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In a meeting yesterday, I was invited to share about something that had recently brought me joy.
Although by this time I had been back from my trip to Karlsruhe, Germany, to attend the World Council of Churches gathering by more than a month, I nonetheless immediately thought of something that happened every day while we were there.
At 8:30 every morning, 10 days in a row, thousands of religious leaders from around the world would gather in the cool morning air of an outdoor amphitheater and spend an hour in worship with one another.
I would sit transformed by the experience – that is, when I wasn’t moved to dance, which, believe it or not, happened often.
Color was one of the first things that struck me about what was different about this worship. Skin tones of every hue and shade, from the darkest brown and black to the palest white and everything in between would take the stage and sing, pray, preach or dance. And their clothes – the collective coats of many colors they were, bright fabrics of every make and shade, each bearing something unique to their culture and context.
After color was sound. Oh, my, the sounds! Languages and dialects and accents from countries and cultures and communities all over the globe. No one translated anything, each sound was allowed to stand on its own. Intonation and facial expression and body language sometimes helped to enhance the meaning of words you did not recognize, but often you just let the words, though incomprehensible, stand on their own as offerings of love and praise to the God who heard them all and knew, even if I did not.
But the sound that really made the experience unlike any other I had ever had the pleasure of experiencing was the music. Guitars and pianos and drums and flutes and tambourines and maracas and more accompanying a choir that must have spent months preparing. The beats and rhythms of the music reflected something inherently known to each culture, often lifting us up out of chairs with the shuffling of our feet or the clapping of our hands or the grasping of our neighbor and with them dancing. Again, each song was also offered in its native tongue. Literal meaning gave way to imaginative musings about what God was hearing and what we were expressing.
I would arrive early every morning, discovering that for the hour or so before worship the choir and musicians would rehearse. So, for the better part of two hours I would be transported into what had to be something very akin to the throne-room of God Herself.
And while I soaked it all in, I knew that this was something I would experience rarely. I would not be given too many chances in a lifetime to worship authentically and without any appropriation in the language and rhythm and movement of this many peoples from that many places. It was, at the age of 61, a first such moment for me. I asked myself as I sat there under what circumstances this would happen again. I was hard-pressed to find an answer. I took it all in for what it was – a Pentecost moment I was privileged to have unfold for me over two weeks in Germany; a glimpse of something so sacred, so divine, so rare – a beloved community where borders and boundaries evaporated and people found common joy in the praise of their maker. I will call it a foretaste, a small sample of what God knows is possible – the planting of seeds that with love can blossom into the peace we all long for on this, our journey Into the Mystic.
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