• Steve Berlack

Our Connection Is But A Whisper

I recently had the pleasure of interacting with members of a particular

religious sect on the streets of Baltimore. They were resplendent in their

traditional gear, and were presenting a powerful presence through their

microphone and speakers. They were preaching the Word. I had not seen

them in Baltimore before, but was familiar with them from my hometown

of New York.

They were doing as I always remembered them doing, speaking loudly

and eloquently through the loudspeaker at the crowd passing by. They were

articulate and intimidating speakers, in that their voices were loud enough

and full of enough conviction that they hardly needed amplification.

Their flowing robes replete with ancient symbols made them stand out

completely from the people walking nearby, and somehow seemed to

funnel their voices outward, making them even louder, and drew the

attention of all.

They clearly knew the Word, and were reading from the Bible for all to

hear. In the midst of this, one of the members and two young “officers”

(as he called them), approached me. I greeted him in their ancient Middle

Eastern language, and he returned the courtesy. With that, he asked me

questions related to the people of the Middle East, their place in the Bible,

and their connection to a very particular community here in America. I

told him what I knew, but it became clear, as he continuously cut me off

from speaking, that his aim was not to listen, but to discern which angles

with which to convince me of what he had to say next.

He had one of his “officers” read from a clearly prepared text, and I had

to stifle a laugh when I noted that the young man read in a loud, staccato

voice that reminded me of DMX. Don’t get me wrong, I love DMX, but

the juxtaposition of that voice and the Word was just, for me at least…

incongruous. He clearly was trained to read this way, yet given that we

were standing next to each other, his voice sounded not just loud but

forced and unnatural. I quickly realized that he wasn’t reading to me, but

was reading to get the attention of those around us. I then noticed that all

within earshot were now watching us engage in our discourse.

I was struck by several thoughts at once. First, I realized that I had become

part of grand theater. There was noble purpose attached to this theater: I

was to be convinced that theirs was the answer and the true way to God.

Second, I realized that the point of their discourse was that they were

God’s “chosen” people, and that I was connected to them by birthright.

Third, I realized that I was being recruited to become a member of their

sect. The leader made that clear when he invited me to come to their next

training session. I was also struck by their great intelligence and obvious

mastery of the Word. They clearly knew the Bible well.

I could easily see how, if someone were not clear about his/her own spiritual

walk, one could be easily impressed by them, and inclined to follow their

path. I don’t wish to be disingenuous. Theirs is a noble cause: to bring

people closer to God. However, their leader said one final thing that caught

my attention. He said: ‘I would really love for you to come to our training,

because if you don’t, it won’t go well for you.” Those words struck me like

a lightning bolt, because it connected me to similar conversations I’ve had

with members of other religious groups, with far different beliefs, who also

warned me of my doom if I didn’t obey their call. And I realized, through

all those years, my own spiritual philosophy was born, and in that moment

it came cascading around me, washing over me like rain. ”I cannot help

you shine your light by talking about your light. I can only help you shine

your light by shining mine.”

And with that, the whole point of our conversation came to me: our

spiritual connection is not loud. It is not theater. It is neither staccato, nor

braggadocious. It is neither colorful nor eye-catching. Indeed, it is but a

whisper. It is fragile. It is so frail, that anything above a whisper threatens

to break it. The symbols used to bring some closer to God can be used to

exclude others. Our spiritual connection to one another is so delicate that

it can disintegrate before our eyes upon our temples and within our tomes.

I truly thank the gentlemen that took the time to speak with me that day,

for they are on a path to God. Though it was not their intention, they

reminded me that we must protect this connection of ours, this fragile cord

between us. We must whisper it with our actions, instead of shouting it

with our words. For with each shout, each virulent wave of symbols, each

hardened ear and stony heart, our chords but fall away. They helped me

learn and shaped my continued path to God, though it may not have been

in the fashion they desired. And isn’t that its own lesson: that we impact

people in ways we don’t understand? Aren’t we all getting humbled when

we finally stand before Him?

I whisper this in your ear, that you may whisper it in the souls of others.

Amen. Ashé.

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