“What we are doing here tonight, enjoying the beauty of this music, is an act of political warfare. If we are going to heal this planet, reconcile grievances, repair harm done in the past and the present, we have to have beauty and joy in our lives.”
Jazz Vespers | July 17, 2016
A meditation by Christina Honchell
Prayer for the World
Let the rain come and wash away
the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds
held and nurtured over generations.
Let the rain wash away the memory
of the hurt, the neglect.
Then let the sun come out and
fill the sky with rainbows.
Let the warmth of the sun heal us
wherever we are broken.
Let it burn away the fog so that
we can see each other clearly,
so that we can see beyond labels,
beyond accents, gender or skin color.
Let the warmth and brightness
of the sun melt our selfishness,
so that we can share the joys and
feel the sorrows of our neighbors.
And let the light of the sun
be so strong that we will see all
people as our neighbors.
Let the earth, nourished by rain,
bring forth flowers
to surround us with beauty.
And let the mountains teach our hearts
to reach upward to heaven.
– Rabbi Harold Kushner
This has been the hardest year of my life. Many of you have listened to me tell my stories of my journey with my mother over the years, of the blessings and challenges of her dementia, of the gifts and learnings I’ve received in loving her through it all. For the last five years of her life, I had driven to Orange County every Friday, to be with her, to take care of her needs, but mostly to sit with her, to watch birds, to hear her stories one more time, to laugh about the same silly things, to hold her hand.
One Friday in March, a couple of weeks after I sat with her at her passing, I was making that drive, for the purpose of taking care of her house and some legal issues, without the prospect of seeing her when I got there, and I was so despondent, so overcome with tears that I had to pull over on the freeway. It was a beautiful spring morning, sunshine shimmering on the green meadows in the canyons, hawks circling in the breezes. A deep breath, a deep appreciation for all that beauty and I was able to start again. After a very long day in Orange County, I made my way home, accompanied by a rising moon, again overwhelmed once I was alone in the car. But that moon! And the purple mountains drawing me north. The stars daring to emerge in the inky sky. And the memory of the morning sun. And Irving Berlin began to preach to me, about beauty and gratitude:
Sunshine gives me a lovely day
Moonlight gives me the milky way
I’ve got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.
And I sang those words quite literally all the way home. And I sing them just about every morning when I get in the car to come to work:
Got no diamond, got no pearl
Still I think I’m a lucky girl
I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.
Now the only reason that I can talk about my mother in my sadness tonight is that I have with me here my therapist, my guru, my spiritual healer; right here in the room in the form of the Great American Songbook. It has been the gift of these songs to allow me to hold grief and joy in equal measure, in order to continue to put one foot in front of the other. When I needed the perfect song for my mother’s funeral, something that would express my deep belief that in death our energy returns to the love from which it came, to swirl around the universe after our life on earth, I turned to the great theological hymn we used to sing together in our favorite piano bar:
Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars …
When my father passed 7 years ago, I learned that when I wanted to be near him, to feel him in the same space, I could turn to the gospel according to Ira Gershwin:
A foggy day in London town
Had me low, had me down
… how long I wondered
Could this thing last
But the age of miracles, hadn’t passed,
For suddenly, I saw you there
And through the foggy London town,
The sun was shining everywhere.
My father’s favorite – we danced to it at my wedding. Gershwin holding out to us the possibilities of miracles.
The warmth of the healing sun, burning away the fog so we can see one another clearly. That same sun melting our selfishness so that we can share the joys and feel the sorrows of our neighbors, giving us light to see all people as neighbors. Bringing forth flowers to surround us with beauty. I don’t know if Rabbi Kushner, author of this poem, is a fan of the Great American Songbook – how could he not be? – but his prayer brings to life all of these songs that are my healers, my joy and my salvation. These songs are my scripture.
It’s a bit of a miracle that we are not all curled up in balls in our beds tonight – how do we take in the grief and sorrow and outrage of Orlando, and Baton Rouge, and Falcon Heights and Dallas and Nice and Turkey….and now Baton Rouge again. How do we move beyond anger and sorrow to real reconciliation and justice?
The truth is that we can do nothing if we ourselves are falling apart. I cannot change the world if I am so depressed that I cannot function, if I am immobilized and lost in grief and fear.
Self-care gets a bad reputation when it manifests as an obsessive set of rituals that come at the expense of engaging with other people, engaging with the world; when it becomes an ideology. But some of us who lean in a generally cynical direction get caught up in an equal fetishizing of hopelessness and a shunning of all that seems a distraction from what needs to be changed. That somehow we don’t deserve those moments of pure beauty when so many are suffering. I am preaching to myself here.
So consider writer and trans icon Kate Bornstein’s rule number one: “Do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living. Just don’t be mean.”
Granting that everyone has a different idea of what makes life worth living, I want to suggest a spiritual practice that works for me, when I remember to practice it: Every day, seek out an experience of beauty. The sun in the morning? The moon at night? Judy Garland signing about both? Let the mountains teach your heart to reach upward to heaven. We live in a place where natural beauty is all around us – being intentional about seeking it out will make your brain happy. Singing the songs my parents loved and taught me, makes my brain happy. The phoebes, jays, hawks and swallows that hang out in my yard, make my heart happy. The exuberance and beauty of live music makes every cell in my body happy. Taking in beauty in all of its forms, holding it, letting it wash over me like the rain in the Rabbi’s prayer, letting it wash over the memory of hurt and loss and the horrors of the day – it’s not an luxury, it’s a necessity.
As Audre Lorde, the great poet and activist said: “Self care is not self-indulgence – it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
So what we are doing here tonight, enjoying the beauty of this music, is an act of political warfare. If we are going to heal this planet, reconcile grievances, repair harm done in the past and the present, we have to have beauty and joy in our lives. The grief, the sadness, the lament, will always be there. As the Rabbi says, our task is to share the joys and feel the sorrows of our neighbors. Holding it all together in a gentle balance on our hearts.
I am so grateful that I have you on my journey to learn to live without my mother. And that I can walk with you in your losses and celebrations.
So here is my prayer tonight:
Fill our hearts with song
Let us sing for ever more
You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
In other words … I love you.