Singing in the Inspiration Choir

mb49-Singing1By Mary Zinkin Singing in a gospel choir has been a dream of mine for years. And now that I have found my way to be in the Inspiration Choir in an African-American Southern Baptist Church I know why.

Being the only white woman in this old Portland church is opening me to deeper understanding of issues around race. I am amazed at how accepted I feel — certainly “other” and yet appreciated for my spirit, my voice, my heart. And probably most people in the choir don’t even know my name.

I never picked beans as a kid to earn money for my family. I don’t have a clue about the hair products or hair processes they refer to. Jesus is not my savior. Jokes produce laughter, and while I laugh too I’m not at all sure what is funny. When the colors are decided for what we are to wear on the Sunday we sing, I secretly hope I indeed have something to wear; then they add, “Oh, let’s wear gold, everyone has that!” (I have no gold.) And though I’ve had a life filled with suffering, I haven’t any way to truly know what they’ve experienced being African-American in the U.S.A.

All that slips away when we rehearse and when we sing for the congregation. I feel connected and a part of their lives and experiences. Every word the preacher speaks pierces my heart with meaning.

I feel my Jewish roots; I hear the Buddha’s teachings; and I sing praises and glory to Jesus. I watch healing moments of people being witnessed and held as they cry. And I am healed. And I cry.

I feel at home as the suffering in life is named — aloud, with intensity, with emotion. I feel divinely connected to the knowing that healing and transformation are not only possible but a true reality in my life. And my heart opens wider to embrace the truth of life as it is in the present moment.

I am honored by the generosity in allowing me a space amongst them. I am inspired to share the fruits of my hard work. Humility is strengthened in me in “giving all praise and glory to God.” And I am reminded that causes and conditions have manifested for me to be here as an instrument for alleviating suffering.

Mary Zinkin, True Precious Commitment, lives in Portland, Oregon; she studies and practices with several sanghas.

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