I should have packed better clothes for the conference. Everyone else looked so . . . classic. Even the tables outshone me, gleaming with pristine linens, the flicker of candles. Luscious peonies.
With a raised hand, our keynoter invoked silence. Then, with an almost double-dog-dare-ya glint in her eye, she invited us out on a limb. She asked us to hear God speak to each of us, personally . . . in the stillness.
Oh, the pressure. Chairs creaked as we uncrossed our legs, settled our clothing. Eased back.
I felt shy, but so hopeful.
Worry and dismay over work had dogged me for months. You know the feeling. The project’s stuttering along. Mistakes seem to breed. Then balloon.
Confidence sags. Be it home, or work place, seems everyone else starts speaking a language you don’t know.
I’d been writing for new markets that demanded a different approach: a vocabulary more nuanced, complex. Ideally, a tad eccentric. I needed to think in new ways.
Bottom line? This aging brain might never catch up.
“Rest,” the keynote speaker said. “Listen.”
Shelve concerns, and embrace openness.
Oh, I wanted serenity.
A hallowed, timeless space where it seemed God was breathing in, and through, me.
I didn’t want to miss being a prayer.
“It takes each of us . . . working together . . . to make silence,” I used to whisper, in my teaching days. Two dozen preschoolers seated around me blinked like baby owls. Entranced. Empowered.
We’d sit on the plush, gray story-time rug as if suspended, midair: motionless. Hushed for a whole minute.
Around me now, the collective silence widened. I leaned into the concentrated calm created by others.
And . . . a phrase suggested itself: “Learn to sing out on a limb.”
First thought? Shirley MacLaine.
But the phrase re-echoed. Press on with the work, in other words.
Risk entering new territory, among birds with different plumage, foreign songs. Sure, there might be cuckoos and shrikes, mockingbirds, merlins and birds of prey.
But there would be robins too, wouldn’t there? And cheeky sparrows are never far from God’s gaze.
I am such a sucker for metaphor!
Out on a limb, singing—the imagined branch tip swayed beneath the weight of my doubts. Would it hold?
As if in answer, our speaker broke the silence by singing an old praise chorus: “I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice.” Everyone chimed in, until the harmonies resounded in my bones.
Sometimes the Great Disk Jockey in the Sky changes things up, to get our attention.
Those people that day didn’t know me. Couldn’t possibly know I’d written that song.
I could hardly breathe, much less join the chorus God gave me, decades ago, back when I was a new mom savoring a few quiet moments, braided hair slung over a shoulder, arms cradling a cheap guitar.
That day, I had been bone-lonely. Sick of my own voice. Emptied of hope.
“Lord,” I’d prayed, “give me a song you want to hear.” While the baby lay curled in her crib, I’d spontaneously sung my praise. Written it down.
It came to me whole. Easily, the way grace does when we’re stuck: pure gift.
“Oh, my soul, rejoice,” the women around me belted out, all spark and vibrato.
If I was still wistful, it was only that, up until then, joy had visited me in subtler guises. For years, I’d felt called to “be a scribe for the mourning dove.”
Translation: Learn how to reach those who ache.
Those who wander uncharted terrain.
Strangers, or those already loved, traveling through shadows where nothing akin to dawn is breaking . . .
Who is it that needs a kind word? What will it take to learn their lingo?
Not to worry. God, who had just stooped to speak my personal dialect, Master of ten thousand tongues, and more, would mentor me.
Who could predict what that untidy nest of papers back home on my desk might birth?
I said yes.
“Take joy, my king, in what you hear.”
Unable to stifle tears, I wrapped myself with my own arms. And imagined they were God’s.
And then I was singing, out on a limb. Sacred space. A clean slate.
Sing, and insistent fears about our deficiencies vaporize (for a while, anyway).
Sing!—as if grace is a plush gray rug, upholding us all. As if we are forming the words for the first time. Young and innocent.
Entranced and empowered.
Wherever we work, whatever our message, may we be released anew this day, to be a sweet, sweet sound in God’s ear.
MAKING IT PERSONAL:
What does your spirit long to give voice to?
What does “out on a limb” look like for you?
Here’s a link to a lovely rendition of the song:
This post is adapted from “A Scribe for the Mourning Dove,” first published as backmatter in the Holman Personal Worship Bible. Still can’t believe something I wrote appeared in a Bible!