I just finished reading Maya Angelou’s beautiful and thought-provoking poem “A Brave and Startling Truth.” It touched me deeply. She read it on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco, June 26, 1995, I am sad to say that I had not read it before…. I found it the other day quite by accident. I was researching a bit on a concept for a sermon, and searched the phrase “where we come in,” just to see if there were others who had used this as a title in anything– something I do sometimes just to find out what’s out there. This phrase is not in her poem at all, but it is closely enough related to the phrase repeated in her poem, “when we come to it,” that Google picked it up.
Her poem took me somewhere deep, a place to which I love to go but don’t seem to get to often enough. It’s the place I seek when I turn my thoughts to sermon writing; a place that if I haven’t got there, I don’t feel prepared to speak. It’s the place I hope to help others find when I speak and write.
I remember the first time I found that place, deep within, long before I ever felt the call to ministry. I wrote a couple of notes to myself then because I wanted to remember how I felt. I’ve kept these notes for more than 35 years:
I feel like beautiful feelings
Like writing love music
Conducting a symphony orchestra
Painting a sunset
Singing a sweet sad song
Like caressing a loved ones’ cheek with mine
Like sharing a warm feeling
Like smiling from deep within.
When it comes it makes me want to
Make earrings out of something
Make poetry out of thoughts
Put some of me down on paper.
I’m sharing this with you now (although I have second thoughts about the “make earrings” part!) because this place, deep within, is the place where I believe our inward spirituality connects to God. Psalm 42:7 describes the feeling: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” Howard Thurman, the great spiritual leader and former Dean of Howard University’s Rankin Chapel, described a moment in his ordination when he felt “the heavens opened and the spirit descended like a dove.” Then he wrote: “Ever since, when it seems that I am deserted by the voice that called me forth, I know that if I can find my way back to that moment, the clouds will lift and the path before me will once again be clear and beckoning.” With Head and Heart, p. 58.
We all need to find that deep place within where God’s creative love breaks in on us and refreshes our souls. To me, when I’m not there, I’m just skimming on the surface of life, distracted by the many things around me that always seem to need my attention. We need to escape periodically from our everyday-life-management stuff so that we can tend to our spiritual lives, our inner beings, the deep place in which we find our true selves and hear God’s desires.
Getting there requires space for quiet and peace, personal time not distracted by other needs. Getting there requires prayer and personal meditation. Some may need direction from spiritual leaders or teachers. Some can get there with a favorite bible verse or song. We all need to get there, whatever it may take, because that is where our direction can be found– not in the things of this world, but in the secret places of our hearts, where deep calls to deep. In that place we are refurbished. That’s where we share the joy of love with the One who created us out of love and for love, and we receive direction on how we are to share that love in the time that has been given to us.
Maya Angelou’s beautiful poem struck me so deeply because she lifts up the great paradox of humanity–our ability to evoke such great harm and so many awful disasters in this world, yet at the same time our ability to share such great, selfless and healing love. In this age of information when we are bombarded by the news of atrocities like those three young girls who were kidnapped and held in brutal captivity for a decade, the lethal bombing in Boston or the children being mowed down in Newtown Connecticut, we need to be reminded that there is also great love being shared. We need to be reminded of the power of people like Mother Teresa, Hellen Keller, Mahatma Ghandi, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther KIng, Jr., and the millions of heroes and sheroes who constantly pour out God’s love for others through their kind actions.
When we come to that “brave and startling” truth that we have the power to fashion this world to be a better place, my prayer is that we will choose love as our creative blueprint. The kind of love that we need in order to fashion the world into a place where God’s kingdom will be seen here, as it is in heaven, is found in that place in our souls where “deep calls to deep.” If you’ve ever been there, you will feel the need to go back. If you’ve never been there, you should work on finding the way.