The sound track of the beginning of my Quaker convincement is an 80’s song.
In a big country, dreams stay with you, like a lover’s voice…
Do you know this song? When I first started attending Quaker Meeting, I was living alone in the Chicago Suburbs. Having been stuck in an internalized ablest mindset for years, my day consisted of not much more than going to the gym. The hours stretched before me all day, everyday, and I never quite knew how to fill the time. So for hours almost everyday, I would get in my car and drive around the far suburbs, taking semi-rural highways where I could speed along and sing along with the radio.
I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert, but I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime.
On those long, seemingly useless drives; some radio station had “In a Big Country” in heavy rotation. I loved the song. It spoke to me, to my condition. I had been going to Quaker meeting for a few weeks now, and through silent worship, a tiny little spark was igniting in me. It was flicker, only, with a reasonable sounding part of myself scolding me for even having this vague hope.
“I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert” I sang to myself, “but I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime.” In the middle of this gray Chicago wintered depressive state, an argument with myself had begun. My status quo understanding of myself was “I can’t.” Quaker worship was bringing that lie into the Light. So, with this spiritual opening I assured myself that I wasn’t changing “No, I don’t expect flowers in the desert”, I told myself, “I don’t expect the impossible, but….” A small shifting had begun.
As I look back, it seems to me that a divine something was reaching out to me on those long drives, sending me a message to take a long hard look at my current situation:
I’ve never seen you look like this without a reason,
Another promise fallen through, another season passes by you.
I never took the smile away from anybody’s face,
And that’s a desperate way to look for someone who is still a child.
Another Season passes you by. That’s what it felt like then. That not just days, but entire seasons of my life drifted past me as I sat stuck, believing that I had an illness that prevented me from participating in life. The voice in the song is somewhat sympathetic, but mostly just calling for me to get off my ass; to stop believing the lie I was living.
And in a big country, dreams stay with you,
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside..
(I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered
But you can’t stay here with every single hope you had shattered)
I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert,
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime..
I did think that pain and truth were the things that mattered. And I thought I had learned the truth. After years of “treatment” I believed that these empty days, they mind-numbingly boring, soul compressing, muted days were what my life had to be.
During those days, the “flowers in the desert” line was the part I sang. I was holding myself back from too much hope. But I know now those were not the meat of the message coming through to me. Now, when I hear this song I sing these lines back to my previous self:
So take that look out of here, it doesn’t fit you.
Because it’s happened doesn’t mean you’ve been discarded.
Pull up your head off the floor, come up screaming.
Cry out for everything you ever might have wanted.
I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered
But you can’t stay here with every single hope you had shattered.
This was the first message that came to me after I began Quaker Worship. I see it now as a Divine Rally. As I was reassuring myself that I wasn’t wanting too much, no flowers in the desert, my wiser self screamed back at me. Pull up your head off the floor, come up screaming. Cry out for everything you ever might have wanted
Those seemingly pointless drives did have a higher purpose; I think sometimes spiritual practices come when we are not looking for them. Maybe it was a blessing, maybe specifically for me that that 80’s song was played in heavy rotation during that winter. A better part of myself was calling me out through that song. Saying not only that I could have bigger dreams, or any dreams at all, but that I needed to be SCREAMING for them.
One day the message finally broke through. I remember being at a stop light and literally looking for the sun on a gray February afternoon. I couldn’t find it through the overcast. And then it occurred to me that it’s light was all around. Even on that short day, I wasn’t in the dark. That meant something, some how. I didn’t make any life changing decision at that point; no mission or dream sprang to life in that moment looking at the February sky. But I still remember that moment, that wave of grace rolling over the dullness of my life then. I wasn’t sparked with energy, or blissful peace or emotional conviction. It was just a wave that passed over the dullness somehow allowing me to hope. The understanding that I was “in the Light” a phrase I was learning at Quaker meeting to vaguely mean, to me, in God’s love. I could see the sun in wintertime. It was still all around me, even on that gray day. The little flicker of hope turned into a very small flame while I sat at that stop light.
While I was singing “I am not expecting to grow flowers in desert,” the song sang back to me. But you can’t stay here with every single hope you had shattered. You can’t stay here! The song argued with my compliancy. You can’t stay here, all your hopes have been shattered! I didn’t even remember what my hopes were at the time. I had stopped believing for so long. I had no plans of leaving at that time. I did end up making a life-changing move across country within months. But on that day, I didn’t even know what a leading was, much less that I was beginning to have one.
In a big country dreams stay with you, like a lover’s voice fires a mountainside…stay alive.
All these years later, I sometimes still need that song. “It” still happens. Promises fall through. But, my life is a “big country where dreams stay with you”. I believe that a lover’s voice (or maybe a future me) fires the mountainside. On the toughest days she calls back through time:
“Stay Alive!” She sing-shouts back to me.
These days, when my hopes are shattered and I find myself walking through another wintertime, one of the first things I notice is that I can still see the sun. The Light is present. I have not been shattered; God has not discarded me. I don’t even need to “come up screaming” anymore. I just live and breathe. And know that, if anything, God can grow flowers in the desert.
So, I stay alive.
Song lyrics written by: Stuart Adamson, Mark Brzezicki, Tony Butler, Bruce Watson