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 trough 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…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 the next training.  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 lightening 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 not colorful or 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 very 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.

Amen.  Ashé.

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