Tony is a man of melody. He sang in the choir of Emmanuel Baptist Church many years ago, often sings to plants and my one-year-old son and dreams of one day hosting a radio program. He even sang a rendition of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” on stage at the Durham Performing Arts Center for a talent show hosted by Reality Ministries.

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Tony revels in the celebration of his birthday. Image courtesy of North Street Neighborhood

We have lived together for four years. Every afternoon he has “radio hour.” He heads upstairs to his bedroom, clears his desk to make room for the radio, sits down, tunes into one of his favorite stations and sings his heart out. This daily rhythm reverberates through our community house. We all know that “Tony is doing his thing.”

A couple months ago Tony turned 70 years old. It seemed only fitting to celebrate such a milestone by making it possible for him to belt out his radio hour in some kind of public forum. With COVID-19 precautions in mind, we made a plan for Tony to stand on our back deck with a microphone and speakers amped up. Our invited guests (and curious passersby) lined up below, surrounding our garden. I’d guess 50 people showed up. Tony sang songs by Elvis, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and belted out “Age of Aquarius” with all his might. We all watched with great delight.

In one of St. Basil’s prayers we are reminded, “You, O God, are the true light of every creature, and to You all creation sings.” Tony’s singing has a special way of illuminating the love that animates this song of all creation. He sings with boundless freedom. His singing elicits abundant joy.

As I witnessed this birthday party from my vantage point atop the deck overlooking the crowd, I sank into a deep awareness that Tony’s singing was opening something quite mysterious in all of us. People were dancing, cheering, smiling to the point of jaw-ache … yet it felt to me like we were experiencing something more than simply enjoying a concert. Tony was being himself. He was offering himself. It reminded me of the words of Sister Thea Bowmann FSPA:

Children, Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, go! 
There is a song that will never be sung unless you sing it. 
There is a story that will never be told unless you tell it. 
There is a joy that will never be shared unless you bear it. 
Go tell the world. Go preach the Gospel. Go teach the Good News. 
God is. God is love. God is with us. God is in our lives. Amen!
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Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Thea Bowman

Tony was singing the song that would never be sung unless he sang it. He was offering his joy freely — and with so much passion — and we were drawn together through his gift. When I imagine all creation singing to God I think of this experience. We are all unique echoes of God’s Word, and Tony’s party was a moment of divine attunement.

Our community here in Durham consists of people with and without disabilities growing in friendship. We are a unique bunch. In a world where we are tempted to fear differences, we hope to be personalists, proclaiming that each person’s utter uniqueness is a stamp of grace and an ode to God’s gracious creativity. And as we make room for persons in our community simply to be and to offer themselves, we are discovering a deep bond of togetherness. We are united to God and to one another in Christ, and the celebration of our belonging grows as we see all as unique gift-givers and gift-receivers.

When I sat down with Tony last week to ask him what he remembers about that birthday night, he said, “God hears our voice and does hear all our voices, which is good. Maybe I was a preacher, and maybe they didn’t know it.” Alleluia. Tony did preach that night. “God is. God is Love. God is with us. God is in our lives.” May God grant us the grace to discover the songs of God’s loving-kindness in us and all around us.

Enjoy some beautiful music written and recorded by folks from our community, Meek Squad.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Greg Little is a husband to Janice and father to JoyAna and Elias “Eli,” and he has a home at Corner House in Durham, North Carolina. He has learned from various schools, including several Christian communities seeking justice and peace (a Catholic Worker home inspired by St. Francis, Durham’s Friendship House and Haiti’s Wings of Hope) and is committed to a life ordered by daily communal prayer and littleness. He works at Reality Ministries, a place proclaiming that we all belong to God in Jesus through fostering friendship among people with and without developmental disabilities. Greg and Sister Julia met in the wonder of interfaith dialogue about monasticism and the contemplative life at Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

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