Imagine you are in the quiet of a cathedral or a chapel on a glorious fall day. Then imagine this solitude and peace in a school gym where parents have filed in, in an orderly fashion from a chatty social moment to be seated in their chairs. At the Far Brook School in New Jersey, where my son Ben is a student, parents eagerly anticipate this one hour of peace, connection and spiritual inspiration on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The room is no longer a gym; it has been transformed by genies/elves (devoted parents) into a gentle and contemplative space with burlap wrappings covering the basketball hoops and a small orchestra with violins, bass, oboe, bassoon, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, horn and percussion, in the corner below the stage, conducted by F. Allen Artz, Far Brook's Music Director. A stage for the children fills magically next to terraced rows of fruits and vegetables delivered by the children who have walked from outside in the chill of the morning to this safe haven.The butternut, acorn and carnival squash are the symbols of the harvest and generosity of our earth, and were donated to those in need in the local community after the assembly.
The children walk alone, in pairs or threesomes, some, with one child junior to them, in their protection. They are adorned/costumed with simple yellow, green or brown felt capes used from prior years, and they are barefoot or wearing socks. Their quiet arrival through the seated audience demands our complete attention and the room becomes overcome with tranquility -- and I feel transfixed. My usual tense physical shrug from the cold is completely replaced by pure relaxation, as if I am meditating. The children are peaceful and absorbed in the moment. The younger children are held close by the older students with such deep caring that some of us cry from the tenderness. The Head of School, Amy Ziebarth, asks us to be "in the moment" and not take videos and photos. Phones are turned off.
The music and choral performance begins, and all the selections are tributes to the leaves, the corn, the harvest, and all things living. J.S. Bach commences the program and the Recessional Hymn, "The Earth Shall Yield" by Edwin Finckel completes the event. I rise rejuvenated and ready to sing..."The earth shall yield, Her full increase, To the glory, To the glory, To the glory of God... Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia... Al-le-lu-ia." I recall from prior years how the music builds and how grand it is to sing out loud and celebrate this precious moment with my son, Ben, among all the children and parents. He sings every word on stage and is completely engaged with his peers. You can feel how they all share this sentimental moment. It is the last processional for the eighth grade and for them, it is a rite of passage. Past graduates fill the back seats reminiscing about their time at Far Brook, likely recalling the uniqueness of this daring and courageous hour in their education.
This Thanksgiving Processional moves me to think of WWO Academy in Ethiopia. I envision the extremely poor 432 children at our school having a similar processional celebrating their harvest and singing their traditional hymns. I conspire to introduce this tradition to all the children we serve around the world. We all need more moments like this to balance the days that are so stressful and burdened with life's responsibilities and losses. I felt strong after the processional as if I could manage any strife and struggle. I imagined the singing over the last four days and tried to capture the feeling I had during that fleeting hour. I felt forgiveness and love as I wept, singing "Al-le-lu-ia." I feel it now as I wend my way to Sofia, Bulgaria for meetings to talk about toy libraries and community outreach for gypsy children lost in the extreme poverty in the poorest country in the European Union.
It is as, you can imagine, that is a long way from Far Brook in Short Hills, New Jersey, to the dire and dark circumstances of orphans living undignified lives. I embrace these moments and value the disparities so that I can move our agenda to the highest priority. Join me... and try not to forget the children left behind. Let's make a promise to create such moments of grace each day to empower us all to change the world for all children who need our protection.