They never told me about the music.
Oh, they told me about passing the butter. And I heard stories about the road less traveled that leads straight into the river. When I stepped off the airplane and onto that soft Texas sod, I knew to expect the waters named Frio (Spanish for "cold") to ironically bring both warmth and healing to all places cracked and dried. There would be time for rest and refreshment, time for play and talk, time to hike trails and brush tender fingertips across shoulders and time to just BE.
But the chimes came as a surprise. That first stuffy day when I whined about the humidity and laced up my walking shoes and stripped down to my tank top, I found them. They were nestled between the art studios, hanging surreptitiously from a blushing oak. It was quiet there. And still. But the slightest tickle of my fingers sent them singing. And my heart grew two sizes. I knew what I would be doing on this weekend retreat.
I would be listening.
And listen, I did. I heard the sighing of those cypress trees when the cold front moved in. Oh, how passionate their voice. I was mesmerized by the song of the the raindrops as they danced their little jig and slid down the windows. There was music in the tears I saw shed over passed butter and there were napkins that dabbed a drumbeat at the corners of wet eyes. Symphonies of laughter pealed from everywhere and nowhere, the same - from the sidewalks to the bathrooms to the dining tables to the great hall. It was laughter, perhaps, that stood watch over the score. Laughter that drew our hearts to slowly open with its surge and pulse, a rhythmic leading into safe pasture. Laughter which unified just like wine and bread at the remembrance table.
And there was fire. Fire, whose crackling song coaxed us to sit a spell and whispered what it means to love well. That love is first and foremost an exercise in listening. In making room for the story of another, in holding space for the tellings and the memories and the honesty. I watched as that fire gathered us. From the drama queens to the addicted. From the wise and ambitious to the serene and refreshingly simple. From the farthest corners of the earth and from the frayed edges of our hearts. Fire called forth our words. They fell like the rain. Like the holy, humble, melodious rain whose promise to sustain never returns void.
It was a homecoming of sorts.
Because I learned something about myself, surrounded by all the music. By all the listening. I learned that I am an artist, not a mathematician. I learned that if it's true that sermons are for those with answers and songs are for those with questions, then please pass the guitar. I learned that good art and holy music never take you farther away from the physicality of life on this sod, but deeper into it. These are not a means of escape from the muck and the mire, the misery and the marvel of this world, in which we find ourselves up to the knees, but a way to imbibe it. To drink it to the dregs. Because I've spent too long - FAR TOO LONG, y'all - wondering about who's right and who's wrong, who's in and who's out. But what if it's not about these things at all? What if He's working in ALL of it to weave together our ups and downs, our highs and lows, our melodies and harmonies to form a masterpiece of redemption? For the truth is that Jesus Himself is one who walks around in this grit. And courageously facing the offensiveness of that truth is perhaps how we keep the earth below our feet in a way that Mumford & Sons might never be able to even so much as whistle. A way that teaches us remove our shoes and declare the sacred.
I felt the dirt in every story shared around the fire and around the butter. Cracks lay exposed and raw places throbbed, still bleeding. Even our laughter sometimes faded as the night set in. But imperfection's bass notes find their sweetest accompaniment in the soprano's redemptive anthem. And I know and will declare that I heard Jesus in those stories. Even the unfinished ones. I heard Him in the laughter and the rain and all the "me toos" uttered through broken lips. In the ugly cries from those who have only untidy conclusions in that messy middle place. I heard Him in the gathering of the least likely and the most honest. He was as present with the tragedy of hot tears as He was in the fragrant laughter of those who know they are extravagantly loved.
I heard Him in the music that is life in community.
At the end of the weekend, I boarded another plane. This one headed back into the patchwork of fields that signals my homecoming to the midwestern farmlands. Back to the noise and the bustle of my daily life with children and dishes and overdue bills. But as I settled into seat 19B, and then dug around on the floor for the camera that had fallen out of my bag, I felt my hand brush against something. I brought it up slowly, curious, only to find it streaked with that soft Texas dirt which still clung to my boots.
The smile that spread over my face, then, was as big as the San Antonio sky.
*This post describes my experience at Laity Lodge, where I attended The High Calling's annual retreat. Ask me more if you're curious. I love to talk about it.
Linking with friends:
Michelle, Heather, and Laura.