Grace and Peace to you from the mystery in whom we live and move, and have our being. Sing a new song.
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the whole earth. Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.”Psalm 96:1-3
In the book, Let Your Voice Speak, Parker Palmer shares a story from his Quaker clearness committee. Palmer was seeking vocational discernment. The committee asked Palmer questions to help him discern his own heart. On his mind was the offer to be president of a prestigious seminary. A committee member asked him, “What part of the job seems the most exciting to you?” After a long contemplative silence he said, “The first thing that came to mind is my picture in the school’s catalog.”
He decided not to take the job.
A reputation is built over time. A potential branding can be created in a brainstorming session. To rely on neither is to listen without interference to the deepest desires of our hearts which most often align with the will of God. Caesar had a coin made with his face on it. A self-declared lord. Parker felt the inner threat to his desire for prominence and popularity. Jesus lived according to his inner call. Unattached to a branding and of little reputation, his freedom was a threat to many and captivating to others. He didn’t lead with branding or reputation. He led with his deepest desire, which was to do the work of his Father.
What was the threat he presented to some?
Henry at Dribble for Cancer
I’ve felt that threat inside me all too often. The Caesar in me causes me great stress. For example, I was invited to be at a charity event last Saturday to raise money for cancer. It was called “Dribble for Cancer.” An unfortunate name for someone like me, who had bladder cancer. They honored cancer survivors, and many former NBA stars attended. I am still unsure which one I represented, a cancer survivor or a celebrity. At the beginning I would have preferred just ‘cancer survivor.’ I’ve never been happier as a spiritual director. As the morning progressed, I switched to celebrity.
Therein was the threat for me. A switch flipped in my ego driven motives. I saw former NBA star AC Green, Fat Lever, and Jeff Malone. Players that, back in the day, I shared the court with. Many of them obviously would not recognize me without my gorilla suit, but would know me if I said, “Hey, I’m Henry Rojas. I was the ‘The Original Gorilla’ for the Phoenix Suns. I love the reactions I get from the former players. Suddenly I found myself choosing celebrity.
I rarely encounter these situations anymore. I have had a wonderful life post-masking. I did not realize it, but it was triggering a lot of stress. Stress that I experienced in my former life as a character. Once I connected my new face to my old face for them, I could not resist rubbing shoulders. I gained more attention. Little did I know I was masking again. I got lost in signing a few autographs, taking selfies, and rubbing shoulders in the VIP shade. I went home with a smile on my face and an ulcer in my body. It was part of what triggered an ulcerative colitis flare-up.
Revealing our true selves
Our bodies fight against being something we are not.
What does this have to do with the conversation between Jesus and Caesar’s disciples? Jesus asks the disciples of Caesar, “Whose face is on the coin?” My Touchpoint is that I felt the threat. I had to ask myself, is my identity still tied to the character, even if situationally? Whose face does my business? What alter ego does my PR?
Perhaps we take a look at what things in life we attempt to own and put our image on. If you are a celebrity, is it the number of fans you amass or branding that matters? For the inventor, is it your product? For an executive, is it your empire?
The reality is we can’t get away from creating a name for ourselves in business. We must find modern ways to match the fast-paced technology and social media industry.
Sing a new song
I don’t believe Jesus was saying he’s against taxes. He was refusing to worship the love of money and power that builds oppressive empires and robs us of our inner freedom. As we, like Parker Palmer, discern our deepest desire, I think we can find the will of God within us. It resonates deeply. Our spirit bears witness with God’s Spirit. They resonate together. Then we sing a new song. In music, the artist plays his song, and the strings vibrate in resonance. In our journeys we are singing a new song.
Psalm 96 declares,
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Proclaim His Salvation day after day.
It appears to me that Jesus is constantly trying to save people from themselves… from our egos searching for identity and value in the wrong places. Doesn’t it seem like that to you? These guys come to him and say, “What is your opinion on Caesar’s empire built on unfair taxes?” Jesus says in effect, ‘Here’s what I think of your unfair tax. You rob people of their assets for a coin that is worth much less.’
Chief Eagle Feather
Maybe that’s why Thomas Merton, when asked if he was saved answered, “Yes, every day.” We are saved from our egos. How do we live this out? How do we move away from the ego’s lure? The movie Three Warriors tell us that in our journey of identity we sing a new song, while never forgetting the song of our ancestors. Chief Eagle Feather says to his grandson from the city, “You have learned the old ways, Michael, but they are not the only ways. Theirs was a new song. The song of a proud warrior. This song will stay in your heart as you learn the new ways.”
I think about Spirit in the Desert. This is a place where I can work unmasked. I am part of an organization in which I don’t need to put my face on. I’ve experienced the songs of others and they resonate. I come as I am, singing my new song. This is a retreat center whose mission is not unlike the call of Chief Eagle Feather.
“Deep down where the fire that warms our house, warms all who come here to pray, see visions, or for healing.” It is the song that guides us.
What is your song?
The song I am singing today is still being written, but I’m really digging the beat!
Sing to the Lord a new song.
What song do you sing today?
Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Henry Rojas, spiritual director at Spirit in the Desert.
Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud.