Sharif Abdullah is a friend of mine. From his name you might be lead to believe that he might be of Middle-eastern descent, but he is, in fact, a black man who grew up on the streets of Camden, New Jersey. Sharif has dedicated his life to peace-building. Among other projects, he has spent many years working for peace in Sri Lanka with Sarvodaya. He is the author of the book, Creating a World That Works for All.
This message from Sharif moved me; I think it might move you, too.
May the spirit of Christmas be with us all throughout the year.
Peace on Earth; Goodwill to all.
Howdy— I want to share something with you, something that’s been so personal to me that I don’t think I’ve shared it with anyone before.
Last Thursday, 14 December 2006, while sitting at my computer, I suddenly burst into tears. Tears of joy. On the radio, I heard a holiday song sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This put me into a time tunnel — back to two holidays ago, when my appendix blew on Thanksgiving Day, and I was rushed into two emergency surgeries. (There’s nothing like being wheeled into a second surgery, with the nurses asking for your next of kin, to get you focused on how serious your situation is.) I lingered in the hospital for days, my other organs failing.
Because my adrenals had completely disrupted my sleep cycle, I found myself awake at around 2 am, flicking around the TV channels in my hospital room, trying to find something non-offensive. I settled on a PBS documentary of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, specifically because I assumed that they would end with the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah”. The “Messiah” is the Choir’s signature piece, and was my paternal grandfather’s favorite piece of music. He sang bass professionally, so he would sing along with a recording of the Choir. I would love watching his Adam’s apple bob up and down as he sang.
Anyway, I’m watching this documentary, Walter Cronkite narrating. I’m learning a lot more than I ever knew about the Choir, and about the Mormons in general. (As a student of religions, I already knew a lot.) About 3/4 through the show, they played the “Messiah”. Now I was intrigued: what could they possibly sing that could top the “Hallelujah Chorus”?
As the program draws toward its end, Cronkite says something that I did not know – that every member of the Choir is an unpaid volunteer. They not only have to take unpaid leave from their jobs in order travel with the Choir… they have to pay their own transportation and expenses. Singing with the Choir is an act of faith for each of them. I am witnessing their faith, their sacrifice, and their glory.
Although the “Hallelujah Chorus” is their signature song, the song that they ended with was the song that was most meaningful to the Choir – the song that Mormons sang while they pulled hand-carts 2,000 miles, across the Rockies, to their promised land. It’s an American folk song called “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. (I had never heard it before.)
Right before the song, Walter Cronkite said, “When they sing the words, “Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it” – they really mean it.” I cried all the way through that song. I’m still crying.
There I was, lying in a fairly comfortable hospital bed, nurses on call at the push of a button – if the Mormons could cross the country on foot, carried by that song, my faith could get me out of that hospital bed and on with the rest of my life. Their song became my touchstone for my faith. The next day, I checked myself out of the hospital.
Having faith means everything. There is a gene, hard-wired into our very being, that demands our faithfulness. When we live our lives as though faith is some outmoded or silly concept, or can be replaced by THINGS, or (worse yet) by REASON, we do so at our own peril. Faith doesn’t mean that things are going my way, or that I’m going to get the pony that I’m praying for.
Faith means that I GIVE MYSELF to the Divine, that IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. Faith to the Mormon pioneers didn’t mean that they were going make it as they walked (walked!) across the country to Salt Lake City. Many of them didn’t make it. Faith meant that their every step was dedicated to God, not to themselves.
Faith is tied to sacrifice. Sacrifice is pain… elevated to the level of the Sacred. Sacrifice is to find the MEANING in the pain. The Choir has to give up so much in order to sing – their time, their paychecks. It is their giving up that sweetens their voices. Ask yourself: what is it that you have given up? Not giving up alcohol, drugs or overeating… you are doing that for YOU. What are you giving up for humanity? For the Earth? For God? Where is your sacrifice?
Faith has nothing to do with whether or not you make it. Faith has nothing to do with what’s written in the Bible, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad-Gita… or the Book of Mormon. Faith has nothing to do with “playing it safe” and not taking risks. The purpose of your life is not to make the next mortgage payment (regardless of what the bank tells you). The purpose of your life is not to put your kids through college. Your life goes DEEPER than that. You can’t find that purpose while clinging to the surface of things.
There are times when I forget this. There are times when I question whether giving all of my time, efforts and money for this path to a new society is “worth it”. Then I remember: it has nothing to do with whether or not I “succeed”. Here’s my heart, Lord…
Prone to wander,
Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, Seal it for thy courts above.
Peace, Sharif ************************************************************************* Sharif Abdullah COMMONWAY INSTITUTE P.O. BOX 12541 Portland, OR 97212 (503) 281-1667
VISIT THE COMMONWAY WEBSITES: