Life Lived in a Minor Key
Isaiah wrote of suffering servants, “They are people who are despised and rejected by mankind, a people of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from them. They were despised, and we did not esteem them.” Isaiah 53
We are a community of immigrants. On Sunday, November 12th, at 2:00 p.m. the Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial shall be unveiled at Lock 3, at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canal Centre commemorating the 137 workers who lost their lives during the construction of the canal. The canal was built by immigrants like Michael Onyschuk, a man who had fled the civil unrest and poverty of his native Ukraine hoping it didn’t follow him to this new land. He was just one of thousands who came from Hungary, Italy, Poland and beyond. Imagine the courage it must have taken or how great the fear must have been, to blindly board a boat and go to a place where your language is not spoken, your culture became the focus of prejudice, and you have no concept of their climate. My grandmother never forgave my grandfather for coming to this country (she could never bring herself to call Canada by its name), for coming to this country and making her leave her family in the ‘old country’ to spend the first three months living in the Welland Hotel with three young children. And she was one of the lucky ones.
I can only imagine what it was like for these workers to show up early in the morning, a shovel thrust into their hands and told to go down into that pit in water up to their knees in the middle of the winter and cholera being spread in the summer for a pittance of a wage. Any man who does that doesn’t endure that kind of existence for the good of themselves. They do it so their families can have the chance at a better life.
Like Michael here, who, after living here for two years, brought his family over in 1930. No sooner had they arrived then Michael went to work one day, just seven days before the Canal opening, to help clear trees near the Allanburg Bridge. The very first tree fell the wrong way and crushed him. Leaving no money, little English, and six children, his wife persevered, keeping the family together and raising them here.
Often the workers of the Welland Canal were those despised and rejected by mankind, people of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from them. They were despised, and we did not esteem them. They suffered, they gave their lives so that those they loved would have a future.
These were people who lived their lives in a minor key. Those who do not live their lives in the tones of major keys, those notes demand recognition and power for all the world to hear.
The Garden of Gethsemane. A man kneels alone in a garden. No one is there now to watch for a miracle, to hope for a touch. Here on his knees is a man praying so hard it was said that the sweat of his brow was falling like great drops of blood to the ground. A man who knew that if he stayed the course, what the dawn would bring. Chains on his hands and feet, the humiliation of standing naked in a square, leather straps tearing at his back, a ring of thorns beaten unto his head, cross carrying, spikes ripping into his flesh, an unquenchable thirst. If it were up to him, if this had been only about him, he would have already jumped ship. “But Father, not my will, but yours be done.”
This is not about me. If my suffering can bring salvation to the lives of others, to the lives of a people I love, then I will lay down my life for them.” Life lived in a minor key.
The night before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words to a crowd in Memphis:
I don’t know what will happen now.
We’ve got some difficult days ahead.
But it doesn’t matter to me now.
Because I have been to the mountaintop.
And I don’t mind.
I would like to live a long life.
Longevity has its place.
But I’m not concerned about that now.
I just want to do God’s will.
And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.
And I have looked over.
And I’ve seen the promised land.
I may not get there with you.
But I want you to know tonight
that we, as a people,
will get to the promised land.”
A life lived in a minor key. A live lived, a life of suffering accepted, so that others may reach the promised land.
It is hard to believe that this mountain of a figure lived his life in a minor key.
Yet Moses, who has been declared the greatest prophet, the author of the Torah, the law giver, the liberator, was really one who lived his life in a minor key. If we look at his life, we see it as a series of estrangements. Moses was, after all, an Egyptian name-not the name of the people he led. He had lived the first part of his life being revered as the Pharaoh’s child, not as one of his slaves. When asked by God to speak for the Israelites, he said he wasn’t eloquent enough and got Aaron to do his talking for him to these people. He was the one who went before his people, not among them. He went alone to the mountain to speak with God. He alone received the Ten Commandments. He alone saw the back of God.
And now he dies alone, with only God to bury him.
Did you see the funeral of the Tibetan ruler on the news? A funeral that cost $1.5 million dollars, with a casket made of pure gold, designed in the shape of a temple, marched around the square on the shoulders of a dozen priests, guarded with the marching formation of the entire Tibetan army.
You would think they could at least have held a small memorial service for Moses, someone who had liberated an entire nation. But none of that mattered to Moses. All he wanted to see was this land flowing with milk and honey on which his foot may never step, but where his people would find a promised future. Moses’ life journey was an amazing one; going from someone who commanded others and felt entitled to his power and wealth, to someone who lived his life solely for the salvation of this nation of slaves, who emptied his life of the desire for power and authority so that the lives of slaves may become full.
Even though he ended up being despised and rejected by the Egyptians, he was often a man of sorrows, and was acquainted intimately with grief; even though the Israelites often hid their faces from him and did not esteem him, he was willing to suffer all this to be a servant of their salvation.
What about your life? What key do you live it in? Seems to me the modern media wants us all to live our lives in major keys, bombarding us constantly with images of success, power, privilege, entitlement, luring us all into a body image, into living life in a key that brings attention to us, recognition and authority.
On the other side, I see Doctors Without Borders; I see a solar powered business in Alberta willing to assist Puerto Rico; I see the young people filling a stadium participating in the We movement. A life lived solely for itself may get the attention of a major key, but the depths of a supporting minor key will always be missing, leaving life unfulfilled.
God calls. The choice is ours. A life lived in a minor key is not a life lived for itself and is never easy. But if we believe that love is a redemptive act of salvation, then there is no greater love than to lay down your life for those you love. Life lived in a minor key.