Alive, again!

“Do you think Jesus gets tired of being resurrected every year?” It was the evening of Easter Sunday, and my friend and I, both long time lovers of church liturgy, had each spent an exhilarating but exhausting weekend celebrating versions of the Christian “triduum,” the three days when each year the church re-tells the story of the arrest, torture, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. She asked the question jokingly, but not irreverently. There’s a serious question there: why do we keep on telling that story, when it all happened—if it did happen—so long ago, and why do we persist in telling it even though for some people it’s a story that seems to have lost all relevance?

Oranbega Retreat Center is not a religious institution. But there was something holy about our Easter weekend. We had a concert! On Saturday afternoon (Holy Saturday, to the church), despite the cold rain that made it impossible to use our outdoor stage and entertain our friends on the riverbank, we gathered an audience of over thirty people, cramming them into our Riverside Studio. There they had the joy of listening to our own band, Spence & Co, accompany our friend from Philadelphia, Danie Ocean Jackson, as she presented the songs of her latest collection, called Alive!

And it was a joy. Spencer Nelson, the brilliant drummer who helps run the Center, had gathered together an outstanding group of musicians as his “Company” for this performance: Phelan Gallagher on saxophone, with Alex Drenga and Dan Nicholas on guitars. With very limited rehearsal time, the band had learned Danie’s music (all but two or three of the songs she presented were of her own composition), somehow coming together with a sound you’d think would take years to develop. The audience responded with enthusiasm, grooving to the music and, entranced by Danie’s captivating way of telling a story through her songs, calling out for more.

Her story moves, like the other story of that weekend, from dangerous and difficult places, places of fear and death, into the light, and into a new life. Danie’s story is about suffering– suffering the loss of sight, the confusions of sexual and gender identity, the violence of racism, and what the mystics call “the dark night of the soul”—but it is about victory too: for she wins through to a stronger grip on life, to a new way of being, to a clearer way of love and joy. It is a painful, but triumphant story. And in Danie’s beautiful singing voice, the story transcends all our anxiety and hurt, and we are lifted up.

Alive, again! That’s what art is all about. When we sing, write, paint, drum, and create the truth of our lives, we heal ourselves, and heal the world.  That’s what we celebrate here at Oranbega Retreat Center. And you don’t have to be religious at all to understand that.

And no, Jesus never gets tired of the Resurrection.

And by the way, with that concert we raised almost $500 for the relief of children and refugees in Ukraine.