Looking for the ‘Yes’

Dear Friends,

You may know that I play the piano a little bit. I’ve never considered myself a serious musician, as I play almost entirely by ear, and I’m more interested in making music improvisationally than by playing anything already written down or recorded somewhere else. In my own style of music-making, I’ve found a unique relationship with the word “yes,” because of the creative energy involved with listening closely, feeling deeply, and playing courageously (even when not knowing exactly where it all will go).

The Rev. Sam Wells, a theologian, writer, and priest in the Church of England, has said a great deal about the role of improvisation, primarily in theater, as it relates to theology, ethics, and church. Wells says, “The heart of improvisation is the ability to keep the story going.” Accepting in this case refers to a particular response to the offer of another— whether that offer be physical or verbal. “Actors have to learn to say ‘yes’ even when to do so seems impossible, improper, or dangerous” (From a sermon preached by Sam Wells on Oct. 1, 2006, in Duke University Chapel).

I find resonance (no pun intended) between Wells’ commentary on saying “yes” in improv theater and my own experience playing the keyboard. It is quite a common thing for me to catch a note I wasn’t intending to play; but if I just go with it—incorporate into a new chord (maybe a hairy one!), modify the melody, keep going—then the possibilities are unlimited for where the tune might go. And sometimes the result is particularly beautiful or joyful or fun!

Together with God and one another, people have kept the story going for a long time by saying “yes” to unexpected inputs of all sorts and from all different directions. The “yes” is what keeps us moving forward. Each one brings new opportunities and gifts, even as they also represent a turning away or detour around what used to be or what we hoped would be.

I’m excited by the idea of “accepting” whatever comes to us as an opportunity or an “offer.” I love the idea of working together to become people who accept as much as possible, because “yes” can lead us to more growth, joy, and anticipation for what comes next. A culture of accepting offers will move us forward into the growth and flourishing that lies ahead for St. Michael’s in God’s future.

As we draw near Easter, we are reminded that an extreme example of acceptance—our Lord Jesus accepting suffering and death in solidarity with human sin and sickness—leads to the brilliant new possibility of abundant and everlasting life for all of creation. The glorious resurrection of Jesus makes a way for God’s yes to come to all of us – we are never turned away, never thwarted by the failings and frailty we know in ourselves and our world, never blocked from entering into abundant and eternal life.

I pray that as we move forward from Lent, through the hard road of Holy Week, and into Easter life, God will increase our openness and generosity and our YES. In this, may we become people who are always open to opportunities and offers to serve God, one another, and our neighbors.

With you,

The Rev. R. Scott Painter, Rector