I began each Inshallah practice with these questions brought into our classroom: What is my connection with these people’s songs? What do I bring  to this song when I sing for another?  Including myself in this interfaith approach and movement yielded conflict and connection. While life crises indeed struck, my primary motive to withdraw from Seminary  extracurricular participation a year prior was to hide.
 It is important in global song to be mindful of persons who are already in relationship with the song. This point follows to include those unfamiliar with song and/or story of the identified peoples.
 Waterloo Lutheran Seminary.
In an increasingly disruptive world to the basic needs and livelihood demands of peoples, Inshallah became a space for seeking answers and changes. Members find a way to cry with and for the poorest in many a vantage point. Members relate how Inshallah gives them meaningful and deeply spiritual expression. The participants I have spoken with carry their involvement as personal epistles into private life and their relationships in themselves, the communities, and their world at large. I nearly come to expect hearing testimonials and anecdotes of how a song is, was, or became part of a member’s story of/for their own.
Music from Pablo Sosa had a profound shifting for the choir when a member related her experience as a refugee, a potent reminder that the latest refugee crisis is not new, but an unfortunate repeated event for the survivors, victims, and those who struggle for humanity’s call to right relations. In no way does the choir permit defeat as a whole for the calling. There are moments when a member is struggling with a song, a gathering, or crossing their borders to embrace an(other). Yet, these members are held with compassion and embraced as they reckon with their encountering, recalibrating efforts to re-enter with participation and personal investment as they may. An example of the above was the discovery of widespread discomfort with much of the November 5 event’s content that partnered with Crossing Borders and Inshallah Kids. Objections were raised about potentially graphic and re-traumatizing material. Yet, this too, became a powerful learning for many.
For me, singing Between Darkness and Light  would choke my throat in ancestral and familial trauma and usually rendered me to tears. Listening to the Rohingya Story was overwhelming for me as I attempted to suppress my maternal clan’s progenitor and his ordeals in the Punjab before seeking asylum in Calcutta, and then shipped by boat to Trinidad and Tobago. There, he had little choice but to marry a widow whose religion he could have chosen to blame, her family pressuring for his unwilling conversion. It was extremely difficult not to fall upon myself as his memories flowed forth into my awareness. To not pass into a state of horror’s numbing, standing near to him by ancestral memory, watching with his younger form as his parents and siblings were burnt along with their home, and working through a decision bravest. To flee for safety, before these pillagers could have him, too. To tear our eyes from the fiery wreckage and torture’s screaming in crimson lights, to turn our face and run far from home, knowing he would not return.
I came to embrace the song despite this. I found ways to forge a connection with the peoples who tell their story through it. For that maternal ancestor, he too, understood being caught in a horrific lifestyle for living in unstable land sharing. As a person deeply intertwined from pre-birth for multiplexing history, his understanding becomes mine. To sing this song now empowers me, as I can sing with empathic compassion in a voice and testament that is my own.
We are usually treated to a brief reflection moment in practices, given a moment to think of what something in the song means to us on an individual level. It is remarkable for me, listening as my accidental partners embark on this thought-provocative task. Rejuvenation emerges from their beings, beginning with their established sense of the lyrical surface. Conversation in this manner breaks open new opportunities for our spiritualities, opening a “window of light”  for concepts considered as understood and processed. These moments are powerful reminders for why I choose “communal” to describe Inshallah.
While it is proper to term Inshallah as a community choir, my preference is the word “communal.” Inshallah is not only a group at free invitation, but also a work-as-being proposed. “Being” is an action in of itself, and I do not view my experience within this choir as conjecture to my person. During lecture, I was cognizant of my multiplexed personhood, unsure of how to isolate and describe a potential position I could take in such a dialogue complex. In tutorial, I did not encounter this problematic sense of establishing a cogent standpoint. My experiences show that fluid positioning is not useful for contributive discussion in collective growth. I would require that lens to move and shift to accommodate another articulation appropriate for another standpoint. This reliance upon dissonance engenders an internal sense of “warring selves,” that is, an abstracted description of “various identities.” Yet, in tutorial, practice, and gathering, there are many individuals who attend and discover encouragement to express fluidly without the precedent for fragmentation.
I, amidst fellow members, are encouraged and permitted to explore internal ranges at reduced risk in relationship with the music being sung. Self-identification that is singularized and suppressive for an interrelated, embodied whole, is not espoused. While this may be problematic to operationalize for the distinction between appropriation and enhanced self-expression, for persons who are constantly confronted by their perceived otherness, this is incredibly healing and freeing. In choir, what I may bring to the gathering table is my bread and blood, my body and fruits of my vineyards. The requirement is one of what I choose as intrinsic out of myself – not to focus on a task’s performance. To be doing, in tutorial, is to be being.
November 25’s gathering in support for MennoHomes was a boundary concept testing ground for me. As a witness and experiencer of the compelling terrors that downward economic spirals invoke and evoke, one of my reactions was bitterness. I resolved to go through with the gathering, if not the sake of not leaving the warmth of people for a time longer. In periphery, I had recalled my requirement to complete the make-up for my circumstantial absence of the Sing Fires for Justice community event. After the extra rehearsal, I waited at Charles Terminal for my bus, not expecting a chance encounter with a stranger’s blessing. We had scant few minutes, yet “John” spoke with me for what seemed time’s stretching. Familiar as I am with the occasional person extending friendly gesture and conversation, I perceived no reason to hesitate engagement and discussion. As the other three, John’s gift for me was restoration in my intrinsic grip upon hope beyond resilience. In exchange, he asked for my memory of him in prayer. There was, as with others, that intention to extend comfort despite him in the smaller frame.
Before this deeply intimate conversation, I bombarded myself with trying to cope post-trauma in my desperate flight from Waterloo – refusing to give my Bible more than a passing citation. John’s request asked pertinent questions of my heart: What is my relationship with God when I have no one to take voice from me? When none are able to speak as a representative on a pedestal in the name of social justice, assuming that I could not possibly have reason to dissent, would I speak then? Finally, if I was not willing to speak for myself, what of those who wish me to go on, who understand what I endure(d); shall I pray with them?
It was a disturbance deep. I ran back to John before boarding for Ainslie Terminal, handing him a novena card of my patron saint, Catherine of Siena. A figure that frightened me more than inspired. I identified her, and he accepted my impulsive offering. That tear-tinged smile imprinted upon my memory, and for him I sang to MennoHomes. I think upon him often. These synchronistic encounters seldom permit sustained contact, but my takeaway is rejuvenation.
The audience understood our message, and I am grateful to contribute in my ways. They were moved by all present in the room: Our smaller group, the lecture, the anecdotes, and most importantly, joining as themselves. Tears fell, smiles exchanged, the hesitant creeping towards this place and finding that here, too, was space. Awareness campaigns focused on passive participation do not resound by being the voice; it is active involvement by inviting Voice that may sweep our dusts. There we find the ground upon which all stand on. A ground ever-shifting and flowing, weaving and rending. A window opened; prayer listens, and here be amity. For the banquet, the feasting table of One I may seek to find anywhere, somewhere, everywhere, and inherently nowhere.
December 6, 2017.
Inshallah. Sing the Circle Wide: Songs of Faith from Around the World. Waterloo, Ontario: Kanata Centre, 2017.