This past weekend, our youngest daughter turned 2 years old and we celebrated by checking out a puppet show at Glen Echo Park. It also happened to be the weekend of the Washington Folk Festival, and we were able to catch some of the performances as we were leaving the park.
Maybe because it was Pentecost weekend, or maybe because I’ve spent the last two weeks thinking and writing about being Filipino-American, but from the bagpipes of Scotland (where my husband has roots) to hearing music from the Balkans and eastern Europe for the first time, I was especially moved when we were told the meaning of one of the songs we were about to hear:
A group of women are singing and dancing in the village square. Someone tells them to stop. Another villager chimes in and urges them to keep singing, exclaiming: “When you sing it makes us want to sing, and when you dance, it makes us want to dance!”
Growing up, the ability to blend in was something I wore like armor. I think it was a combination of my inherent shyness, my fear of looking stupid in front of my peers, and the fact that it’s generally frowned upon in Filipino culture to show off or draw too much attention to yourself. As I’ve navigated my identity as a second generation Filipino-American, so much of my experience has been about finding my voice, figuring out my song, and being brave enough to sing it.
While there are definitely times when the ability to adapt and blend in has come in handy, I’ve come to understand the power of being able to tell my story, not just for myself, but for others who hear it. I think that’s why I love this quote from Marianne Williamson so much:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Williamson’s words take an on even deeper meaning when understood through the lens of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). The story of different voices from different places coming together and making something that is greater than the sum of its parts isn’t just about an isolated event in history. It’s a story of our Church today, of the Spirit at work in each of us, bringing about a church that reflects unity in diversity, a church that (paraphrasing St. Iranaeus) glorifies God by empowering men and women to be fully alive, fully themselves.*
When I hear the story of the upper room, I imagine the different voices as distinct melodies woven together to create a beautiful and powerful symphony. Each voice has a purpose and part, and when one is missing, the song is less vibrant and less of itself. It’s in this spirit, and touched off by the time I spent working on my contribution for the Paulist Press book, that I plan on sharing more of my experiences as a Filipino-American Catholic, and to add my voice to the conversation about intercultural and interfaith dialogue in the Catholic Church.
My short-term goal is to revisit my final integrating paper from grad school (“Liturgical Inculturation: A Reflection on the Filipino-American Context”), and to glean parts that I think would be valuable for further reflection/discussion. I’m hoping to eventually feature other stories of folks who are in the process of finding their voice in the Church. Beyond that, we’ll see where the Spirit leads (because God knows that if it were up to me, I’d be writing about everything under the sun).
To end, I wanted to share the last song we heard before leaving the park this weekend. It’s a song in a language I’m not familiar with, but the story of love, heartbreak and the need to move on is one that I believe resonates with every culture:
A young man in the village was very sad because his love for many years was marrying someone else. He was sharing his sadness with a strawberry because the strawberry was the only one who would listen to him. What made the young man even more heartbroken was that he was asked to be the best man and godfather at the wedding.
The strawberry tells the young man, “I know exactly how you feel, but you know you can’t curse them, right?”
The young man replies, “I know. I won’t curse them. I’ll just curse them in my heart.”
In a time when disagreements and division have become the norm, I am heartened by small reminders (like this song) that while we may be from different parts of the world, there are things that we can hold in common, things that remain universal, and that each unique voice matters.
As we look ahead to celebrating Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi in these coming weeks, may we find the courage to sing the song that God has given us, to dance so that others will want to dance.
*This post gives a fuller explanation of the Iranaeus quote, and cites CCC 293-294.