We were urged in Sunday’s sermon to step out of our “comfort zones” into our “stretch zones.” As it happens, that relates to an article I’ve been working on for The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians. I’ve been talking to several musicians around the country who work for their diocese, collaborating and teaching and advising parishes, usually small ones with limited resources, about musical matters,. They are very different musicians in very different places, from New Jersey to Montana, but they were clear about a shared goal of helping everyone they work with find ways to make music an important part of spreading the Gospel. Each also, independently, wished that all the lay and clergy leaders they encountered in those parishes were more willing to take risks. To not be afraid. To step out of their comfort zones and into their stretch zones.
Of course I’ll hurt you. Of course you’ll hurt me. Of course we will hurt each other. But this is the very condition of existence. To become spring, means accepting the risk of winter. To become presence, means accepting the risk of absence. ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
I think we all have a conventional notion of what risky behavior is – something dangerous to our bodies, minds, or souls. Drug abuse, driving while intoxicated, jumping out of airplanes or climbing mountains. And then we have to begin breaking risk into two categories. Those things that are simply harmful, and those that promise in equal measure the potential for creating good or harm, success or failure, presence or absence.
There are those who find themselves at a moment in time when they could or should risk something big. But who sets out to risk something really big, without having walked a road of many, many small risks first? A road that had created an inner voice saying “yes” when everyone else might be saying “no?” And who defines what constitutes your version of risky behavior anyway? Only you, of course.
I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately. What is it, who has it, how is it demonstrated? I’m convinced that the world needs more of it, but how to nurture it in everyone? At its heart creativity is about taking risks, isn’t it? You’d be very surprised to learn how nervous I am about the risks I take as a church musician – hardly a risky occupation by any standard. Getting off the organ bench and teaching a new hymn, unaccompanied, to a congregation…scary. A feminine pronoun-ed hymn with tambourine at Easter Vigil…will everyone think that’s just weird? Changing something on Sunday morning which could potentially make the service flow more smoothly, but which is different from how it’s always been done… heart palpitations. These seem like laughably small decisions, these creative risks, but they might also be nurturing a spirit of readiness for bigger risks when the world calls.
And that’s really my point. Whether it’s caution or laziness or fear which keeps us from risky behaviors, we are always better when we’re stretched – physically, emotionally, or musically. We might just open ourselves up to a more meaningful way of being in this world when we begin by risking something small. And then, as we are sometimes reminded before being sent back out into the world at the end of a worship service:
May God give you the grace never to sell yourself short;
Grace to risk something big for something good; and
Grace to remember the world is now
too dangerous for anything but the truth and
too small for anything but love. – The Rev. William Sloane Coffin