“Mouths wide open—chirping hungry
Waiting for word worms, wisdom water
Crowded nest—all longing for stronger wings”
~ Reba Rambo-McGuire
Each June for the past five years, I have witnessed a miracle…
I watch them each take a deep breath and open the door: big-eyed, excited, books clenched tight. It’s a long trip from almost any town to Alexandria, Indiana. It’s just not on the well traveled road to anywhere; you go there on purpose. Perhaps the longest part of the journey is from insecurity cave to preparation mountain: daring to trust the Voice and ordered steps of Spirit’s wooing. Why? Maybe because the overwhelming hunger for knowledge is finally greater than the nagging fear of rejection.
It’s the perfect mental and emotional state for ingesting life-changing epiphanies but most of them don’t realize it yet. They’re still worried if they wore the right shoes, will they feel stupid, and what if someone tells them they need to just stick to dreaming about writing rather than actually leaping off the pencil/paper bridge.
Rejection is a cruel teacher and they all have felt the sting of the shunning. The sabotage begins early in life for the sensitive poet: the bewildered parent staring and wondering if this kid was switched at the hospital nursery, the cousin labeling them weird, or rigid left-brain teacher perceiving their unique gift as nothing more than chaotic rebellion.
Still, they’re taking one more, last chance to put their hearts on the line, dreams in the melodies, and trust their precious babies to a team of musical and rhyming mentors.
The side door opens and she floats in: golden hair halo, pastel flowing caftan, and completely disarming. It’s hard to resist a dimpled, winged angel with twinkling eyes… especially one named, “Gloria.”
I watch them as she speaks with her mothering, Indiana voice; soothing, cooing, assuring them this is a sanctuary of learning, a temple of teaching, where corrections are lovingly whispered and never shouted or shamed. (At least that’s what her spirit sings.) Their body language relaxes, arms open, face muscles unclench, and almost-smiles break through.
I wanna be like her when I grow up.
This year, as always, our visionary Gloria gathers an eclectic team where each teacher brings a different, yet important voice of clarity…
Mr. Bill: the oldest and most curious kid on the block. How do you describe an iconic mastermind who plays his teeth to write melodies?
Ashley Cleveland: blue jeans, cowboy boots, part rocker, part earth mother, poet and wailer… a study in contradiction. Watching her talk while tuning a guitar is soothing as chamomile tea but warning: she laces the song cookies with cayenne. Yummy!
Robin Mark: disarming Irish brogue, boyish grin and worshiping soul. You never really know what he’s thinking but something tells you being inside his brain is quite the adventure. I mean, anyone who writes songs like “Days of Elijah” is listening on another level.
My husband, Dony McGuire: musical genius weeping with river eyes, always pouring oil on the broken, battered and most abused among us. He speaks “piano” and each note sings a symphony of heavenly emotions.
And me, Reba: the hillbilly makin’ cornbread and butter bean stories into song batter.
Jesus was/is so smart. He knew if it was twelve men, a few friends, or a hillside of thousands, something happens when we break bread together. Obviously, Mr. Bill and Gloria learned from the best.
Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon, we all sit in the same room at mealtime, dippin’ our bread, sharing our stories, and laughing over scrumptious raspberry cake. We drop crumbs on our shirts, pass around the coffee pot, and open up like too-closed flowers who finally feel the stretching of the welcoming sun.
When the students sit in small groups listening to caring teachers fill their creative toolboxes with the best and sharpest essentials… something wondrous happens. Hope springs alive again. Newfound confidence exudes from their faces. Like newborn sparrows in a spring nest, their hungry mouths open wide to receive each delicious morsel of wisdom. Their strength is restored. You would have to be blind as a bat to not see it.
When we gather together to worship, our voices ring true like a chapel of clarion bells. No one sings to the floor… we sing to the sky.
Mr. Bill’s face is an ear-to-ear smile as tears flow. Gloria grins. This is good. This is right. And, a room full of musicians find their song, while the poets pick up their pens and begin to write… no longer afraid.
I know a miracle when I see one.
(Gaither Songwriting Intensive is a four-day workshop for serious songwriters, conducted each June in Alexandria, Indiana. Enrollment is limited. For more information, see GaitherSongwriting.com.)
Photos provided courtesy of Angela Kellogg