Recently I stumbled across the most amazing singer. Her name is Eva Cassidy.
She has a voice of such purity and beauty, such a rare combination of power and
fragility, it’s hard to describe.
Eva Cassidy died of cancer in 1996. She was only 33 years old. She sang in local clubs and festivals and made a couple of self-produced CDs. But outside of her hometown of Washington, D. C., she was virtually unknown.
She became famous by accident. The host of the big morning radio show on the BBC in Great Britain was given one of her CDs. He played Eva’s rendition of the classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rd8VktT8xY
The switchboard lit up with people clamoring to know who this incredible singer was. Sales of her CDs took off in England.
At the 2002 Winter Olympics, figure skater Michelle Kwan used Eva’s version of the Sting song “Fields of Gold” as the music for her routine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UVjjcOUJLE She became a hit in the US.
Since her death, her CDs have sold over 10 million copies.
So why didn’t she become famous when she was alive? How could it be that someone as gifted as Eva Cassidy was only discovered after she died?
The main reason is that she refused to be put in a box. She couldn’t be categorized, so no record company would sign her. She sang folk, rock, jazz, blues and country tunes. But the record producers kept saying “What are you? Are you a jazz singer? A pop singer? A folk singer? You have to pick one.” And because she wouldn’t do that, she never got a recording contract.
In a documentary about her, a record executive tells how he called Eva near the end of her life and tearfully asked her to forgive him for not recording her. He said that it was the biggest mistake of his professional life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXU219b3Zdw
So where am I going with this?
In my last blog post, I wrote about two different kinds of spirituality – the spirituality of “dwelling” and the spirituality of “seeking.” Dwelling is about home, belonging, and the safety and predictability of sacred spaces. Seeking is about risk, uncertainty, and the quest to find the holy in unexpected places.
And our temptation is to view these two kinds of spirituality as mutually exclusive, as an either/or. Either you’re a dweller or you’re a seeker.
Some would say that the day of the spirituality of dwelling is over. We all have to be seekers now.
Isn't that human nature -- to always be trying to draw sharp lines and make clear cut distinctions? We do it in the church all the time. “Is your worship traditional? Or is it contemporary?” “Is your theology orthodox? Or is it progressive?” “Is your church attractional? Or is it missional?”
But we forget that the most contemporary forms are often those most deeply rooted in tradition; that most progressive theology (whatever that means) can be the most orthodox; and that the most attractive churches are the ones with the strongest commitment to a mission.
I'm always reminded of the worship writer Robert Webber who talked about our "ancient/future faith."
The truth is that the deepest things of life are rarely hard-and-fast either/or’s. We wish they were. It would be simpler. But they are almost always both/and’s and life is about learning to navigate the paradoxes.
This is at the root of Christian faith. For centuries, Christians have affirmed that
· God is transcendent. God is immanent.
· Jesus is fully human. Jesus is fully divine.
· God is one. God is three.
· We are justified by faith alone. Faith without works is dead.
· God is just. God is merciful.
We must remember the past. We must forget the past. (Isaiah 43)
· If we want to live, we have to be prepared to die.
· If we want to be great, we must be humble servants.
The life of faith is the ability to hold things that appear to be opposites in creative and energetic tension. It's what keeps faith alive and ever renewing. We don’t like tension, so we want to resolve it, to make it either/or, to fit the messiness into clearly labeled boxes. But whenever we do that, we end up with something much thinner, much poorer, much less true.
Eva Cassidy remained true to herself by refusing to be put in a box.
And Christian communities are most true to themselves, and more importantly, true to God, when they can learn to live in the life-giving tension between a spirituality of dwelling securely in the presence of God, and a spirituality of risk-taking pilgrimage.