Monday, May 15, 2006

To Savor or To Save?

I was sitting in our sanctuary, listening to the incredible jazz of the Stan Strickland Quartet. And, yes, this is in part a plug for the wonderful new ministry of music we've begun here known as the Maine Jazz Festival Series. (You should check out the web site at

Anyway, I was sitting in our sanctuary as these cool/hot sounds washed over and through me and I started thinking about all the other clubs and concert halls around the country—and the world—where people were at that very moment listening to other incredibly talented musicians. I started by thinking about other jazz concerts, but quickly realized that while I was listening to Stan there were folks also listening to country, and bluegrass, and opera, and rock, and hip hop, and táncház, and klezmer, and reggae, and salsa and every other musical style known to humankind. And I felt myself connected to each and every one of these other aficionados, and for a moment, it was as if I could hear all at once the music they were hearing and could feel all of their joy. Tears came to my eyes.

And then a second window opened in my soul and I began to hear the sounds not of music but of what the Bible calls “weeping and gnashing of teeth;” I heard the moaning sounds of mourning. During the couple of hours I’d been at this concert roughly 7,200 people had died on our planet, and who knows how many other people had experienced who knows what kinds of tragedies? While I sat listening to music there were people dying of AIDS, and hunger, and domestic violence, and war, and overdose, and suicide, and cancer, and accident, and neglect, and exposure, and murder, and every other way people die in our world. (Not to mention all the people who were right then experiencing racism, and heterosexism, and sexism, and poverty, and every other kind of oppression; people who were losing their jobs, and their families, and their hope—all the people who were suffering in all the ways we humans can suffer.) And I felt myself connected to each of these people, and the people to whom they are connected, and for a moment it was as if I could hear all of that agony and feel all of their pain. You’d better believe it—more tears.

And the question: What should I do? Should I keep sitting here listening to music when there’s so much that needs doing? What a luxury to be listening to music when there were people who were at that very minute suffering terribly! Shouldn’t I be doing something? I started to become overwhelmed with guilt and despair.

E. B. White—the renowned Maine-based New Yorker essayist; author of such classics as Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and of course, Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style—once succinctly summed up life’s fundamental problem:
“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I rise in the morning, torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. That makes it hard to plan the day!”

The Unitarian Universalist tradition I serve encourages us to embrace both those things that need saving in our world and those which call out to be savored. White’s problem is our problem—we don’t really get to choose because it’s a both/and proposition. Life demands both our best efforts and our deepest appreciation.

So I continued to take in the sounds of Stan Strickland and his band and tried to keep open that connection to both the joys and sorrows of life. That way, when I do the things I can do to try to make this world a better place, I know there’ll be a song in my heart.

In Gassho,

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