Your Attention, Please

 

 

God had my attention.

It was as if part of the message, itself, was Look here. I’d like to make this perfectly clear, and so He had it delivered by a handsome young preacher, a Princeton scholar who spoke with ease and an earnestness that was as disarming as it was charming. All 1100 of us in that Presbyterian Musician’s Conference congregation leaned forward as his Puerto Rican heritage story crescendoed.

I waited, and watched.

Diversity is not a problem we need to solve, he said.

BOOM there it was.

And this, which will be with me for my lifetime.

God’s truth is we are burdened with each other’s stories.

We prayed the Lord’s Prayer in seven different languages simultaneously, as a congregation, as a people connected, in love.

When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.

Amen, I thought.

Amen, he said.

Amen, Amen, Amen, we sang.

 

XXOO

*Dr. Eric Barreto, Weyerhaeuser Associate Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary

Day 9: Birdsong

We had begun the slow slide back to daily life by extending our Montreat week through the weekend, the last two days spent a bit higher in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains. We were worn slap out, my friend and I, yet when light began to creep through my bedroom’s east facing windows, I raced across the house to taptaptap on her door.

It’s happening I whispered. She was up in a flash and we made our way to the back deck.

Morning greeted us with this.

 

sunrise-2

 

But that wasn’t the most remarkable thing.

The birds offered a symphony that left us both in awe.

Just listen!

 

 

It was the perfect ending to a week filled with two things I love: mountains and music.

Hallelujah!

 

#30DaysofFun

 

 

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Day 8: Coming Down by Going Up

 

 

WHEN YOU EXPERIENCE a week as beautiful as Montreat Music and Worship, you do well to plan a soft landing into daily life. You are filled to overflowing, yes. And you carry with you joy, of course, smiling without effort as you hum this phrase and that, the words occurring without thought and somehow matching the mood and grace of the moment. Without even knowing it we had designed our re-entry perfectly, our plan to extend this mountain time through the weekend at our own place, 2500 feet higher but still surrounded by North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest.

(Oh, the singing did carry on.)

 

WE ARRIVED LATE FRIDAY, Cindy and Eddie, Tim and I, and we headed straight for the back porch. We looked up to find the night sky clear and dotted with stars and constellations and whirling planets so bright it brought from all four of us a grand, gasping awe. And then there was silence, each of us standing in that darkness lost in the brilliance of it all: the vast possibilities of an endless universe, the sober perspective of our tiny place in it, the unfathomable promise of a God who sees and knows and cherishes our loving hearts, each and every one. And then we looked at the clock and in spite of the past-midnight hour, we poured a toast to the music, the mountains, the stars, and to the great blessing of friendship.

 

SHALL WE GET UP for the sunrise? I asked a bit later, the hour so advanced it seemed a ridiculous, yet somehow important, offering.

Cindy smiled a slow, broad smile.

How can we not? she said.

And so we did.

We were rewarded, too, with Day 9’s fun surprise.

 

#30DaysofFun

 

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Day 7: Work Work Knit

Days are full at Montreat, highlighted by daily rehearsals for the Music and Worship closing concert. It’s a remarkable experience to sing in a choir of this size and caliber, not to mention the honor of being under the direction of Dr. Brad Holmes. I have learned so much.

Then we had an idea. We’d be staying in the mountains through the weekend. What if I taught Cindy to knit?

And just like that we zipped out to the world famous Black Mountain Yarn Shop.

 

IMG_7167
a good sign

 

a very good sign
a very good sign

 

We oohed and aahed at the gorgeous colors, textures, and possibilities of all the yarn. We talked knitting strategy. And then we made the oh-so-difficut final selection.

Wait till you see how it knits up, I promised, giddy to see the gleam in my friend’s eye.

 

knitting
look at her go

 

Oh, yes. Two days of practice and I do believe we have populated the world with another passionate knitter.

How fun is that?

 

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Day 6: Grace and Gratitude

I’m spending a few days in the North Carolina mountains, here for the Montreat Music and Worship Conference. I have walked these great hills once before and so I knew it to be a beautiful and gentle place. Now I also know it is holy. Founded in the late 19th century as a place for physical and spiritual restoration for the Christians called there, the settlement’s name, Mountain Retreat, was eventually shortened to the more simple Montreat.

Grace is palpable here. The mountains rise and fall, summer’s blues and greens lie up against each other in a harmony so perfect  it takes your breath. It also brings immeasurable peace. The natural world knows it, too, I swear. The brooks and trees and flowers and birds somehow embody the spirit: life lived in glory to God.

(You may know Montreat was the chosen home of Reverend Billy Graham and his wife, Catherine Bell Graham. One afternoon is all it takes to understand why.)

 

AND SO I HAVE BEEN filling my soul here in Montreat. Along with 16 youth and adults from my church, I have spent these days in choral rehearsals, vocal classes, bible study and tear-stained worship. And I have had a ton of fun.

Let’s just start with this:

 

cathyfish2

 

It’s my grand fortune that Dr. Mike sets aside two afternoons for a little trout fishing with the youth. I came along as an interested bystander and photographer, but it didn’t take long until I was able to wrestle a pole from sweet Laken who needed something from the snack bar.

(She had to wrestle the pole back from me when she returned, I’ll tell you that.)

 

cathyfish1

 

I didn’t catch a thing. Didn’t get a bite, but that hardly mattered. I loved every second hanging with those kids who taught me a great deal this week about love and generosity.

 

working it out
working it out

 

youth and adults in on the fishing action
youth and adults in on the fishing action

 

They are quite a bunch.

 

at My Father's Pizza: Morgan, Virginia and Cathy
three of a kind at My Father’s Pizza: Morgan, Virginia and Cathy

 

I have other tales to tell, and I’ll save them for other days. For now, I’ll close with a mention of my deep gratitude for this greatest of privileges: a week spent singing with my cherished friend, Cindy.

 

catandcin2
Soul Sistas, concert-ready

 

She was my roommate, my patient guide, and my biggest cheerleader.

Thanks be to God.

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