This past year, I started coming to grips with the fact that I am not a political scientist; I am not a sociologist. I have finally, after more than a decade, let go of some of those college textbooks. I accept that I will never rewrite the thesis I should have written for Poli-Sci. I am not a debater. I am not a diplomat. As it turns out, I am a musician.
Around the time of the Women’s March, right after the presidential inauguration, I started becoming more vocal about my political views on Facebook. Previously, I didn’t go there very much, for fear of getting into arguments. But the actions of this administration have been so atrocious that I felt an obligation to speak out. It astounds me that so many people espouse views that seem so racist, misogynist, hateful, and counterproductive to me. But we can’t become so astounded that we ignore the people who hold those views. We can’t become frozen. So, while I continue to try to engage in contentious political conversations, I’ve hungered for a way to speak out that is Spirit-led, authentic, visible, and meaningful to me - a way that holds integrity.
I was on a Quaker conference call the night Donald Trump was elected president. We seized the opportunity to worship together during that time. Over the next few months, as the world seemed to grow unbelievably distressing – between threats of nuclear holocaust traded with Kim Jong Un on the one hand and incredible challenges in my personal life on the other – my longing for a daily spiritual practice became even more pronounced.
I attend weekly meeting for worship pretty regularly, and am fully engaged in committee work in my monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings. But I’ve felt a desire to do the daily work that could help me stay more grounded to the spirit, more open to transformation. I’ve faced a few obstacles in carrying out that work. I’m not a morning person. When I get home in the evening, I’m exhausted. I find I am likely to fall asleep if I try to hold silent worship, or even read, on my own.
Then last April, I started practicing my guitar and singing in a more deliberate way than ever before. I’ve done this every day since then, whether for five minutes or for an hour. I may have finally discovered my own daily spiritual practice. I’ve started to pay attention to a nudge I have to be on stage when I am enjoying live music. I took this nudge for granted until some friends told me they had no such nudge whatsoever.
All my life, I have made music and have been enmeshed in it. My dad and stepmom started instructing me in music when I was small. During grade school, I took Saturday Conservatory at Cal State and played alto sax in band; in middle school, I was in jazz band, district honor band, and choir; in high school, I did choir and theater. I still feel some regret that I went straight from high school to college, instead of auditioning to tour with a musical group called the Young Americans. I could have deferred my enrollment at Whittier. But I was worried that if I didn’t go to college right off the bat, I wouldn’t ever make it. Then in college, I focused on political science and languages, instead of music and acting – another decision that still haunts me some.
All through college, I supported local bands and deeply yearned to be making music myself. I had my sax and my violin with me, but I rarely played them. A few years after college, my dad bought me a guitar and started to give me lessons. Before that, he had always encouraged me to learn other instruments, saying everyone played the guitar, and I should learn something else, to stand apart. Later, we realized how important singing and accompanying myself is. Now we enjoy jamming together and sharing music. So Dad started teaching me guitar, and then, at some point, I put it down, or I didn’t keep it up.
Then recently, something shifted in me. Something shifted in the whole country. And I started playing my guitar and singing every day. I started songwriting. I’ve started recording my original songs in Dad’s home studio, and have played a couple of gigs. I share my journey with my friends and they share the successes of their musical journeys with me, too.
There are a lot of things individuals can do to effect political change. There are a lot of ways people can stay spiritually grounded. To be able to say, without any qualifiers, that I am a musician is a milestone for me. Not an aspiring musician. A musician. I am a musician. To embrace that, to fully step into my identity as a musician and songwriter, might be the one of the greatest things I can do for humanity. ~~~
Sarah Rose House-Lightner is the Presiding Clerk of Southern California Quarterly Meeting. She works as a program manager at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, and is a member of Orange Grove Meeting (PYM).