Songs for a New World

In 1995, James Robert Brown premiered his first musical, Songs for a New World, off-broadway at the WPA Theatre. This isn’t a musical like most others whose songs and book follow a set plot line. Instead, the numbers in the show are connected by a main theme which runs through the series of numbers: “the moment of decision.” (at least according to Wikipedia).

The opening number of the show, “The New World,” has been one of my favorite songs for a long time. There are a lot of recordings on YouTube, but this is my favorite one from the Rancocas Valley Regional High School Choir in Mt. Holly, New Jersey:

Since entering the seminary in 2011, it seems my life has been one new world after another. First, moving to Minnesota meant a change in school, major, community, group of friends, and way of life. Switching from North Central to St. Thomas; English/Writing and Education to Philosophy and Catholic Studies; crazy dorm to crazy seminary; Mass and prayer once a week usually to Mass and Holy Hour every day; total freedom to structured day. Everything was different.

Then, in 2013 I spent 6 months in Rome. Literally, a whole new world. Then I came back from Rome and graduated from college. One world ended and another began, with a brief stop in an in-between world to study in Omaha before moving into the new world at Mundelein. Being so close to home meant gradually being reintroduced to a lot of little worlds – my extended family whom I hadn’t seen very much in three years, life in the Diocese of Joliet, friends from Oswego, new friends at Mundelein. And then, I went to Peru for a couple of months, and then I spent a semester at Notre Dame in Clarendon Hills, and then I split time between there and Mundelein, and then I lived in Plainfield for a little while. So many worlds.

No complaints here. Life is an adventure, a very exciting and twisty-turny adventure; we can either fear it and shy away, or go at it head-on. The world is alive and I have a share in its business. Incredible.

Now, I’m sitting in my room in Palestine surrounded by the business of the newest of worlds. I don’t particularly enjoy being this far away from home all the time, and for such long periods of time. But as I wrote in the Mundelein Pilgrimage blog (here), the best way to get to know someone is to go visit their world. To see where they came from, who and what formed and shaped them. How can I be a priest, how can I preach the mystery of Jesus Christ, how can I bring him to others if I have not taken every opportunity to get to know him? But it requires time in a new world.

And what do new worlds require? Patience. No expectations. Utter openness and radical availability to the people and places and experiences; I have not come to Israel to change it, but that it might change me. Life is not meant to be comfortable. I really believe that. We are meant to be uprooted, if not physically then certainly spiritually and mentally, and sent to new places on new adventures lest we fall into the trap of thinking that ours is the only world, the best world.

The point is this: enjoy your life. Life is not easy, and it’s not always fun, but it is always rewarding. You’ll reap what you sow, of course, and whether or not you choose to reap the fruit is up to you. But if you sow the seeds for stinky, negative fruit don’t be surprised when you find it growing on your trees.

Probably you won’t be called to worlds across oceans or to frequent, major changes and alterations in life. That’s good and bad. It’s good because those kinds of changes are really hard most of the time, but it’s bad because it can lead to a kind of stagnation. “Business as usual.” Don’t accept “business as usual” as an excuse for living an unhappy life. You are being called to new things, to better things which very often will take place and are already taking shape right now, right under your nose.

Look at the lyrics again:

A new world calls across the ocean,
a new world calls across the sky.
A new world whispers in the shadows:
time to fly.

(But, indeed:)

It’s about one moment,
the moment before it all becomes clear.
And in that one moment,
you start to believe there’s nothing to fear.

Just when you’re on the verge of success,
the sky starts to change, and the wind starts to blow.
And, oh, you’re suddenly a stranger.
There’s no explaining where you stand.

And, oh, you didn’t know that sometimes
you have to go round an unexpected bend.
And the road will end
in a new world.

There is nothing wrong with being a stranger, even in your own new world. It won’t be new forever and you’re not going to be a stranger in it forever. But almost all the lessons and most valuable growth will take place precisely there: in the midst of stranger-hood and newness. Whether we grow all depends on the one moment of decision where we say either, “no thanks, new world” or, “Time to fly.”

As my mother always tells me, “Get out of your head and be where your feet are.” It’s about one moment, one second: choose life, choose the adventure, choose the road of peace and joy which is being offered to you all the time, even now. But be patient, be positive and hopeful, but be patient. Don’t sit around and watch the fruit grow, but be ready to go out and pick it when it does.

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