Singing Without Words

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Kathy Escobar -Singing Without Words4

The other day I heard Father Gregory Boyle speak in Denver. A Jesuit priest, he sang the song of my heart when talking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the trenches of real life with the marginalized and oppressed. He said, “We don’t go to the margins to rescue people. We go to be rescued.”

That has been my experience over and over again for over two decades now.

There is no us and them. There’s only us.

When it comes to human beings, there’s no “hurting” or “healed.”
There’s no “broken” or “fixed.”
There’s no “better” or “worse.”
There’s no “less than” or “more than.”

There’s just us.

In Father Boyle’s simple sharing he quoted an Emily Dickinson poem—“Hope” is the thing with feathers—which many of us have heard before about hope. The first stanza goes like this:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

“And sings the tune without words.”

He shared about how desperate the world is right now for people, especially people of faith, who can “sing … without the words.”

These days words are a dime a dozen. We are bombarded with words from all directions. Everyone’s got something to say about something.

What we really need right now is a deeper story that is being lived out, played out, “sung,” without the words.

We need tangible.
We need touch.
We need action.
We need presence.
We need incarnation.
We need underneath the surface, nurturing, cultivating, creating in ways that can’t even be explained.

Words are cheap, but action is real.

For the past four years I have been part of an interfaith group in Denver. Each month we sit at a table with friends from different faith traditions than the one I come from, Christianity. Each time we gather, it’s Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Unitarian Universalist, Hindu, Baha’i, Mormon, and a lot of different strains of Christian, all at the same table, eating, sharing, laughing together.

Each time I am encouraged. Each time I am challenged. And each time I am reminded that while we have many differences between us, we also have so much in common.

A big part of the commonality in that particular group is a focus on people, on justice, on caring for the poor and marginalized, on a better way of honoring human dignity in our city.

There’s a resonance between us, a similar song deep in our souls, a deeper truth that guides us, a thread that binds us together.

It makes me think of the words of Jesus and what has become known as the Golden Rule:”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” —Matthew 7:12.

Every other world religion has something close to the same idea:

  • Hinduism – “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” —Mahabharata 5:1517
  • Islam – “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” —Number 13 of Imam Al-Nawawi’s forty hadiths
  • Judaism – “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.” —Talmud, Shabbat 31a.
  • Confucianism – “Tse-kung asked, ‘Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?’ Confucius replied, ‘It is the word ‘shu’ — reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.’” —Doctrine of the Mean 13.3
  • Baha’i – “Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not…blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.” —Baha’u’llah
  • Taoism – “The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for virtue is faithful.”  —Tao Teh Ching, Chapter 49

Each religion has a different way of articulating this deeper truth. I love reading each one, each beautiful in their own way.

Yet, while these words are important, I keep thinking that the real juice lies in how we are singing this song in real life, without words.

This is what is resonating not only in the interfaith group, but also among so many Christ-followers I know who are extremely tired of words, but are still deeply dedicated to singing.

Who are working on behalf of justice in our cities, because caring for that is embedded in every faith tradition.
Who are working alongside each other advocating for the poor and marginalized.
Who are showing up and helping when no one else will.
Who are doing what we can to change unjust laws.
Who are listening instead of talking.
Who are loving the unlovable.
Who are Jesus with skin on.
Who are loving their neighbor as themselves.
Who realize there is no us and them, only us.
Who are restoring dignity.
Who are doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Who know we don’t have to agree on everything, but resonate on Love.

SheLovelys, what song are you singing right now without words? What deeper truth is resonating in the circle you are living in?

The songs I’m “hearing” are pretty beautiful right now.

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Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, an eclectic faith community in North Denver dedicated to those on the margins of life and faith. She blogs regularly about life and faith at kathyescobar.com and is the author of Down We Go--Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus in Action. She lives in Arvada, Colorado with her husband, Jose, and five kids. Her most recent book Faith Shift can be found on Amazon.com
Kathy Escobar

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  • Oh! I wanted to go to that prayer breakfast…. What a powerful poem. Those songs without words, those ways we live out our faith are so incredibly beautiful. Thanks for the reminder to stop and acknowledge that.

  • Oh Kathy, this is so beautiful. We have an interfaith group in Atlanta too (that I wish I had a chance to be a part of, wish I lived close enough). What is resonating with me these days is the way we can unite across faiths and faith traditions within Christianity to seek justice. It is my heart’s desire to be a part of that in our next move and I am asking God how to be a peacemaker in the places He takes me. Thank you for this encouragement!

  • So stirred by this!

  • Love this. AND I can’t believe I missed hearing Gregory Boyle. We’re in the Ft. Collins area.)