[Presented at Jubilee Circle in Columbia SC with Rev. Candace Challew-Hodge]

This August while you Columbians celebrated the Great American Eclipse from your porches, I went road tripping to Missouri following the Path of Totality. My soul was in need of something celestial and miraculous and had been longing for a quest off the beaten Path of Banality, seeking new lessons of trust that everything in this crazy world happens with good reason. When you ask the Universe for new lessons though… watch out!

The Holy One sets the prisoners free;
The Holy One opens the eyes of the blind.
The Holy One lifts up those who are bowed down;
The Holy One loves the righteous.
The Holy One watches over the strangers.

This is the perfect Psalm for anyone who has ever found themselves at the bottom of a granite crevasse when it’s almost a hundred degrees out, having escaped fatal injury- but bleeding out a bit- and upon realizing it was all a magnificent lesson in accepting everything’s going to be alright- no matter what- so all you could do is laugh out loud from your pain like a crazy person there in the heat and dust stuck down in these stone cracks in the Earth. The perfect Psalm. Allow me.

The day before the Eclipse felt right for a little rock scampering. Elephant Mounds State Park is a majestic beauty of massive pink granite boulders with fascinating geometry created by cooling magma ejected billions of years ago. It’s a giant stone jungle gym where little kids dart through the narrowest of canyons, with not at all dangerous heights and depths for out of shape adults with treadless sandals and heavy camera gear to schlep around on. I’m scuttling along, and I want to hop across a small-ish gap. I’d already chucked my gear over, now it was time to chuck me over.

Do you remember those cartoons of the Road Runner, as he was about to go over a cliff? Everything would stop for a second- he’d take a final panicked look at the camera- uselessly spinning his legs in the air- and plummet. After impact, I realized just how stupid that was. I’m not Indiana Jones. I’m Asheville Joslin. I had several gashes, one on my elbow was especially prolific. I had put together a little first aid kit, kinda meager but there it was. And I just started laughing in my pain, trying one-handedly to bandage myself up, nothing was working because of all the sweat and the dust and my awkwardly wedged position. It was ridiculous.

The Holy One sets the prisoners free;
The Holy One opens the eyes of the blind.

In my youth, gravity was too kind. I believe I was spared a few “whoopses” then so I could do more with modern-day graceless miscalculations. Other than having this penchant for wanting to learning things the hard way, there had to be a reason for all of this- that’s when I heard the voice behind me. It belonged to a kid, maybe 10 years old, who stood with ready confidence.

“Hey mister, my name is Brandon and I’m certified in First Aid and my Mother is an EMT Tech and she’s right over there and I’d like to offer you help if you want it if that’s okay?”

Imagine my shock. I’d just dropped perilously in-between walls of stone and out of nowhere here’s a medically trained 10 year old who is fearlessly offering help to a sweaty, puffy, bleeding, struggling, crazy looking… stranger. Stranger danger is instilled in our bones, yet breaking all conventional wisdom was radical kindness embodied in this Midwestern Messenger.

The Holy One lifts up those who are bowed down;
The Holy One loves the righteous.
The Holy One watches over the strangers.

“I would like to offer you help if that’s okay,” says the child. Says the child to the wounded. Says the child to the Unknown. When did we last say those words- to a child? When did we last say those words- to the Unknown? What a world of miracles it could be- starting right now- if with the bravery of a child, we offered help. What a world of learning trust it could be- starting right now- if we worked to overcome the fear that prevents us from asking those questions. I don’t believe this child was exceptional- I believe what he did was entirely natural. It’s how humans “do” being human- when we aren’t stuck on subdividing ourselves into this and that. We are in the Holy Days, we are in the days of celebrating the light we carry and how we increase that light within each of us- through acts of grace, mercy, and love. It’s more than saying these things that assures us that the light shines— it’s doing them. Breathe Deeply.
Xavier Rudd is an Australian musician who has the rare distinction of being fully initiated and accepted as an Aboriginal despite his European ancestry. His lifelong work for Aboriginal and Ecological justice through music and the arts has earned recognition from the United Nations and a worldwide respect among First Nations peoples. This song is not a holiday song in the least, but I suggest it is about making these days holy.

Follow, follow the sun
And which way the wind blows
When this day is done.

Breathe, breathe in the air
Set your intentions
Dream with care.

Tomorrow is a new day for everyone,
Brand new moon, brand new sun.

Today we are on the cusp of celebrating Chanukah, a miracle of assurance that an inextinguishable light is far more than oil and wick- it’s the miracle of divine assurance. You know assurance Jubilants, when you leaned into it and said that we are now keeping open a Sanctuary where we affirm the Holiness of all of Creation. That includes the divinity of every being that has been or will be- even the beings that oppose us. It ties in directly with the message of Chanukah. The oil burned for eight days instead of one; so why go through life with a “one day faith?” Lean into assurance! Lean into a new “meant-to-be-ness” to make way for the holy to do its work through your hands.

So follow, follow the sun,
The direction of the bird,
The direction of love.

Breathe, breathe in the air,
Cherish this moment,
Cherish this breath.

Tomorrow is a new day for everyone,
Brand new moon, brand new sun.

Tomorrow is a new day for everyone alright. It’s a new day that calls for us to show up. People say that we don’t have the miracles of the books of old anymore- well we can argue until we’re blue in the halo about that, but I do believe in the Holy and I do believe that we don’t need those kinds of miracles even if they did exist. We need miracles of compassion, of grace, of mercy, of justice, of deep and substantive social listening, and personal acceptance. Miracles aren’t magic tricks- miracles are gifts of complete surprise that incapacitate ordinary thinking and doing. A new day is a given, because the Earth spins- making a gift out of that by asking “how can I help?” is what can make it a miracle for someone else.

When you feel life coming down on you,
Like a heavy weight;
When you feel this crazy society,
Adding to the strain-
Take a stroll to the nearest water’s edge
Remember your place-
Many moons have risen and fallen long, long before you came-

So which way is the wind blowin’,
And what does your heart say?

“Greetings, favored one! God is with you.” (said the Angel Gabriel to Mother Mary). But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

So here, we get to experience Mary’s shock. An angel comes down- already this is a big deal. Remember the angels you put on top of trees are not the angels that are always described- sometimes, we’re looking at many wings, not an aerodynamic situation. Gabriel has frightened people before. So when he says “Do not be afraid,” Mary be like “Tell me not to be afraid!” And she even has to handle the news that she’s going to be carrying a child, without… Joseph’s help. Who just trusts that? And… we know the rest of the story; two millennia of civilization have been built on it- for better or worse. For some, this is quite literal. When you think of how many moons have risen and set before your brief time here, how many spins around the sun we get to take, and are taken without us… hearken to the permanence of the mantra “be not afraid.” Why not? Why not let go of fear and accept the angels standing before us? It is both frightening- and astonishing- to suddenly recognize our fragility and our divinity, and the strange angels among us reminding us- “be not afraid”?

So follow, follow the sun,
And which way the wind blows
When this day is done.

Brandon, the 10 year old medically trained angel told me where he and his mother would be and pointed toward the way out.  “Okay, you be safe mister, bye!” I wiggled free from the narrow crevasse, only to find that I could’ve avoided the jump and walked down the other side of the rock, gotten back to the path, and even had a nice little sit on a bench. As I was putting myself back together, another kid, a few years older, was about to come tumbling over the rock. I told him where he could shimmy down. “Thanks man,” he said. “I could’ve really busted my ass.” No problem, I said. “Someone showed me the way.”

So follow, follow the sun,
And which way the wind blows
When this day is done.

[w/m (c) 2013 Xavier Rudd]