I’m was too young to see the Grateful Dead live with Jerry Garcia, but I’ve tried to make up for it over the years by going to shows by Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and collective groups of the members of the band over the years. I particularly got into the Dead during my time in grad school at Yale in the early ’00s (lots of shows, bumper stickers, doing CD trading of bootlegs and soundboard recordings of old shows on Dead forums, etc).
I’m still listening to their music 20 years later and I’ve always marveled at some of the theology in the words and music that the band and lyricist Robert Hunter have brought into the world.
Particularly, Ripple is a song that exemplifies the human experience and the journey we all might take. It doesn’t have to be a “theological statement” but geez is it a good one if that’s your persuasion and what you hear.
I’ve been going through my own journey as of late, and I feel like I’ve stumbled and had to find my own path. It’s been a difficult season of listening, hearing, and discernment. I’ve been listening to songs like Ripple over the past few months as reflections of my own path and what may lie ahead in the Tarot cards of existing and the harps unstrung. Let there be songs to fill the air.
So when I happened to come across this sermon from 1988 that Elizabeth Greene gave to First Unitarian Church of Oakland about Ripple and her voice certainly came through the music and I held them as my own. What a beautiful hand-me-down.
Regardless of your religious persuasion, I urge you to click play on the video above and open up her sermon from all those years ago while you listen for yourself:
…The “ripple” image took on new meaning for me. It was as though the reaching out, one of us to the other, is what causes that ripple in the wellspring of God. It is our having the courage to ask and the love to respond that lets us partake of the fountain. When we do, we affect each other; when we try to let our voice be heard, we ruffle the water; when we hear each other’s voice, hear them with our hearts, we widen the circle.
My favorite line in this song (along with “no simple highway”) is, “If I knew the way, I would take you home.” I don’t know the way, and you probably don’t either. My path is for my steps alone, and so is yours. But when we truly say, “If I knew the way, I would take you home,” we have so much more than just our separateness.
We have the music. (The final part of the song is simple La-de- da-da-da, sung together in harmony.) We have the fountain, a wellspring of grace as we travel.
We have one another. We have the love that lets us hear each other’s voices, that lets us reach out when our cups are empty– and share when they are full. (I am vastly richer for having finally “heard” some of what my Deadhead friends hear.) We have our common yearning for home, the God-ache we all know in some form or other…
Just to close the loop because I wanted to know, I did some googling (I didn’t know Elizabeth Greene before stumbling upon this amazing sermon) and the journey she mentions here from First Unitarian Church of Oakland to the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship was beginning. Turns out she pastored in Boise for 25 years and retired in 2013. What a journey. Goes along well with Ripple. Thank you, Rev. Greene.