As a pianist, I play music almost only by ear. (I can read notes, but have an impossible time translating the information to my fingers!) And I love playing improvisationally more than playing anything already written down or recorded somewhere else. Through this approach to music-making, I've found a unique relationship with the word "yes," because there is great creative energy in listening closely, feeling deeply, and playing courageously (even when not knowing exactly where it all will go).
As I look back over the last four years of our life together as priest and people, I see that we have learned some of these same lessons again on the road we've traveled. (cont. p. 3)
The Rev. Sam Wells, a theologian, writer, and priest in the Church of England, has said a great deal about the role of improvisation, primarily in theater, relating to theology, ethics and church. Wells says, “The heart of improvisation is the ability to keep the story going. Accepting refers to any response that accepts the premise of another actor’s “offer” — whether that offer be physical or verbal. Actors have to learn to say “yes” even when to do so seems impossible, improper, or dangerous” (Originally a sermon preached by Wells on Oct. 1, 2006, in Duke University Chapel).
Together with God and one another, we have kept the story of Grace going by saying “yes” a LOT of times. We’ve tried many new things, and we’ve become a safer place to try even more into the future. We’ve learned that some experiments stick for a long time, some for a short time, and some fall flat.
We’ve said yes, even when the offer might not be exactly what we imagine or think we want. We’ve said yes to welcoming online worshipers, even though it feels different than community used to. We’ve said yes to new music and musicians, even though we miss old friends and the informality of our pre-pandemic music team. We’ve said yes to new chairs, even though they might not be as comfortable as we wish or the color we like or as traditional as we prefer. And, we’ve said yes to new groups using our inside and outside spaces, even though it can be inconvenient and unsettling to share.
Each of these “yesses” – and so many more – have brought us new opportunities and gifts, even as they also represent change and loss of what used to be.
I love the idea of “accepting” whatever comes to us as an opportunity or an “offer.” I love the idea of working together to become people who say yes as much as possible, because “yes” can lead us to more growth, joy, and anticipation for what may come next. I know our culture of accepting offers is largely responsible for the growth and return to parish status we’ve recently celebrated as Grace.
As we draw near to the season of Easter, we are reminded that an extreme example of acceptance—our Lord Jesus accepting suffering and death in solidarity with human sin and sickness—leads to the brilliant new possibility of abundant and everlasting life for all of creation. The glorious resurrection of Jesus makes a way for God’s yes to come to all of us – we are never turned away, never thwarted by the brokenness we know in ourselves and the world around us, never blocked from entering into the life for which we have been made and has now been made possible for everyone.
I pray that as we move forward into Easter as the parish of Grace, God will increase our openness and generosity and our YES. In this, may we become people who are always open to opportunities and offers to serve God, one another, and our neighbors.