Do you have a happy place, a place where you feel safe, comfortable, loved, and inspired to make a difference? Do you have a place where you can let go of whatever burdens you are carrying and simply enjoy yourself?
Having lived in Iowa for six years now, I can think of many happy places myself, places where I am inspired, energized, and encouraged to claim and use my gifts to make a difference in the world. As the United Methodist Bishop of Iowa, I have found happy places in our approximately 750 local churches, where Jesus is proclaimed, laity are equipped for ministry, and lives are transformed. Worship is always a happy place for me, where “God draws near.”
What are your happy places? Where do you feel joy? When I first arrived in Des Moines, I had a deep desire to learn how to play the harp. In addition, as a musician myself with undergraduate and graduate degrees in organ performance, I was looking forward to finding a place to practice the organ. Silly me! The intense demands of being an episcopal leader was a reality check, and I reconciled myself to the fact that I’d have to wait until I was retired before I could begin to play the organ and piano again.
There are so many other happy places in Iowa, among them running in the prairies, swimming in the lakes, hiking along the cliffs, and riding my bike on country roads. They also include taking walks; enjoying stunning sunsets; staring a deer in the eye along a path; going out for dinner with colleagues; exploring museums; attending worship in many different congregations in Iowa, and reading encouraging cards from both clergy and laity after slipping on black ice during a run last winter and going on Medical Leave.
One of my very happiest places for the past six years, however, has been the Des Moines (Iowa) Symphony Orchestra. Gary and I both love music, and wherever we have lived over the years, we have sought out opportunities to enjoy choral and/or orchestral music. As soon as I walk inside the hall, I know that I am in my happy place.
On November 21, 1937, The Des Moines Civic Orchestra played its first concert, conducted by Drake University professor Frank Noyes, at Hoyt Sherman Place. Eventually, a permanent group was formed called The Des Moines Symphony, which was conducted by Noyes for thirty years. “The mission of The Des Moines Symphony Association is to enrich, educate and inspire our community by performing great orchestral music.”
In 1979 the symphony found a new home at the 2,662 seat Civic Center of Greater Des Moines. Present conductor Joseph Giunta has led the Des Moines Symphony for the past thirty-four years, and the Orchestra is thriving, with a rich history. Guinta has transformed the Orchestra into one of the finest regional orchestras in the country and is a master at creating innovative programs. Several years ago, the Water Works Pops, a summer series of free outdoor concerts in the newly constructed Lauridsen Amphitheater at Water Works Park, was initiated.
I am grateful for Maestro Giunta’s energy and passion for exposing people to great classical music at all age levels. The Yankee Doodle Pops, sponsored by the Symphony, is currently the largest single-day concert event in Iowa, attended by more than 100,000 people each July. And, almost twenty years ago, Giunta began the Symphony Academy in Des Moines, which currently has more than six hundred students enrolled in private lessons, chamber music, and four Des Moines Symphony Youth Orchestras.
As soon as I enter the Civic Center for a symphony concert, my demeanor changes. I smile in anticipation of hearing the orchestra and transmitting positive energy to the musicians. The program on Saturday evening is splendid! I am especially taken by the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff (one of my favorite composers) and also Igor Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird. But I am blown away by the encore, Great Balls of Fire! Wow!
I believe that God is active in all parts of life. I’m sure it’s because I’m a trained musician that I particularly commune with God through music. In the words of Kahil Gibran, “Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the spirit of life, bringing peace, abolishing strife.” The Des Moines Symphony has become my happy place, calming my spirit and offering joy.
Perhaps, for you, you may find your happy place in literature, or in painting, in planting and growing, in doing your job to the best of your ability, in caring for your family, in serving others, or in knitting! God is there. God is in it all. Just as I find my happy place in the symphony, may you find your happy place as well.