This week we are going to talk about the importance of celebrating the differences and embracing them. But to then go a step further and see the spirit of God in all of us. The God in me, is the same God that resides in you.
We will read a story about Marian Andersons whose voice was so amazing she was invited to sing for kings and queens but wasn’t able to sing in certain venues in the United States because of the color of her skin. She used her beautiful voice to help other people of color. Marian Anderson helped people where she could. Remember our story on Palm Sunday about the 4th Wise Man, that when we help someone, we are helping God. We will talk about the fact that sometimes we tend to be more willing to help those who are like us instead of those who are different. We want to embrace the apparent differences though. When we color it’s how all the various colors work together making pictures beautiful. It would be boring if you colored all the spaces the same color. The differences make things better. The same is true with people. If we only surround ourselves with those who are the same, we miss out of the vibrancy of new thoughts and ideas.
Accepting these differences is important in growing as a human being. However, if you look you can see that we all have things that are similar and things that are different. Beyond apparent differences though, we all have been made in God’s image. The same spirit of God lives in each of us. Therefore, we are much more alike than different.
Affirmation: The spirit within me is the One Spirit that lives in all.
Matthew 25:34-40 “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Story: Marian Anderson Sings
Marian loved to sing. At six years old, Marian was in the children’s choir of her church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Even then, her voice was strong and clear as she sang the songs she loved with devotion and joy. Her friends were not surprised when, at eight years old, Marian won the prize at the church recital—fifty cents! Even with all her natural talent, Marian knew that she needed to study and work hard to be a professional singer. Luckily, her friends, who had listened to her sing with the choir, raised the money to pay for a well-known voice instructor. Marian never forgot that it was their kindness and generosity that made everything that came later possible.
It is very unusual for someone to have the ability to sing both high notes, like many women soprano singers, and low notes, like many men singers. Marian was one of those unusual people, and she trained hard to build strength and control. Her teacher was so confident in her abilities that he entered her in a singing contest, and this time the prize was more than fifty cents! The winner would sing for thousands of people who paid for tickets to hear the music.
Guess who won out of three hundred singers? Yes, Marian won. She gave an amazing performance with the New York Philharmonic, and anyone would think that she would have had hundreds of invitations to sing after that. But the year was 1925, and Marian was a black woman in a country where black people were not treated the same as white people. The restrictive laws against African-Americans and the attitudes held by many people of that time made it very difficult for Marian, so when she had a chance to go to Europe, she did.
Marian became famous across the continent of Europe. She gave performances for the king of Sweden and the king of Denmark. She sang in Paris and London and toured Italy, Austria, Spain, Poland, Latvia, and Russia. She was praised by royalty, conductors, and music lovers everywhere she went. The color of her skin was not a concern; people just wanted to hear her sing. By the time she returned to the United States, she was known as one of the greatest singers in the world.
Back in America, Marian was invited to the White House by President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor. Marian was the first African American to be invited to the White House and the first to sing for the president. It seemed an even higher honor than singing for a king, and Marian said it was the only time she ever experienced stage fright. But, despite her nervousness, she must have done well, because they asked her to come again when the king and queen of England were visiting.
Marian was happy to be home in the United States, and she gave concerts throughout the country. She was deeply aware of the suffering caused by the idea that people with dark skin did not deserve the same treatment as those with light skin. She did what she could to change that belief. In the South, where barriers were particularly strong, she insisted on having seating available up front for black audience members. Usually, the black ticket holders had only the poorest seats in the back section, although they paid the same ticket price as those up front. It was a small victory, but it was something she could do.
Then something happened that drew a lot of attention to Marian and the unfairness of racial discrimination. Marian and the people who helped arrange her concerts requested permission to use a large concert hall in Washington DC. The organization that owned the hall refused. No other reason was given except the color of her skin. Many people were shocked and took notice. When the president and first lady found out, they took action and gave permission for the concert to be held somewhere else on the morning of April 9, 1939. It was Easter morning, and the place they chose was the Lincoln Memorial — a beautiful and grand monument in the most public part of Washington DC.
Outside, on the steps in front of the memorial’s large statue of Abraham Lincoln, Marian Anderson gave a free concert. seventy-five thousand people sat outside to hear the music. The concert was also broadcast on the radio, and millions more were able to listen at home. It was a cold morning, and Marian had to wear a heavy coat over her lovely gown. But no one minded the chill, as the warm voice of Marian Anderson filled the air and filled the hearts of all who came.
Many lives were touched by Marian Anderson’s voice, and many were inspired by her example of beauty, kindness, and strength in the face of racial inequality. She continued to sing for all who would listen, and her voice helped people feel the one spirit that exists everywhere.
Lesson adapted from A JOYFUL PATH: Spiritual Curriculum for Young Hearts and Minds, Year 1 of the Inner Wisdom Series