I’ve been working as a storyteller for an extraordinary organisation, the Zephaniah Trust, for almost 18 years. It was through them that I became a storyteller and they have provided the space for me to nurture and develop my gift ever since.
Around seven years ago, I wrote a story for Zephaniah’s 20th birthday celebrations. It was my attempt to capture what Zephaniah is, its character and its ethos, the work it carries out and how it touches the hearts of so many.
The sources of inspiration were multiple:
– My friend and colleague, John, the man with “a guitar on his back and music in his heart”, who founded the Trust and has invested so much in drawing out the gifts of others.
– Those who, over the years, have been part of the Trust and its journey – the pianists and whistle players, artists and circus performers, actors and office princesses, singers, percussionists and word-weavers – who joined in with what the Trust is and created an open, inclusive community to shine its light on others.
– A song – Somewhere Along the Road – written by Rick Kemp and originally performed by Steeleye Span, first discovered by me through the Emily Smith cover version, a line from which appears near the end of the story.
And the beating heart of my tale, the text of Zephaniah 3:17 – a verse from the Bible and the inspiration for the Trust. “The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.”
What does it mean, what does it look like, to know all of that in our hearts and share it with those who have eyes to see and ears to hear? To enable people to know the presence and strength of God through present and strong community; to feel the great delight of God in how we take delight in one another; to feel the quiet comfort of his light in dark corners; to hear his voice rejoicing over us with singing.
Well, it feels like this…
Watch me tell the story or read it for yourself below. Long may Zephaniah continue to shine God’s light in dark corners.
Zephaniah Three: Seventeen
There was once a man who walked the land, travelling from place to place, carrying a guitar on his back and music in his heart. As he went, he stopped regularly to set the music free to the people he met.
It was very rare that he found the music wasn’t welcome – on those occasions, he would shake the dust off his feet and move on. But most of the people who heard his song listened. Some joined in. And some, as they listened, really heard it.
As he travelled, he met others on the road who went with him for a time. Pianists and whistle players. Artists and circus performers. Actors and office princesses. Some joined his song, singing with beautiful harmonies and soaring voices; some beat out patterns and rhythms, calling to others to join in; and some had a way with words, weaving them this way and that way into stories and poems, that opened people’s eyes and hearts to new ways of seeing.
Some of these fellow travellers walked with him for just a few miles. Others stayed for days, weeks, months, and years. But however long they stayed, once they had travelled together, they were joined by a bond that never broke, however stretched it became over distance and time.
This ragtaggle group of travelling players often found themselves tracing their steps back to the same places, again and again. In one such place, a boy and a girl grew up hearing their songs and listening to their stories.
On the first few visits, when they were very small, something called to them in the music and the actions and the giggles, and they responded instinctively. As they grew older, they found their mouths joining in with more of the words and their ears stretching to follow more of the stories. And as they grew older still, they began to notice that there was more to this group than just stories and music. There was something in the way they spoke to each other. There was something in the way they spoke to others. And there was something, something more, in the way that they walked.
The boy and the girl spoke of this to one another. What was it about this group that set them apart? What was it that made them different, that drew people to them wherever they went? What was it that was there, in the way that they moved, as though they were dancing to some music that only they could hear?
And the boy and the girl decided they would ask them.
So the next time the group arrived on a visit, the children watched as they settled and began unpacking their guitars and unwinding their stories. And then they approached and in tentative voices they asked,
“Excuse me, what is it that makes you move that way? What is it that you can hear that we’re missing?”
And the man and his ragtaggle bunch smiled down at them and crouched beside them, and said,
“Do you remember when you first saw us, when you were small, when the music and the laughter called to you and you joined in because you just couldn’t help it? Did you ever hear anything, something that wasn’t us?”
The children looked at one another and shook their heads.
“Then listen. Today, you should listen.”
And so the children took their places as the group began to play and sing and talk and laugh, and they listened. They listened hard, stretching their ears for all they were worth. But they didn’t hear anything except the sounds of the music. So, they concentrated their minds on the music and the words like never before. But they didn’t hear anything except the sounds of the music. So they strained and stretched their bodies and their muscles, listening with themselves till they started to ache. But they didn’t hear anything except the sounds of the music.
And then they remembered the words that had been spoken – “Remember – when you joined in because you just couldn’t help it?”
And they looked at each other and they listened again, but this time they listened with their hearts, opening themselves to the words and the music and the laughter, joining in with it all because they just couldn’t help it. And this time, as they listened, they heard a voice, soaring away above all of the rest – and they remembered it…
“Raise your eyes and see my world. Raise your voice and sing out!”
And so they sang and they sang, and the more they sang, the stronger the voice became. And their feet began to move, because they just couldn’t stop them, and they realised that this was it, this was what the man and his friends could hear. And something inside them felt whole and complete.
Afterward, they went to the man and his friends and asked, “Whose was that voice, that singing?”
And the man looked at them, smiled, and said, “The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.”
And the children both understood and didn’t understand, all at the same time, and their hearts felt full and their feet felt light and they knew that they’d found a music that was greater than that of the man and his friends. And they knew that now they’d found it, they would never be able to forget.
So raise your eyes and see his world, raise your ears and hear his voice, raise your voice and sing out! And never, never forget…
© 2014 Julie Wilkinson