We had our first “Heartsong @ 1917” gathering yesterday to create community and connection with one another and God. We didn’t know if anyone would show up. Thankfully they did.
But it didn’t go as planned.
Just before we began, “John” who was in his early 20’s stopped by the room, stuck his head in the door and asked for prayers for his grandmother. “I can’t stay,” he said, “but I saw your signs about this group having a connection with God so I thought I’d ask you to pray for her.” We promised we would. He left as quickly as he had come.
We began by sitting in a circle, introduced ourselves, and remembered for a moment what was special about past Heartsong Retreats.
“Heartsong reminds me that I am not alone in living with HIV,” Jeff began. “I was diagnosed with HIV 19 years ago and Heartsong helped me to remember that I have a lot to be thankful for in my life,” as he listed a dozen gratitudes off the top of his head.
Greg added, “I made new friends at Heartsong and I need all of those I can get right now, ” as he mentioned he was diagnosed with HIV just three months ago.
I added, “Heartsong always surprises me, because the least likely person or event always teaches me something I need to learn.” Others mentioned they loved being in a safe community where they can “just be who they are and be honest with God and one another, and not worry about labels or stereotypes.”
I talked about our vision for Heartsong @ 1917 to be a place and time where we could listen to one another, learn from one another, and love one another on a weekly basis. Our theme for the day was “Meeting God in the Present.”
And then, just as we were discussing meeting God in the here and now, the electrical power went out in our whole building. I mean it was the “pitch-black-kind-of-dark” except for a thin beam of sunlight peeking in the door that we had left slightly ajar. We sat for about a minute in the dark before the lights came back on.
I could feel my frustration growing over the power outage as we waited for the very loud overhead speaker system to stop beeping as we could barely hear one another over it. Finally, silence.
We were about to begin our “Centering Prayer” to help us focus on the present and how God is experienced in the present tense, the right here, the right now, and especially in each other.
There was a quick knock on the door and two maintenance men came walking into the room and said, “We need to get to that closet door on the other side of the room to check out the electrical system,” as they walked through the center of the circle.
“Now?” I asked, trying to get them to see they were interrupting our meeting.
“I’m sorry, we really need to get in here,” they insisted.
I got up and moved a table and other furniture so they could get into the electrical closet. I asked the group if they wanted to wait for the workers to do their job, before we started our centering prayer exercise.
Jeff just laughed it off and said, “This is cool, just like real life interruptions! Let’s go ahead and start the centering prayer.”
So we began. And you guessed it.
As we were sitting with our eyes closed, focusing on our own “sacred word” to help us let go of thoughts and distractions of the outside world, the men came out of the closet (no pun intended) and said, “Sorry for the interruption. We’re done. Have a nice day.” I opened one eye and said, “Take care,” trying to refocus unsuccessfully.
After a few minutes, I asked the group to open their eyes and we debriefed the experience.
Joe discussed that “life is our prayer, in fact, everything we do is a prayer. The line between prayer and living our lives doesn’t really exist,” he said as he led us to think about prayer in a different way. He might have said that “God is even in the interruptions,” but I was too distracted to hear him if he did.
We had fifteen minutes to go so I pressed on.
I shared a reading about God being in the present, and then led the participants in a “Wisdom Circle” from the Native American tradition that my wife had taught me. Everyone had a chance to respond to the reading.
We watched a powerful five-minute “YouTube” video and talked about how music is another way to experience community and connection with others and God (see what we watched below).
We concluded the group by going around the circle one person at a time saying to the person on our left, “You are a child of God,” followed by silence. Then the one being spoken to responded with, “I receive your blessing.” My colleague of thirteen years, Kelly, was near the end and turned and said, “Joe, you are a child of God.” “Kelly, I receive your blessing.”
Joe and I worked at the clinic together as chaplains between 1994-2006. He is like a second father to me, a mentor, and a very close friend. We’ve been through a lot together including my divorce in 1996 and eventual remarriage in 2004, as well as the recent death of Joe’s wife of 56 years. Joe looked at me and said, “Malcolm, you are a child of God.”
I was surprised and couldn’t speak. I needed the silence. I squeaked out the words, “Joe, I receive your blessing,” and wiped the tears from my face a bit embarrassed.
I looked at everyone and said, “Amen.” I couldn’t say anything more.
And today, as I reflect on our first gathering . . .
I am learning a new song from my heart. A heart-song that says God is right here, right in front of us, especially in the interruptions.
Note to Self: Pay attention, Malcolm.
From the award-winning documentary, “Playing For Change: Peace Through Music”, comes the first of many “songs around the world” being released independently. Featured is a cover of the Ben E. King classic by musicians around the world adding their part to the song as it traveled the globe. (Also see http://www.playingforchange.com. We used this video in “Heartsong @ 1917” yesterday.