by The Rev. Craig Lemming
“…do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand…” – Isaiah 41:10
The video below captures the moment world-famous pianist Maria João Pires, in front of her audience, orchestra, and conductor, realizes that she has prepared the wrong piano concerto! We witness her terror and her prayerful courage in the midst of her crisis as she decides to proceed with the performance; relying entirely on her hard-won artistic genius and memory. It’s breathtaking to watch.
In this COVID-19 crisis, we too find ourselves surrendering to realities beyond our control and improvising. Making decisions that change everything we had been so well-prepared for yesterday. To borrow from Maya Angelou’s wisdom, we’re doing the best we can with what we know in this moment; and when we know better, we do better.
Another example of spontaneous creativity is Billy Porter’s phenomenal, spur-of-the-moment performance that resulted in a standing ovation at a commercial break during the Tony Awards. I watch this video a lot, especially on days I feel particularly uninspired. Maybe it will inspire you today?
Speaking of Billy Porter, if you’re looking for a television series to watch, I recommend POSE. Not only does POSE honor the LGBTQ+ communities of color memorialized in the classic documentary ‘Paris is Burning,’ POSE, for me, also reflects the ways first-century Christians survived persecution as a minority community on the margins of dominant culture. They gather religiously for a meal once a week, share their joys and sufferings with one another, and creatively respond to life-threatening systems of oppression. At the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis this community gathers for weekly “balls” which I choose to see as lavishly beautiful “liturgies of resistance.” Check out this trailer and see what you think:
I close with lyrics from Madonna’s smash hit ‘Vogue’ — words I’ve never paid much attention to before — which take on profound new meaning in this COVID-19 crisis:
“Look around, everywhere you turn is heartache
It’s everywhere that you go
You try everything you can to escape
The pain of life that you know
When all else fails and you long to be
Something better than you are today
I know a place where you can get away…
All you need is your own imagination
So use it, that’s what it’s for
Go inside, for your finest inspiration
Your dreams will open the door
It makes no difference if you’re black or white
If you’re a boy or a girl
If the music’s pumping it will give you new life
You’re a superstar, yes, that’s what you are, you know it.”
Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ goes out to every “superstar” out there who is creating, improvising, and making-it-work, every day. With so much at stake, like our Christian forebears, we continue to love God in whose creative image we are all made (Genesis 1:26). We remember Christ, the Great Improviser, who came that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). And we trust in the Holy Spirit who is making all things new (Revelation 21:5).
“God is felt as being with, in, and among the struggling elements of my experience. Then, out of the midst of these, God’s Presence emerges and becomes One who stands by my side. It is then that I am lifted up and strengthened.”
— Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart
May the blessings of God Almighty be yours today and always,