Down by the Riverside

Down by the Riverside March 28, 2009


Last night Jan & I drove up to Boston to watch the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Blind Boys of Alabama at the Boston Symphony Hall.

(So much UU history took place there. Clarence Skinner’s Community Church worship packed that hall. And of course the consolidation ceremony between the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America took place in that hall…)

A lovely and moving experience.

Basically Preservation opened for the Blind Boys, although there were some powerful moments when they came together.

At one point near the end when they were playing “Down by the Riverside” Jan & I were in the upper right balcony and the stage door slipped open where those of us from that angle we could see a young couple caught up and dancing together with, and it ain’t a cliche when it aptly describes something, reckless abandon.

And not just them. Everybody was moving. I mean moving…

I’m working on my sermon this week addressing death and the spiritual enterprise.

And, of course, how could my attention miss the deep Christian faith that informs the Blind Boys work?

My first thought was my usual criticism of the Christian faith, how dualistic the message is, predicated for so many in the promise of a future and endless life. For most with literal houses and streets. But this life even for those who don’t posit buildings, is always about a separation between the divine and the individual; and so to my experience of the great way cut off from our true inheritance, the real promise of our existence.

Then, in a moment of clarity I noticed how the content of religion is so much less than the action, the movement of the heart. So, they call upon Jesus, someone else calls on Amida, another surrenders to Allah, and another just notices; whichever, the action is one of surrender. Letting go of our certainties. Just putting it all down.

And what follows is liberation.

There are next steps. Of course there are next steps. And these steps are informed by the tradition within which we catch our openings to what really is, and so we need to be careful, wary even, because so much that isn’t helpful is contained in every religion.

But, to know that moment of surrender, to find it full, is the real deal.

If we are willing…

As my grandmother would say, “Praise Jesus!”

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