Last night in Vancouver listening to Le Vent du Nord, a terrific traditional band from Quebec. They put on one of the best live shows I have seen in a long time with outstanding musicianship combined with incredible energy. Listening to them and watching people dancing I had a deep experience of why we humans need art. It brings us into a joyful relationship which each other that we seem built to need – a kind of belonging that transcends each of our individual reservations, a sort of shared ecstasy. The cynic might say that such an attitude is decadent in a world of suffering, but I think it is clear that without these experiences of ourselves as joyful collectives, the serious work of living in our time is compromised by our own personal and private fears.
Lately I have been working with mainline Protestant churches and Christian communities a lot and I have appreciated being able to bring deep cultural and spiritual stories to our work together. The times they are all in are times n which the traditional forms of Church are dying and the new forms havent yet arrived. And while the leaders i have been with welcome the shift, many congregations are in grieving about the loss of an old way of doing things,
Last weekend in Atlanta, the group I was with picked the story of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones to explore together. In that story, Ezekiel, who is a shaman, is carried into the spirit world where is comes across a valley of bones. Turns out that these are the bones of an army and God says to him “can these bones live?” Ezekiel does what all good shamans do when confronted with the awesome power of mystery and gives up any pretense of knowing the outcome. So together, God gives Ezekiel instructions and wakes up an army.
The armies of the old testament stories have always troubled me, because they are forever slaughtering and committing genocide because of God’s commands. But read as an allegory, suddenly this stuff becomes very powerful. For example, most spiritual paths have you confronting archetypal enemies on your pathway, such as greed or anger or the ego. To achieve enlightenment, to get to the promised land, means overcoming these enemies. And an army then seen in this context is a group of people that are greater than any one person’s fear.
So here is Ezekiel in the valley into which an army has been led and slaughtered, and he is being engaged in the work of waking up an army. Why? Well, once they have been woken up, God tells Ezekiel that they can go home. Home is the promised land, a place of freedom and kindness and relaxation and fearlessness. Coming home to oneself, finding home as a community.
To illustrate, another story I heard yesterday. One of the congregations I have been working with has been waking up to themselves in the work we have been doing together. When a group of people wakes up like that one has, all the dust and cobwebs come off them, and all of their beauty and warts are revealed. While we have designed and implemented many little projects in the Church, we have also awoken a little power struggle over a small but important issue. Typical of these kinds of issues, a small group has dug its heels in and doesn’t see its impact or connection to the larger community. Last night they all met and with some deliberate hosting, quickly discovered a common consensus on moving forward, one which I am led to believe takes each person outside of themselves and into a common centre of action.
In short, they had a different experience of themselves and each other, an experience that awakens the centre that Le Vent du Nord awakened last night. It is an experience that Christians can understand fully from their traditional teachings – Jesus constantly talks about love at the centre of the work of the world, and that community is the experience we are after. In the best forms of Christianity – including the form in which I was brought up! – the spiritual path is one of discovering kindness and a shared centre. From that place, transformation of community, family, organizations, and the world can be experienced and pursued. The hard work of dealing with power is made more human by acting from love and the beautiful work of cultivating relationship is put us to use by transforming power.
Last week I took an afternoon in Atlanta and went to visit Martin Luther King Jr’s Church where love and power awoke together in what King called “beloved community.”. These past months and years, I realize that this is what I am working for everywhere – in First Nations, organizations, communities, companies, churches and elsewhere. The beloved community draws us back home to our own humble humanity. It tempers the world’s harsh edges and it enables powerful structures to create beautiful outcomes.
And that experience is worth waking up for. Even an army.