Renewing the Face of the Earth
A week ago Tuesday, Frank and I were on a JetBlue flight, cruising along at an altitude I can’t begin to imagine, with the promise of landing 15 minutes early. Smiles of delight faded into groans of dismay as the captain announced that a “monster storm” had taken up residence over the airport in Pittsburgh, our destination city. We circled the airport until it was safe to begin our descent and eventually landed safely (and happily) 15 minutes late.
We were in Pittsburgh for the conference of the National Pastoral Musicians Association, an annual gathering primarily geared toward musicians, but providing resources a-plenty for the (non-musical) pastoral minister as well. The theme of this year’s conference was “Renewing the Face of the Earth,” and we and our companions set out to see if we could find resources that might help us do just that in our little corner of the world.
The first thing we noticed was the diversity of the crowd that was gathered for the conference. From fully habited nuns (with Vera Bradley bags in tow!) to men and women in running attire; there were people in wheelchairs, thin people, not-so-thin people, African Americans, Asian Americans, Caucasians…some were stylish, some not-so- much…all in all, a Heinz 57 variety of participants, all with at least one thing in common – they were hungry for some inspiration, for some new/different food for their journey and for their ministries. This diversity melted away into a unity that was palpable when all of us gathered for the “Showcases.” The major publishers sponsor workshops that showcase their new music and when 2,000 people are together in one place, singing their hearts out, in harmony no less, the effect is nothing short of awesome. We sang songs of the liberating love of God, the gracious goodness of God, songs of praise and petition, of thanksgiving and intercession.
We experienced the music of Taize’ one evening, when a large number gathered in a room filled with candlelight and icons, to sing and pray and contemplate together. The effect of this was pure wonder at the ability of music to soothe the soul and quiet the mind.
It wasn’t all music; we also heard speakers who reminded us of the biblical underpinnings of the words of our prayers and the lyrics of our songs. There were sessions that highlighted youth, some that espoused intergenerational and multicultural ministry…a plethora of offerings, all designed to bring new understandings and perspectives to the ministers assembled.
And we had fun! One evening, having asked the desk clerk at our hotel for directions to a particular restaurant, he explained that it was located down the street, just past the “ugly fountain.” It turned out that the ugly fountain is part of Katz Park, and is a 25 foot bronze sculpture surrounded by three pairs of granite eyes, which are also park benches… all the work of the famous artist Louise Bourgeois!
As we headed home on Friday, we were joy-filled, trying to take in and assimilate all that we had experienced. As we chatted about our time in Pittsburgh, we were struck by three insights:
Words matter – whether in speech, or prayer, or song, our choice of words matters. We can choose words that heal and bind up or we can choose words that divide and alienate.
Music matters – whether singing in 4 part harmony with 2,000 people, or singing the melody with 200 people in a Dan Schutte workshop, the power of music to raise one’s spirits, inspire one to clap or dance, engender a sense of reflection or instill a sense of peace endures…the transformative nature of communal singing lasts far beyond the final note sung.
Ministry matters – whether we preach a homily, conduct a choir, sing in a choir, teach a class, proclaim the Word or engage in any other form of ministry, whatever we do to further the growth of the Reign of God, we are renewing the face of the earth. Our words and our music, and the way we choose to employ them, can help those to whom we minister weather the monster storms of life and come through smiling. They can also take the ugly fountains of our world and transform them into works of art.
We left Pittsburgh reveling in the wonder of our God and inspired to bring our joy back with us and share it with St. A’s. Let us together dream the dream God has for us, and renew the face of the earth!
Eleanor and Frank