During the festival of Epiphany, we speak of the star that guided the kings as it was entering into the earthly sphere to take on a sunlike presence on earth, to guide humanity to renewal and healing. We can also call that star the incarnation of the Christ into humanity.
Spending a few days twice a year with a small group of teenagers at one of our youth conferences, it is possible to perceive the drama of this incarnation, the utter necessity and longing which the human being perceives in the soul to find that star—and a longing to summon the courage to align oneself with this true guiding star of one’s life—a great challenge, particularly amidst all the bright twinkling lights which shine along our way… We can be left asking: but which one is the right one?
Our theme each year at the Winter Conference, now fairly well anchored on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday weekend, always has to do with looking at how Dr. King followed the star that he perceived…and how it led him to great sacrifices for the healing of a broken humanity.
We also asked a question this year in our title for the conference: Impossible?!? What is it that makes something impossible possible? How do we overcome the obstacles of our lives to be able to do that which we are called to do, to become that which we are called to become?
This year our typically rather humble Winter Conference became a rather mighty one—gathering together with five priests and a few helpers, 37 teenagers came from as far as Wisconsin and Chicago, DC, Maryland, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. We converged in the rooms of the Christian Community in College Park, MD, for a crowded but wonderful few days, January 18-21. We burst out from time to time into the city of the District of Columbia, to take part in the swelling excitement around the second Inauguration of President Obama, to experience ourselves and a great swath of humanity within the setting of the city. Certain things become possible when so many people gather in one place on earth for a moment. Add to that the celebration of the legacy of Dr. King—it was a unique time to be in our nation’s capital.
Nothing makes our youth conferences what they are, though, the way singing does…these teenagers just have to sing wherever they go! Whether at the charter school where we just finished some community service, in a tunnel at the subway, on great stone steps next to busy traffic at the Mall, in a reverberating doorway entrance, at the Lincoln Memorial at sunrise from the spot where Dr. King shared his Dream or at the new MLK Memorial…the group quickly banded together and raised their voices in song. People don’t do this so often anymore, especially perhaps teenagers—and so we drew the attention of passersby, those stuck in traffic, the folks visiting the memorials, security at those memorials and even a couple NPR correspondents (see links to NPR stories below). …Lift every voice and sing…
The whole weekend included a variety of activities: organized service projects and spontaneous garbage pickup on our way through town, a presentation on Martin Luther King, inward time in worship together at the altar, games and theater, many conversations with one another and strangers on the street in DC. We sent the teenagers out with questions, including this one: What is your guiding star in life?
Even the President must have heard that one—as he took the opportunity in his Inaugural Address to answer it as he spoke: …We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth…
New friendships were forged, old ones deepened. Teenagers who had grown up at different camps of The Christian Community were amazed to discover they knew all the same songs. And more inportantly, we shared together a moment in time, when the guiding star of meaningful togetherness, of courageously stepping out to try something new, of finding one’s own voice rising in the joy of the choir shone above us. These experiences will hopefully give our young people strength and guide them for a long time to come!
Photo credits: The Washington Post, Nora Minassian and Liza Joy Marcato
Hear us on NPR…
Find out about future youth activities and conferences of The Christian Community: