“Around the time I started to see energy, I was filing lawsuits in federal and state courts for civil rights violations. Reluctantly.
Some time later, after a long day of bemoaning my litigious fate to God, I happened upon a little book about Rosa Parks. As you probably know Rosa Parks is considered “The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” She is well known for standing up for herself and others by insisting on sitting down. In 1955, she refused to move from her seat for white men who had entered the bus and she was subsequently arrested.
What I learned from this book, however, was that this was not unique to civil rights activists of the day. Many refused to move from their seats to protest segregation on public transportation. What is less well known and what made Rosa Parks stand out from the crowd was that she sued, albeit reluctantly, for her arrest. This lawsuit with the support of the NAACP, went to the US Supreme Court and in a landmark decision, the highest court in our country declared bus segregation illegal. This ruling was then the precursor to the Civil Rights Act of 1964—under which my own discrimination lawsuits were filed.
Knowing it was a lawsuit that had made a difference in the African American struggle for equality made me feel a little better that I too had sued for civil rights violations. Even though I knew the church needed accountability, I truly had not wanted to sue. It’s costly, it’s time consuming, not to mention a drain on one’s mental energy, and in general a real hassle. Plus, I had loved the people in the church. I had loved being their pastor. It grieved me to be in litigation with them. I would have walked away several hundred times over throughout the whole ordeal if I hadn’t been completely convinced that God wanted me to stay in the thing.
Needless to say, God made sure I knew I was supposed to stay in the thing.
One day I was questioning God as to why I had to sue. I mean really…why? Why was the legal part of it so necessary from God’s perspective? What was it going to gain? It seemed rather severe from my own perspective. The next morning I received a devotional scripture through a daily email subscription of mine that said in summary: “The farmer knows each grain she plants. She knows how much threshing each type of grain needs to be harvested. Some types of grains need very little threshing, but some need a lot, like wheat, but the farmer knows.” (The sex change for the farmer—my idea.)
In other words, some situations need more intense treatment than others in order for something productive to come out of them and God knows which ones do. My task then was just to trust and follow the continued leading of God to the best of my ability.
Still, not one to just trust, (although “I just must trust” did become a necessary mantra to help me cope over the years), I would repeatedly find myself struggling to come to grips with the litigation. One evening in particular I was wrestling with God about why the lawsuit had to be. The next morning I awoke to music as if my alarm clock had been set to a radio station. One problem, though. I didn’t have an alarm clock that played music. Moreover, it sounded like a choir was singing in my head…or maybe in my bedroom…or both? I couldn’t tell. It was glorious angelic singing or I presumed it was angels anyway. The words? “That all may be free. That all may be free. That all may be free.” This phrase was sung several times in hauntingly beautiful melodies and harmonies and then it gradually faded away.
I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and looked around—seeing nothing. Yet another bizarre event to wonder about, but whatever the source, the message was clear. Without civil rights (even for ministers), no one is free. Thank God for Rosa Parks. Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to file my civil rights litigation in the first place, let alone win a civil rights victory for clergywomen.
But contemplating the angelic choir in my bedroom, made me more suspicious than ever about other strange events that seemed to confirm the existence of disembodied spiritual beings around me. I kept running into them, or they into me. Why me? I mean it wasn’t just a few angels singing that morning…oh no, no, no, no, it sounded like I got an entire tabernacle choir of them.
Maybe because I was still uncertain as to what to do with the few experiences I’d had up to this point that I metaphorically needed to be hit over the head with a two by four of a whole legion of angels singing to get that this is real. It’s not that I didn’t believe in angels. I was, in fact, raised in a church that did believe in them. It’s just that somewhere down the line, attending an intelligent academic-oriented Christian university and then Princeton Seminary, that I (along with many other like-minded ministers) relegated talk about angels to Sunday School theology and ancient scriptural stories. I don’t recall any Presbyterian ever talking to me about their encounter with angels. It went right along with seeing auras…
So while in essence I believed in angels, I didn’t really figure them into everyday modern life. The mystical was not in my worldview. I had a strong faith and a close relationship with God, but really on the whole my spirituality had been normal, for lack of a better word. I would later learn that more than 78% of Americans believe in angels, according to a Gallup Poll, and the percentage keeps going up. But for some reason, even though the vast majority of people in our country believe in angels, the acceptability of talking about such things is low. I have had many friends, clients, and strangers in the years since tell me about their encounters with spiritual beings. Alas, they usually begin their story with, “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but...”
I could relate to that worry. I was so afraid someone was going to think I was nuts, especially since I knew there was a senior minister running around out there declaring exactly that sentiment about me. So to whom could I talk about these strange events? No one, I thought, so I kept it all under wraps. I hid the fact that I had not only heard angels, but I was starting to see them…” (pp. 45-48 )
So, here’s where the story, almost nine years later, picks up. A couple of weeks ago, I clicked on a link for a TED talk on facebook. As soon as the speaker, Eric Whitacre, started to play a clip of his virtual choir singing Lux Aurumque (Light and Gold), my eyes filled with tears. Here was the angelic sound I had heard in my bedroom almost nine years ago—the same haunting melodies and gorgeously dissonant harmonies! I was moved and quietly wept as I watched and listened to the whole video later on YouTube. Of course, the legion of angels singing to me were vocalizing the words, “That all may be free. That all may be free. That all may be free.” Over and over they repeated these words but with an amazingly similar sound to Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir. And interestingly, Lux Aurumque is a Latin translation of a poem written about angels singing to Jesus:
warm and heavy
as pure gold,
and the angels sing softly
to the newborn babe.
~ Edward Esch
Here’s the video of Eric’s virtual choir of people from twelve countries singing Lux Aurumque: