By BETH STYLES | Producer, Composer, Artist

Over the holidays you might have caught the new satirical science fiction film called “Don’t Look Up”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as two American astronomers who find themselves having to go on a giant media tour, trying hopelessly to warn humanity about an approaching comet that will destroy civilization… all the while our government (Meryl Streep plays the POTUS!), is wayyyy out to lunch.

The film has a fun, tongue and cheek tempo to it, attempting to use this metaphorical meteor plowing towards earth (i.e. climate change?) while we’ve been slowly spiraling hypnotically into the depths of a redundant, mundane, social media pseudo cyber world, and governments seem not to hear or care, despite the pleading of doctors and scientists around the globe for us to “just look up” as the actual, factual, visual, physical proof is RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR EYES. Sigh… Hence the insane movie title – reflecting the shouting chants among the conspiracy theorists “don’t look up”.  Which is funny, not funny… as here in “real life” we may have the luxury of a few more minutes and another bucket of popcorn before impending doom ensues… or do we?

Since Covid emerged, I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling as though a giant comet hit the world; my world – impacting life and the day to day rhythm of just about everything I didn’t realize I took for granted.  That said, there have been a few, pleasantly surprising, meaningful, pearls of wisdom.

As a producer, composer of spiritual music and director of a community interfaith choir, most of my work got put on hold indefinitely, basically blasting a big intergalactic hole in my annual calendar of ‘feel good’ events. Throughout the year, I would normally be collaborating with diverse houses of worship, clergy and local government leaders to gather people of many backgrounds together. I miss hearing the choir sing songs about love and world peace, watching the interaction between them and the community – and the sharing of a uniting, inspirational experience.  Boo.   But then.. it happened.  One evening, sitting outside on a rock.. I ‘looked up’. 

Gazing at the stars, taking in nature and the universe… I sat quietly, becoming deeply present to the majesty all around me.  I also thought about how I loved astronomy, reminiscing about the courses I took in college, but have since not paid attention to it, not really – and I began to fall newly in love with science.  Wow… so much has happened since I was 12.. ;)!!  Suddenly, I found myself listening to podcasts and immersed in YouTube videos of some of the great thinkers of our times.  I even began to challenge some of the foundational ideas I’ve based most of my life on – and consider, that perhaps I have been so focused on my ‘good deed doing’ and choral sheet music, that I too, had slowly become oblivious to the world around me; that it was time for me to expand my view – and yes, I probably would’ve missed a giant meteor coming towards me.  And maybe this was an unexpected gift that I so needed.

Through the years, I’ve engaged in myriad conversations on spirituality with individuals from many walks of life.  That said, since my events are known as ‘interfaith’ gatherings, and since the choir members and concert attendees are usually connected to various faiths whether they are observant or not, most describe their experience of spirituality as a meaningful connection to something greater than themselves and typically use language such as their ‘connection to God’ or a ‘Divine energy’, or a ‘higher power’.  The spectrum is wide… so I thought, but I now realize (here comes the comet…), that I have been ironically ‘tone-deaf’ to a segment of people who are equally devoted to world peace, moral integrity, love and compassion – yet express spirituality sans a ‘supernatural’, or ‘cosmic’ power as the source.  I’m speaking of the estimated 14% of human beings who identify as secular humanists, atheists, free thinkers to name a few; (thank you Sam Harris* for your exquisite writing, teaching and inspiration for this blog/reflection) – people who I have overlooked and inadvertently excluded for years, all the while intending to be the most inclusive, multi faith, multi-cultural, LGBTQ, safe space for all people to come together “in the name of love and unity” … dang it!  So, full speed ahead, the wording of “interfaith”, is ready for it’s overdue face-lift.  Thank you unexpected, humbling, metaphorical meteor for helping us draw this new, hopeful, authentically inclusive, spiritual line in the sand.  As we set sail into 2022, here’s to looking forward, and looking up.

*Sam Harris – philosopher, neuroscientist, podcast host, author, and a leading intellectual voice of our time.

Beth Styles is an award winning composer/producer/artist, whose work has been celebrated in diverse houses of worship across the country and performed by some of the great artists and cantors of our time.