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Rekindling the flame

Tickets to the Keith Urban concert weren't just a gift. They were a miracle.
By Meg Barnhouse

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I was at the Keith Urban concert thinking about Albert Schweitzer, who wrote: “At times, our own light goes out, and is rekindled by a spark from another person.”

Harry had mailed me tickets to the concert, and I had promised him I would go. I met him a few weeks ago in a small southern town at a coffee shop where I was performing. Carrying guitars and other gear out of the winter darkness into its red and gold holiday light, I paused to be introduced to a man wearing a dark suit and a yarmulke. The two gay men who own the place said Harry was my kind of person, that he’d read my books and liked my music and that we should know one another.

He’d just been to a funeral, he said, and he wished he could stay for my singing, but he’d promised his wife he’d be home pretty soon. He ended up staying anyway, for the first set.

During the break he came up to me and put a folded hundred-dollar bill into my hand. I was doing a good thing with my music, he said, and he wanted to help support it. And, by the way, did I like Keith Urban?

Yes, I answered, I guess. That “take your cat and leave my sweater” song was catchy and clever.

He had tickets to a Keith Urban concert. Would I like to go? Harry was on the board of the local bank, and he and his wife had to go to the annual holiday dinner the night of the concert. He made me promise that if he sent the tickets I would go.

A promise is a promise, so even though on the evening of the event I felt too busy, too tired, too pressed to go, a friend and I got our cowgirl boots on and went. The arena was packed, and the lights looked beautiful piercing the smoke from the smoke machines. (At the concerts I remember from my college years they didn’t need machines to make the smoke. That’s all I’m saying about that.)

Listening to the blisteringly loud music pound through the wadded-up tissue paper I’d stuffed into my ears, I could almost feel new neuro-pathways being created in my brain. Ideas began piercing the fog of busyness in my brain. Light came from places I hadn’t felt it come from in a while.

As I write this, it’s Hanukkah. At my Unitarian Universalist church we’re celebrating the miracle where one tiny vial of sacred oil burned for eight days. The Jews had driven the Empire’s soldiers out of Jerusalem, and the temple had been cleansed of the desecration, the big lie that had been erected in the holy of holies. The desecration of the temple was supposed to wipe out the Jews’ spirit and their culture, but instead it made them angry enough to revolt. The temple had to be consecrated, but most of the holy oil had been polluted by the Empire’s soldiers. The one vial of oil lit the lamps for long enough for more sacred oil to be made.

Right now in my congregation we are having a lively conflict that arose when someone wrote in our newsletter that UUs don’t believe in miracles. I am very comfortable with conflict. (I’m going to say that till it’s true.) Words of hurt and anger are already evolving into self-revelation, and I’m thinking that understanding will come next, then compassion. Everyone has copied me on the discussion and I thought I would have to jump in more than I have, but they are getting there on their own. It seems miraculous to me!

I don’t really care whether the oil really historically verifiably burned for eight days. I absorb faith stories the same way I think and feel about dreams. If the story of Hanukkah were my dream, it would be about being under menacing pressure to give up my truth. It would be saying there was a desecration, a lie, set up in my Holy of Holies.

That sense that I’m busy, pressed, doing useful and important things, that I can’t take a detour into an arena in cowgirl boots—that might be a lie. The sense that I’m special, that great things are expected of me, that I have to be more productive, more gracious, more present than other people, that I mustn’t rest as much, have as much fun, or live my life simply to enjoy it—that might be a lie. I may need to toss out the fuel I’ve been running on, that sense of grinding obligation that I’ve been trying to live up to. It has my lamp sputtering and stinking this time of year.

Remembering that concert, I know a little miracle happened to me. My lamp was re-lit by what Harry did, encouraging my creativity, wanting me to have a little treat. Who knows how long that little vial of oil will burn?

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