I remember a quarrel with one of my wealthier parishioners at First Congregational Church, in Riverhead, N.Y. She wanted to put a carillon (an arrangement of chromatically tuned bells) in the steeple. I, on the other hand, wanted her to fund the homeless shelter in the building that housed 150 plus people a night. She refused, and eventually, the carillon went in, at a cost of $10,000.
The first night it played at 5 p.m. I ran into my neighbor who was the executive director of the methadone clinic next door. She had tears in her eyes. When I asked why, she said, “The music is so beautiful. It pierces the sky. It is going to help me get through the day.”
Houses of worship help people of all kinds get through their day. Often, we do it by feeding them spiritually. Sometimes we do it by feeding them physically. One is not better than the other; indeed, they are two sides of the same coin.
Think of solar energy. The sun rises, the sun sets. It gives off energy. More and more people are collecting that energy to keep their homes warm and their lamps lit. Then again, the renewal that comes from a sunrise or a sunset that you manage to catch in the midst of living a roadrunner life can also keep you warm spiritually and lit psychologically.
Or consider the wind. It too brings power and there is nothing like the right breeze at the right time to give us solace.
Or consider water. For first worlders like me, a day or two without a shower and I get grumpy.
Water is also the key ingredient that soil uses to feed us. Life really is just earth and water. The material and the spiritual are a blend. They are separate spheres between solar and spiritual energy, wind and spirtiual energy, physical and spiritual nourishment.
But life without both is poverty. It is oppression. It is being hungry for the other side of the coin.
Some think the spiritual is just sentimental or that the physical is just materialism or matter run amuk. I think both viewpoints are off. Living right involves the right relationship to spirit and matter, having enough but not too much or too little, knowing that less is often truly more, especially if blended and blending.
There are days when you will need soup more than music and days when you will need music more than soup. Many argue that fixing the environment will cost less than not fixing it. Or that poverty is really expensive, socially and otherwise. Refusing to understand the way holy water meets holy soil and feeds us is in itself a form of spiritual and intellectual poverty.
So strange that we have it, when we are already so rich, like that methadone worker who left her office poor and went out into the night rich.
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