For several years my wife and I have enjoyed experiencing the soulful and celebratory music of Deacon John in New Orleans. I first heard him play his guitar and sing a beautiful tribute song from his heart at the memorial service for my Quaker friend Thorny Penfield. Later I heard him at Jazz Fest, accompanied by a full big band. Then my wife and I heard him belt out his favorite songs on a wet and windy night on one smaller stage of a music fest while ZZ Top was rocking the large stage. There were barely ten of us on the ground beneath his stage, including a drunk guy, and yet he poured himself into every song.
Then we heard him twice in a very intimate venue called The Healing Center, as part of the annual Sacred Music Festival here. Both experiences were a significant part of my wife’s healing and recovery from breast cancer. People who sing from the deep soul become a vessel for the Great Healer to come, and we who listen are touched in our own deep souls.
Those experiences sealed it for me. I dreamed of having Deacon John come sing a healing concert at my church, and hoped to open the doors to the whole community. As the Katrina-10 anniversary approached the thought arose that this would be the right time to invite him. But I hesitated. Who am I to invite a local blues legend to sing? He doesn’t know me. I don’t have any contacts who know him well. I don’t even know how to reach him. So I failed to even make the effort to find a way to contact him for a while. I wished we could have him without stepping up to take action. I can’t even say why, but I was scared, probably scared of rejection. Finally, when it was almost too late, I found his email on his website and sent an invitation.
A few days later he responded. The answer was, “Yes.” I could hardly believe it. I fist-pumped the air. I yelled “Great” and “Yoohoo!” My wife said I sounded like a teenager who was infatuated with someone when I reached him by phone to set a plan. So I tried to tone it down, slightly, when he agreed to come by the church to envision how a healing concert would go.
In sharing personal stories and beginning to know Deacon John, while sitting there on a pew of my church, my infatuation dissolved toward a heartfelt appreciation for his humanity. A regular guy with a big heart and a deep soul, a man who was raised here in abject poverty in a family of thirteen kids, a man gifted with a powerful voice who had supported himself all of his life as a musician, was sitting beside me to plan a healing concert. I was living the dream. And this Saturday evening, at 7 p.m., I will be living the rest of that dream with a few hundred people gathered in our Parker Memorial United Methodist Church.
I did not dream of a Katrina-10 anniversary where we all sit around looking at more pictures of the devastation we experienced ten years ago. I don’t need to see the water flooding 200,000 homes, or people on rooftops waving there arms in desperation. As they say, “Been there, done that.” I think we have all been traumatized enough by those experiences and images. We lost a lot, especially the human beings who died in the storm or soon thereafter. And we lost that thin veneer of safety we all need to live our lives, the façade of security that protects us from overwhelming fears.
So our gathering Saturday night will include remembering and feeling all of that. But we will focus on recovery and resilience, and Deacon John will sing us down into that place of the soul where we know we are not alone, with songs like “Ave Maria,” and “Amazing Grace.” We will experience again the other kind of peace, the real thing, which says, “No matter what happens you will be okay.” He will probably throw in some blues classics to make sure we explore every place in the heart and soul. We will possibly cry some, feel a lot, and most importantly: we will heal.
This opportunity was my dream for several years, and I failed to do anything about it, until I finally sent an email. I took a chance. I acted. Apparently this is how things shift from being only a dream to cross a threshold into becoming a reality. Apparently this is how we go about living the dream. It involves practice, action, and a willingness to take a chance.
My friend Merry recently practiced living a dream by accepting a friend’s invitation to travel to Iceland. She could’ve said, “No,” or “Maybe another time,” or “Let me think about it for a few years.” But the friend was preparing to sell the family house there and to move away. So for Merry the option was to go now or to miss living that dream. If she wanted to witness the midnight sunsets it was time to act.
So Merry also practiced, acted, became willing to take a chance. Her dream also became a reality as she crossed that same threshold from the dream-world into the real world. And because she did she was rewarded with amazing experiences of walking up on scenes few Americans know, like seeing geysers, and steamy hot water bubbling up from the earth, and beautiful waterfalls.
And so I challenge you to set your own intention right now. Whatever you have dreamed, imagined, or longed to experience, do not wait until it is too late. If you wait too long you will “bite your hand” with regret, as Rumi says. Instead, stand against that weird resistance in us that always finds a million reasons not to act on our dreams. In my direct experience the gate of heaven is everywhere, the ways we can come face to face with the divine are endless, but we will not cross through those gates unless we honor our dreams and act.
Saturday night I will again be living the dream, with Deacon John wailing away at my church, because I contacted him. Merry has treasured memories of crossing Iceland with a friend, and pictures she can share, because she said, “Yes” and bought her tickets. What step do you need to take right now to be living the dream?
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, and watch for my dream of publishing my next book: The Gate of Heaven Is Everywhere.