Of Church-going and Music
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Talk about having a foot in two camps, or straddling a fence. I am at this moment attempting to blog while also listening online to the Sunday morning Eucharist at Washington Cathedral, where, Bekah tells me via text, she is sitting in the fourth row. "And the altar is especially colorful."
"It's St. Francis' Day!" I text her back, half wishing I were there with her.
I'm not sure it will work, this listening and blogging at the same time. I'm not even sure it should work, since doing one thing at a time, fully present and single-minded, is usually the better way (despite the assertions of my children).
Monday, October 5
That was yesterday. It didn't work. The audio stream kept breaking up, so I gave up blogging and went downstairs to listen on a different computer and ended up helping Anna with something else. That was fine.
Not for the first time I admit to myself that I envy Bekah her occasional visits to the Cathedral, her still fairly new and fresh explorations of church-going on her own terms, as an individual, away from her parents. I especially envy her openness, her (somewhat) unjaded stance, apparently unencumbered by roles, responsibilities, or the expectations of others. Whatever encumbrance she carries i s made of stuff she has accumulated and not yet let go of from her growing up as a "P.K."--preacher's kid, which in her case was until recently preachers' kid. Double trouble. (Or as one honest teenaged member of my congregation said at the time that David and I got married, "Boy, do I feel sorry for their kids!")
My envy of Bekah suggests an assumption on my part, largely unquestioned, that such freedom from expectations or personal agenda is lost to me, no longer an option. Maybe it's time to question that assumption. Maybe that's how freedom is found; it's claimed, not stumbled upon.
Last May when I went to D.C. to pick Bekah up from her first year of college, we squeezed in an afternoon Evensong at the Cathedral. Just walking into that glorious building and hearing the girls' choir warming up, their voices soaring into the vaulted ceiling high above, tears welled up in my eyes. I felt my heart both healed and torn apart at the same time.
"Ahhh, yes. I remember why I love this tradition." That and other such thoughts ran through my mind. Mostly I tried simply to allow myself to enjoy the sensory delights to ear and eye and soul as we wandered the building waiting for the choir seating to open for Evensong. I got to show Bekah some chapels she hadn't seen before, including the children's chapel, bordering on the too-precious with its miniature, child-sized everything: cathedral chairs, kneelers, altar, even a small pipe organ!
What really grabbed my heart this time was noticing how the hands of the bronze statue of Jesus-as-young-boy, who stands as a welcoming presence with arms outstretched in greeting, are shiny from the touch of many who just can't resist and reach out to make contact. I did the same. What was I hoping for? Some sort of magic gift of miracle, like the woman who reached out to touch the hem of Jesus' garment in the gospel story? Or just the tactile pleasure of smooth cold bronze and the knowledge that others before me have found this hand irresistible?
The Evensong itself was fine, lovely, not exceptionally so but certainly a peaceful close to the afternoon and the hours I had spent driving to get there. Afterwards Bekah and I wandered the Cathedral grounds, briefly meandered the rose garden with its statue of the Prodigal Son engulfed in the embrace of his father and the pungent smell of boxwood everywhere. And I showed Bekah the house within the cathedral close where I had lived by myself for nine months when I was a seminary intern at the near-by Episcopal parish. (I wrote about that house and how I experienced the sound of bells coming down the chimney here.)
On the bus back to her campus, I remarked: "If I could go to church just to enjoy the music, that would be perfect."
"That's why I go," she said. So simple.
Of course it's probably more than the music. There's some occasional delight in the cadences of the language of the liturgy (until my mind kicks in with theological arguments and counter-arguments and I have to find a way to hush it up or give it some happier occupation--drawing helps). And there's the joy of not just listening to music but participating in making it--singing! There's nothing quite like singing with a group of people, that co-mingling of breath, body, and voice.
(You won't catch me saying that singing hymns partakes of another dimension than singing "secular" songs, like old Beatles' tunes, or folk songs, or newer tunes, like Taylor Swift or the Jonas Brothers. Really, I'm not sure that the content of the song matters all that much, as long as it's within one's own subjective field of beauty, meaning, and enjoyment and the common ground of the singing community.)
"Maybe all you ever really wanted was simply to go to church and sing," a friend who has known me from before my church-going days says, implying but not saying, "...and getting ordained got in the way and made things really complicated."
"I've been thinking exactly that myself," I replied. Truly.
Maybe all I ever really wanted was to go to church and sing, to go to church and absorb the liturgy, to go and be a part of something bigger than myself, to feel accepted and connected. It was simply part of who I was at the time, a piece of my journey, more a temporary phase of my personal (spiritual) development than a genuine vocation to ordained ministry.
(And then, even farther from my conscious thoughts, there lived and grew the desire, even the need, to feel important, visible, special--and ordination seemed to offer just that.)