, the playing field is leveled, differences are recognized, understood and honored. We learn about ourselves as much as we learn about others. There is a gracious sense of accomplishment as people find their places in our community of sound, as we learn to listen deeper, quiet our anxiety, support one another, play/sing off each other, and affirm the choices other people make by joining our voices with theirs.
People realize that roles change based on whether we're in a smaller or larger group, where in the room we choose to sit, how well or poorly we can hear what's going on around us, and about a zillion other variables. It's amazing how adaptable we are when we look for it, and what we can learn about ourselves in a roomful of people. The ways we can grow in compassion on the spot, even if we've never laid eyes on one another before are astonishingly lovely.
Here's a Rumi poem that was sent to me by someone after the conference. The Music That Makes Community conference was kinda like this:
Did you hear that winter’s over? The basil
and the carnations cannot control their
laughter. The nightingale, back from his
wandering, has been made singing master
over the birds. The trees reach out their
congratulations. The soul goes dancing
through the king’s doorway. Anemones blush
because they have seen the rose naked.
Spring, the only fair judge, walks in the
courtroom, and several December thieves steal
away, Last year’s miracles will soon be
forgotten. New creatures whirl in from non-
existence, galaxies scattered around their
feet. Have you met them? Do you hear the
bud of Jesus crooning in the cradle? A single
narcissus flower has been appointed Inspector
of Kingdoms. A feast is set. Listen: the
wind is pouring wine! Love used to hide
inside images: no more! The orchard hangs
out its lanterns. The dead come stumbling by
in shrouds. Nothing can stay bound or be
imprisoned. You say, “End this poem here,
and wait for what’s next.” I will. Poems
are rough notations for the music we are.
From The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing
by Jalal al-Din Rumi
translated by Coleman Barks