One of the great joys of my life this year is that I'm singing as a member of the choir in the African-American musical play written by Langston Hughes, Black Nativity, running at the Moore Theater in Seattle through December 26th. I even get to sing a little solo on "This Little Light of Mine"(!), and the whole experience has been a revelation for me. I have learned a great deal about music, spiritual expression and experience, the process of artistic development and creation, about African-American culture, and through reflection about my own white Southern family and fundamentalist Baptist religious background.
A serious and unexpected miracle took place last Saturday morning. Alix and I decided to make a 24-hour trip to San Juan Island on Friday morning, and then intended to return home to Seattle via a Washington State ferry in time for the 2:00 PM performance of Black Nativity. Early Saturday morning, however, our careful plans went awry. When we arrived at the ferry landing in Friday Harbor, we were told that the 8:00 ferry was full of cars already, and we could next leave in our car on a later ferry -- too late for me to get back in time for the performance. After a quick conference with Alix, I grabbed my backpack and walked on board, leaving Alix to take the later ferry while I hoped to find a ride to Seattle. On the ferry, I asked a few people if they were heading to Seattle, but most passengers were heading to some nearby small town like Mount Vernon or Anacortes to do their Christmas shopping. In desperation, I visited the purser's office to confess my plight and see if she had any ideas for me.
"Tell you what," she said. "This is pretty unusual, but this sounds like a special occasion and I can make an exception for you. I will announce over the PA system to everybody on the boat that you need to get to Seattle to sing in Black Nativity, and ask for volunteers to carry you there. And in exchange, would you sing a few Christmas songs for everybody in the rear deck area?"
Wow! Without thinking about it, I said yes, and she made the announcement. Within a few minutes, over 50 people had gathered in the seats behind the purser's office, and several people had volunteered to drive me to Seattle. I opened my impromptu concert by inviting everybody to Black Nativity, and then I started out by singing "The First Noel" and "This Little Light of Mine." Everybody joined me on two verses of "This Little Light," and then we all sang "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night" together. All of us were signing and smiling, celebrating each other and our happiness at being together on this day in December, neighbors and strangers alike.
I had a great conversation on the way to Seattle with the delightful woman who drove me there, I easily made it to the theater on time, and several of the people whom I met on the ferry came to the 2:00 PM performance of Black Nativity. Talk about amazing grace!