Rev. Alvin Allison Carmines, Jr. was a character: an eccentric, a minister, a professor, an award-winning playwright, a director, an actor, a composer and lyricist, and maybe a prophet for our own times. To put him in context, he pastored a church and wrote and staged plays and musicals in Greenwich Village, New York (when he wasn’t teaching at Union Theological Seminary), beginning in the 1960s until his death in 2005.
God of many colors, God of many signs,
You have made us different, blessing many kinds.
As the old ways disappear, let your love cast out our fear.
I wasn’t very familiar with “Al” (as he liked to be called) until only recently when I came across the lyrics of his hymn “Many Gifts, One Spirit” – a hymn written in 1974 on commission from the United Methodist Women for their General Assembly. Immediately his words struck me as inspired and needed more than ever in our present world of discord and divisions. When so many (even Christians) see only differences, distinctions, and disunity as a good thing (!), how important to be reminded of who we all are in God’s eyes. When people fear the “other,” the “stranger,” the “immigrant,” the “enemy,” the “sexually different,” the “foreigner,” the “colored,” the “those people,” and changes…so many changes…in our world, we need to sing:
God of change and glory, God of time and space,
When we fear the future, give to us your grace.
In the midst of changing ways give us still the grace to praise.
I guess one of my attractions to Al is that he had a love of both church and theater, as I do. He saw both of them as a means of encountering spiritual meaning. He is quoted in a New York Times interview as saying, “If you want to know how to live, go to church. If you want to know how your life is in its deepest roots, go to the theater.”
Freshness of the morning, newness of each night,
You are still creating endless love and light.
This we see, as shadows part, many gifts from one great heart.
In fact, I believe in a real way that our liturgy is divine theater, but not as many think. Probably because most of our churches are set up like theaters with rows of seats (pews) facing the stage (sanctuary), it looks like the congregation is audience to the performing liturgical ministers. But look at the whole action from above—from God’s viewpoint, as it were. Then all of us, ministers and people, are on the stage together with an audience of One. And we actors are not performing some fictional script, but we—all of us in our wonderful diversity—are re-enacting the great divine mystery of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection using his words, telling his story, and singing songs of praise and thanksgiving about the abundant life received.
And to equip us for this great action—in church and in the world—we have each been given the gifts of the Spirit to celebrate, with all our differences and diversity, our common life in God who is love.
Refrain: Many gifts, one Spirit, one love known in many ways.
In our difference is blessing, from diversity we praise
One Giver, one Lord, one Spirit, One Word
Known in many ways, hallowing our days.
For the Giver, for the gifts, praise, praise, praise!
All lyrics are from “Many Gifts, One Spirit” © 1974 Al Carmines
Rev. Vincent McTighe
(Fr. McTighe recently retired from ministry at Sacred Heart of Jesus ANCC, Kearney, NJ)