May – From the Minister

This is the sixth year in a row that I’ve had to say goodbye to a community I’ve grown to love. And every time is as hard as the last. At the end of things, I think, “I’ll never love anyone as much as I love this community. ” And every time I am wrong. I spend the summer grieving and then begin again discovering the stories and dreams and heartaches of those I am with—and in this I love them. My heart is broken open again, perhaps a little more each time, and in gratitude I add my voice to the song of another beloved community.

One of my favorite movies, and a family Christmas tradition growing up, is The Sound of Music. (Maria Von Trapp was my first real crush!) At times like these— the ending of this part of our journey together—I am reminded of a line from the movie: “When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window. ” To me, this is the reckoning—the blessing in disguise, the silver lining, the balance the Universe enacts between heartbreak and joy. I should be grateful for the light at the end of the tunnel, the vision of a window opening into a new relationship with a new community.

But that’s not actually the sort of God I believe in. That theology doesn’t fit for me anymore.

I have been re-reading some J. R.R. Tolkien in preparation for a sermon I’m writing and came across the Ainulindalë, Tolkien’s account of the creation of the world. In this story the One gathers the Ainur, the Holy Ones, declaring to them: a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed…Then [the One] said to them: ‘Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will know that ye make in harmony together a Great Music.

And the Ainur, in unison and harmony and yet each with their own distinct voice, sang the world into being, emboldened by the “Flame Imperishable” that the One had kindled within each. The Ainur, like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of dwelling were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.

Throughout my life I’ve been a part of countless bands, orchestras, choirs, ensembles, and theater companies. Each performance, when everyone surrenders to the larger vision, is an intense experience of unity and harmony. Each individual offering flows into and out of all the others. Each player brings their unique gifts to the table. Certainly it was always hard to leave a group that I had these experiences with, but I never doubted that another opportunity would come along and that the moments of connection with them would be just as moving. All of this is to say, I’d like to believe that instead of closing one and opening another, Love is constantly offering us invitations to create Great Music with others. Sometimes this music is joyful. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s both. As Buddhism posits, suffering exists. Our grief and anger add depth to our songs and a power to any gratitude we may be able to muster out of heartbreak.

And so, once again, I prepare to say goodbye, gradually withdrawing my voice from the choir of this community, allowing us all to feel the sadness in that loss. In the letting go, we enable our hearts to begin listening for the notes of a different song, trusting that the breath of Spirit moves gently among us always, singing softly, an exhalation of Love.

With love, I thank you for letting me sing with you this year and for the work you do to create Great Music that echoes throughout the world. I am deeply grateful for this time with you and very much looking forward to listening from afar as your song continues with new voices, new harmonies, and new rhythms.

-Rev. Shay MacKay