I’ve had to do a lot of hard and scary things in the past few years. And I’ve had to discover where the source of my strength and courage lies. I’ve learned to stand strong, but also to lean on others when I can’t do it alone. It sounds a little silly, but one of the things that has helped me through the hardest days is carrying a small stone in my pocket. It looks like one of these decorative stones, but it is far more than that. A mentor and dear friend used to give these to her voice students and tell them that it was courage. They could hold courage in their hand or put it in their pocket. It helped them to get through scary performances or to be brave enough to try something new in the studio. When I carry my “courage” it is both a reminder to be brave, and a reminder of someone who supported me through some very difficult times and whose support I still feel even though she is no longer living.
Years ago, I purchased the stones for use with my students and that original “courage” got mixed in with all the others. It is actually kind of cool because then I have a little bit of courage to take with me and a huge supply waiting at home if I need more. I started carrying my “courage” with me to interviews, to new jobs, on days that I didn’t think I had the physical strength to do what had to be done. But sometimes, I would forget to put it on the dresser when I got home, or it would fall out of my pocket as I changed my clothes. And sometimes I just wanted a new stone to carry. As I headed out the door, I’d stop at the little chest on my bookshelf and take a new stone. And it would always make me smile because I couldn’t help but think of the line from that most Mormon of Mormon hymns, “Come, Come Ye Saints”.
Lift up your hearts, fresh courage take.
Another source of strength for me has been music. Music is where things make sense to me, so it shouldn’t have surprised me when I found myself singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in a service at my UU church and hearing echoes of “Come, Come Ye Saints”. The similarities were so striking to me that I actually went home and wrote out all the lyrics to both songs. Then I cut them up and started putting them together again. And now these anthems are forever intertwined in my mind and heart.
Come, come ye saints,
Lift every voice and sing,
Let it resound above the rest
And make the air with music ring.
With harmonies of liberty
We’ll make this chorus swell.
Sing a song, ye saints.
Sing a song, all is well.
Every time I hear “Come, Come Ye Saints” I can’t help but think of this scripture:
And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. 2nd Nephi 28:21
How can we dare to sing “All is well” knowing full well that to declare that all is well in Zion is a lie and a trap, something that keeps us from being what we really want to be?
How can I dare to sing “All is well” when the news and my Facebook feed are filled with heart-breaking stories that almost crush my soul?
Re-read those words to “Come, Come, Ye Saints” and then re-read “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. Neither one of them is saying that the work is done and all is well right now. Both of them call us forward and give us hope, renewing our vision of what it is that we are working towards and why we can’t quit now. We’ve passed over a lot of hard ground. We’ve suffered. We’ve cried. And there may be more of that in the future. But we will not lose sight of our God (however you view God) and we will continue moving towards what we know is possible.
Julian of Norwich believed that all would be made well in Christ, stating, “…all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” And much of the Christian world agrees. And I do too…kind of. I think we too often fall into the trap of not doing what we could do to change things for the better because we believe that God is in charge and God will take care of everything if we just pray hard enough.
God IS in charge. AND… We are God’s hands. We have to do the work to make this world a place where we want to live. I have to get up every morning and pick up a new stone because the world I live in now is far from the one I want to live in.
All is not well. All is definitely not well, but it will be. Not because we wait it out, or wait for someone else to make a difference, but because we take fresh courage and step out into the world once again determined to be part of making it well.