Sunday, August 03, 2008

A transcendent experience

I am writing this on my laptop sitting, alone, under a dark, starlit sky. My venue is the terrace of a country home where I am spending the weekend. It is as beautiful a setting as one could imagine - not spectacular, but secluded and tranquil. The house is surrounded by rolling hills and looks out over fenced paddocks, with no other houses in sight. A few stars are visible, but no moon. The sky is black. Sounds of crickets and katydids fill the night. I have just finished a good dinner - a steak of range fed beef, a fresh tomato from the local IGA market and a glass of red wine.

For the past two hours I have been listening to an unedited Speaking of Faith podcast in which host Krista Tippett interviewed the late African American spiritualist, Joe Carter. The interview, an intermingling of conversation and Carter’s singing was long, but I wished it could have been even longer. My impression is that Krista Tipett and her staff felt the same.

(Note: to AU students, Krista will dung a video conference presentation for students enrolled in University College, this fall)

There is one interchange I particularly remember, because I often hear it from Nancy, an elderly African-American Aramark housekeeping staff member whom I often see in the early morning, and sometimes later on campus. Nancy is 79 years old and has raised 12 children, all adopted. When I ask her how she is doing, she often responds, “I am blessed.” Joe Carter spoke of elderly African American women he knew, who carried spirituals in their memories and who would say him when he asked how they were doing, “I am blessed,”

Joe Carter died, at a too young age, more than a year ago. But, thanks to Krista Tippitt, he has left us an informal, yet transcendent expression of his life’s work and its deep meaning. As I listened to the the concluding minutes of the interview, I experienced a deep sadness that Joe Carter’s voice has been stilled - and thanks that I could re-experience it when I chose, electronically.

On song Carter sang could have been his epitaph, and I would hope it could be mine, as well.

Let the work that I’ve done, speak for me.
Let the work that I’ve done, speak for me.
When I come to the end of the road and I lay down my heavy load
Let the work that I’ve done, speak for me.

The remaining verses in the same format are
Let the life that I’ve lived speak for me...
Let the prayers that I’ve prayed speak for me...
Let the love that I’ve shared speak for me....

A second song was

Soon I will be done
With the troubles of the world
I’m going home
To live with God

Sitting here in the night stillness, I could echo the sentiments of my friend Nancy, and of the grandmothers who were Joe Carter’s teachers, “I am blessed.”

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