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.