My paternal grandmother was a lovely person with many lovely things. When I see these things now, I can almost hear her voice. They don't quite compose a presence, and they'll never replace a person, but they call her picture and mannerisms to mind . . . her voice, things she would say.
We suddenly remember things we'd forgotten - a smile, a story, often these connections are comforting to us. And sometimes not . . . for example: I was walking on the street where my parents still live not long ago and saw a familiar mail box. There was a sweet older woman named Mrs. Fox who lived here for years with her small dog. The neighborhood kids loved her dog. And because I knew Mrs. Fox, one evening as I rode my bike home from a friend's house, I stopped to ask her if I could feed her dog a treat. She took me into the kitchen and I gave the dog a treat . . . then I stayed there and talked to her. It got dark outside. My parents didn't know where I was - an elementary schooler on a bike. They drove up and down the street looking for me. When I came home they were close to calling the police. I was SOOOO grounded. Lesson learned. When I saw her mailbox and remembered her I also remembered the feeling of embarrassment I experienced when I came home and found my poor parents frantic and scared for my life - all because I didn't call them or ask permission to be out later. I could still feel that "I know I hurt them badly" feeling that my 9 year old self felt that evening so long ago.
Familiar sights, sounds, and smells remind us of good things, bad things, lessons learned - a variety of experiences and personalities.
Music came into my life effortlessly.
Good teachers, singing at home, church music, silly camp songs, rewritten lyrics of popular music with my girl scout friends, symphonic band music, show tunes, symphonies on the turntable in my parents' living room, Welsh tunes . . .
I am grounded in music as a person. That's the simplest way I can think to say it. Lots of you are, too. It draws my sight right back down to the foundational things - faith, family identity (for better and worse), important mentors and things I've learned over the years.
Being "grounded" is important.
Most of the people I know are very obviously grounded in something. For some of them it's an educational heritage. For others it's a cultural background or a religious affiliation. These are things that these folks have chosen to use as a way of self identifying.
You want to know how to forget the things that ground you? Very quickly? Start counting how many times people "like" something you say on Facebook. Or begin comparing your life to someone else's life through that same sort of lens. Wow. Talk about leaving behind the relationships and lessons and connections built up over years of actual life experience - yeah, let's just throw all that out the window over this one thing I wrote yesterday that not enough people "liked." Doesn't that sound ridiculous??? We should be suspicious of this logic.
We should be suspicious, but we're often not. And the allure is present. It's all around us in our culture - "It doesn't matter what you've done or who you know yourself to be. If you aren't plugged in and connected this way, you have no connections." - what a dangerous lie this is.
I love the United Methodist Hymnal because it is a canon of the music declaring my faith - the specific landscape of faith that my family comes from, that I come from.
The liturgy, the work of the people, calls to mind a time when I stood shoulder to shoulder with other kids my age and promised that I would do everything I could to resist every kind of evil and to do as much good as I could. When I stand anywhere at all . . . home, a parking lot, a trailhead, my classroom . . . and hum one of these tunes or repeat the words of the "Great Thanksgiving," I remember who I am and who I wish to be.
That's why liturgy is so important, friends!!! It's the memory of the people and the work of the people. And don't go thinking that memory is only about the past. Memory, when we think of being grounded in something, is the thing that roots us as we grow into our future.
This hymnal was engraved and signed for me by the first church choir I ever directed, up in Chilhowie, VA.
Not only is it full of songs, psalms, and responsive readings that bring me back to a place of understanding - it's also full of the names of people who helped me learn to be a peaceful and thoughtful leader. Now please don't misunderstand me. I don't think I'm always both of those things. But these are the people who helped me learn lessons to move in that direction. When I open my hymnal at home after a long day of work, I remember these people and things they helped me to understand. Then I play through a song and I remember who calls me out into my life every morning, and who helps me to reconcile it each evening . . . the hard work of releasing the day and searching out thanksgiving. God the Father. God the Son. God the Holy Spirit.
The world clouds our vision - dusty, misty whispers and promises of human success and glory and popularity.
These things are like all other things that human beings have made - temporary.
The things we are able to pass on to those we love? They have a chance of stretching a bit farther. I think about this now that I have a child. What can I offer him? Safety, trust, a place to grow, and maybe some cultural memory - some songs of the people. Something to help him remember who he is when the world yells loud about who is best and what isn't worthy anymore.
This message is all for me today, friends. I'll confess it to you. I've lately been caught up in thoughts of what others might think of me . . . how I might be seen. That's sad. That's too bad. Because it's a terrible waste of a moment or a day . . . or a life!
It all started when I passed that mailbox on my parents' street and remembered getting grounded for being out and not telling them where I was as a child. That got me thinking about the people who hold us accountable and the places that bring our spirits back home to a sense of place and person. And of course, for me, that comes back to the hymnal and the practice of liturgical art in the context of a faith community.
Maybe for you it's a different set of things.
I have a worry that the Church (universal) is much like me or any other single person - it's easily swayed by trend and the allure of a world driven by business and advertising. I worry that in seeking so much after popularity our places of worship and our communities open themselves up to the same poverty of soul many of us suffer when we find ourselves longing for attention and praise from others.
We need the sights, sounds, and practices that remind us who we are.
We're not so modern and smart that we've outgrown them, friends. Don't forget that there is a Great Someone who can speak your name like nobody else . . . who has written it in the book of Life . . . who has no interest in Facebook "likes" or professional accomplishment.
Remember who you are.