More often than one might think, a simple tune is the perfect vehicle for people to learn how to negotiate, re-mind, and re-claim the gifts and skills they already possess. What We Need Is Here is the most perfect simple song I know; its five small words pointing to the heart of gratefulness. Written by Amy McCreath, What We Need Is Here sprang from her reading the poetry of Wendell Berry.
The Wild Geese
Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.
By Wendell Berry, from Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
I've been teaching Amy's song for a couple of years now, and although I don't use it the same way every time and the people are always different (even when I use it twice with the same group), it always elicits beauty and astonishment as people experience themselves falling into a group growth mind-set they hadn't noticed, believed existed, or paid much attention to. I hear about it a lot, after the fact. Here's the latest shout out from Michael, who attended a retreat in Idaho:
"I've been talking quite a bit about the experience. I taught the choir "What We Need is Here" just to see how they would respond to stepping outside their comfort zone with harmony and in learning something without music. I could not believe the response. The harmony and movement were amazing, and they ended together automatically. The looks on their faces were priceless.
I have been trying to get this group to understand their talent for a long time. I've told them repeatedly how the music they say they can't sing is not beyond their ability but simply beyond their comfort level. I think they are starting to get it, thanks to what I learned."
Someone once said, "Most things aren't difficult, some things are just unfamiliar."
I say we know things we don't even know we know, and if we quieten ourselves, listen deeply, and allow ourselves to play with one another, we begin to hear them, and they will become more familiar and useful to us. As loving people. As a species. Even in a room full of people.
Thanks to Michael, his choir, and all the people at the Idaho retreats; to Wendell Berry for the last three sentences which remind me that abandon is a place we might be able to access in a group, that how far we go depends on our ability to cultivate quietness of heart and clarity of sight. Special thanks to Amy McCreath who has an uncanny knack for discerning the most important words and setting them to songs that turn out to be both simple and truly expansive. A fine gift.
Tune copyright Amy McCreath. If you'd like to use it, please ask.