This weekend in Richmond was the 10th annual Folk Festival, a time of free melodious goodness along the river. There are five stages with food and crafts for sale in between them. On Friday night, after I finished listening to two soul/blues artists on two different stages amidst the cool air and the sprinkling rain, I was on my way home. As I departed through the paths of wet grass, my journey was interrupted by a loud ruckus that was happening on the other side of the river on Browns Island. With the droves of people that resembled a parade of ants, I walked to see what all the fuss was about. Zydeco (Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers) was the music type I read on my folk festival pamphlet. I wasn’t sure what that was, but it sounded like something I would enjoy. The closer I got, the more I recognized what I was hearing something with the flavor of New Orleans…there were percussions, accordions and a loud voice full of energy blaring from the speakers. The singer was a thick muscled African American man sweating like he was on fire from within, and perhaps he was. The audience was a legion of dancers moving and shaking to the beats surrounded by excited onlookers. Arms, heads and hips were in vigorous motion in response to the band. I was glad that I followed the noise, the energy was electric. The loud and boisterous music sparked something alive in my body and the rest of my weekend has fanned the flame.
I expected to return to Richmond Hill to a quiet and dark building, a stark contrast to the Friday night festival I had just enjoyed. On the contrary, walking up the driveway I heard more ruckus, of women’s voices, the unbridled laugher of familiar friends. At 10:30pm, every light was on in the ground floor, the lounge was full and I could barely hear anything intelliable from all of the voices. I moved through the crowd to the refectory to make sure there was enough coffee for our guests. There was a group of women about to dig into a game of cards, they were trying to decide between phase 10 and rummy. They were all smiles and excitement. This was going to be an energizing weekend I could tell. We had with us a group of spirit filled African American women and another group of spry white women who happened to be recovering alcoholics. Both were a joy, both were fully themselves and spicy.
The next morning the group of African American women brought out their swords with passionate prayer, they were prayer warriors I could tell. Their voices were projected and strong, their prayers passionate and lengthy, full of triumph, praise and declaration. It was a surprising gift, we are usually quiet and structured here, but their prayers were dynamic. There was a yes, yes and amen in my spirit after their prayers. They called down the heavens. The spirit was moving and this had my heart stirring.
On Sunday morning at our communion service, our Senior Pastor was in the middle of his sermon about the feast the king invited his town to and no one showed up. Mid-sentence, we heard an outbreak of laughter from outside of the chapel. It was wonderfully disruptive. The AA women’s group was cutting up during a cigarette gathering at 7:30 am in the morning. I had to smile at the unscripted and wild joyfulness that was happening outside of the chapel, a holy disturbance. When I sat down with them for breakfast, I asked if they were having a good weekend. Everyone agreed that they were and apologized for being loud while we were in chapel. I said “I can think of a lot of worst things to hear than laughter.” One of the women commented that laughter had been devoid in her life as an addict that she welcomed it at any turn, it made laughing all the more sacred now. Giving it away as often as she could was a need for her.She said they liked to have a good time because most addicts think sober life will be dry and boring. Consequently, they try to fill their group time with fun, games and laughter. I like that, filling up the space that used to be occupied by addiction and destruction with laughter.
Ironically, the school of spiritual guidance is here this weekend for their monthly retreat. Their theme is the “12 steps of addiction.” It reminds me that we are all addicted to something that we try to fill our empty spaces with things that work temporally, usually to our own detriment. These group of laughing rebels make me realize how God’s grace is needed to free us from our addition. I’m also reminded how he wants to give us joy in exchange for our sadness.From the story in Matthew that was preached this morning, the preacher asked the congregation, “God has thrown a feast, why haven’t we shown up to the party?” Perhaps we are numb or indifferent, or apathetic or simply full of other things. I am not sure, but all of the music that moved my soul, prayer that was full of the spirit and laughter that shook the room seems like a holy invitation to raucous celebration, to feast on the soul filling and nourishing good things life has to offer. I live at a monastery, so I am all for times for silence, solitude and solemnness. This weekend however, was not one of those times, it was a time of filling, filing my heart, and air and soul with good things. I want to make that a discipline as well, being able to enter into celebration, to break out in song and dance when a good tune is playing, to erupt in lively prayer and praise and to bellow out a laugh that infects the group and disrupts anything around it. These are things I surely want to feast on as often as I can, to enter into as often as they are offered and to spread like a wildfire.