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Frederick Buechner says to pay attention to the things that make you cry. I cried, tears of joy that is, for the duration of this segment from last week’s 60 Minutes and this is why.

I know what music does in my soul. I have an idea of what music does in the souls of those around me. But given this glimpse of what music has done in the souls of 200 musicians living in the the world’s most impoverished country and who have endured the most deadly war since WWII, I’ve had to stop and pay attention. In this segment from 60 Minutes I saw something I’ve both hypothesized and questioned, hoped for and doubted. Christ uses music to birth beauty in the darkest most ugly corners of my soul, that I know; but what about the darkest most ugly corners of the world? Does music have the potential to enliven a community? To bring hope to a nation? Can music bring healing to the souls of those who have known rape and poverty and dehumanizing violence their whole life? Does Christ choose music and the arts for this work? Are they a valid means of bringing healing to the broken? This story answers with a resounding, “yes.”

Joy in the Congo: A musical miracle (click to view video)

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I loved going to church as a kid. Not a common confession I know. I loved dancing around on slate floor patterns in the foyer, making games out of which color stones were “safe” to walk on. I liked getting dressed up in my twirly skirts, tying little ribbons in my hair, and wearing shiny shoes that clicked on the floor when I walked. But most of all I loved the stories. I loved the way our Sunday school teacher would make them come alive; alive in ways that made us part of the narrative. But as it goes, time passed, and I grew up. When I saw felt boards and puppets again as an adult I was surprised. There was a striking sense of being under-whelmed. I remember vividly how I saw them as a child, they were fantastical and captivating! So as silly as it may seem, I was a little sad. I think I may have even grieved a bit when I realized how much my eyes had changed. In reflection I began paying attention to how as children we are swept away by story and how our imagination is always eager, animated in participation. But somewhere along the way as we grow toward adulthood, we lose sight of our stories. Instead of imagination, we’re eager for facts and get by with the gist of things because the whole story just takes too long. While I’ve been a creative my whole life, and was even an arts director, I also got caught up in this. Tasks and schedules became too urgent for getting lost in wonder cross-legged on the floor. A few years ago that changed. Through a series of difficult life experiences, faith fell apart in one big swoop and life through the lens of “the gist” was no longer enough. I was once again drawn back to days of enchanted curiosity.

God draws us there, to curiosity and wonder. And like the Sunday school teacher, God makes our stories come alive by writing them into the grand narrative. And faith changes, grows, and moves amidst it. Frederick Buechner said, “From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention.  Pay attention to the frog.  Pay attention to the west wind. Pay attention to the boy on the raft, the lady in the tower, the old man on the train. In sum, pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein.”[1] Buechner captures something quite special here: humanity is made for more than facts and quick exchanges. It’s why, despite the ways we choose to go about real life we can still watch a movie or read a book and get lost in it. We see ourselves in the personality quirks and fears, in the dreams and victories. We become the characters. And when the credits roll and there are no more pages to turn, we grieve the ending. In secret, we wish real life were just as enlivened. But this is exactly what God is inviting us to. There is a grand narrative! Furthermore, we are characters in it! But we have to pay attention. We have to slow down and lean in. And with imaginations engaged, we must listen. When we do, life in and around us saturated with God’s presence, will whisper a tale. There will be tales of tragedies and comedies and stories in between. And they will enliven lives once lost in hurried detachment.


[1] Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner is formatted in daily readings. February 20.

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