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A Music We Are Learning to Listen For

June 30, 2010

Enuma Okoro

Although the Summer Institute concluded 3 weeks ago, I have asked our guest bloggers to post a couple final pieces from that incredible week together.  Here is a delightful reflection from Enuma Okoro on the musical and artistic creativity shared by participants during the final evening of the Institute.

“Up-end the rain stick and what happens next / Is a music that you never would have known / To listen for.” (“The Rain Stick” by Seamus Heaney, from The Spirit Level, 1995)

I have always loved the kitschy painting, “Laughing Jesus” by Ralph Kozak. It reminds me that we serve a playful God who rejoices in our own attempts at play, even as we journey along the potholed road of reconciliation. The image of God laughing suggests that even in the midst of difficult and painful ministry we can make space to delight in the playful gifts of the gathered community.

So it was only fitting that as the Summer Institute drew to a close the ministers, scholars and students found time to play. On the last night, Malcom Guite, priest, poet, and musician emceed a talent show. It was an event where participants could laugh, sing, gaze and ponder at how playful creativity could be graciously woven into a week of challenging discussions, convicting teaching, and affirmed calls to peace and justice. Guite, visiting from Cambridge, England had led the week’s seminar on “The Shaping Spirit of Imagination: the Arts and Reconciliation.” So it seemed only natural that Guite would host the closing talent show where, as he put it, “The celestial city sometimes shines in the midst of the earthly one.”

As the evening began we were introduced to the musicians, a ragamuffin band of volunteers called the Rambling Reconcilers beating on drums and strumming on mandolins, guitars, and a upright bass.  An overhead screen had rolling images of open doors and archways offering a glimpse of what light might lay on the other side of seemingly dark things, and a bridge symbolized that lines and borders must be crossed to walk in the heavenly city. And there were photos of angels. Because those who seek peace are bound to “run into angels in the most unexpected places.”

The chorus of songs were drawn from the deep well of traditions familiar with living in the fragile space of love and lament. Folk music of Appalachia, the blues of the South, and the urban cadence of Spoken Word offered by a Midwestern artist spitting lyrics in Spanish and English painting pictures of reconciled landscapes; these sounds represented the myriad of rhythms by which can God speaks and acts amongst God’s disciples.

The lyrics and the laughter of the evening played off shadows of more intimate moments stolen from the five days of the Institute. There were poems recited in honor of fallen saints. Songs from Ghana, Uganda, and South Africa spoke to the courageous practice of singing through the dark nights of injustice and sorrow. Throughout the evening as participants volunteered their talents, voices, creativity, and play, the Rambling Reconcilers randomly wove in their music as they caught the tune. I couldn’t help but think how reflective it all was of what we as disciples strive to do. We are called by God to listen for the tune of angels and to pick up and play along once we catch the call for peace, the tempo of divine music in our local and global communities.

Rambling Reconcilers and Malcolm Guite (far right)

God is playful, even in the way God orchestrates God’s instruments for God’s glory, for our peace, and for our reconciliation.

About the Author: Enuma Okoro is a writer, speaker, retreat and workshop leader.  She earned her M.Div. degree in 2003 from Duke Divinity School and current lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Her forthcoming spiritual memoir, Reluctant Pilgrim, will be available in October 2010.

Last 5 posts on the Reconcilers Blog:

One Comment leave one →
  1. malcolmguite permalink
    August 12, 2010 5:42 am

    I’ve just found this. Its good to be reminded of a wonderful evening. I think the holy spirit was MC that night rather than me. I certainly didn’t know what a marvelous program the comforter had lined up for us that night when I got the ball rolling with “Angels Unawares.” Thank you Enuma for this beautifully written piece!

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