Most of this day, I did not feel like I was on holy ground. It wasn’t that it was a particularly bad day. It was a day that started early, was filled with a lot of duties, contained a few disappointments, sported several highs, and most notably involved a lot of work and not a lot of rest. In other words, a fairly typical day in my sometimes over-committed world. I achieved what was on my to-do list, managed to eat a granola bar and some crackers and cheese on the fly between meetings, and made it home for a whole 30 minutes to sit at the dinner table with my family before heading back out to choir practice this evening.
On days like this, I sometimes think, “maybe I’ll just skip choir this week…” but that almost never happens. The initial impetus for getting me out the door in the evening is a commitment to my singing partners. We have a small choir, with four altos on a good night. A missing voice is noticeable, and it affects our rehearsal and our Sunday singing. This commitment is laudable, and I am trying to pass on this value to my daughter. Honestly, though, it isn’t really what keeps me coming back.
There is something about singing in community that blesses my spirit. We are all in one space, making a joyful noise that is even sometimes a beautiful noise. We have a strong and experienced director, and amazing vocalists in our midst who shine in different ways at different times. We are old and young and in-between. We drag ourselves after work, or we rush out leaving the kids tasked with homework and hoping for the best, or we decide that retirement from work doesn’t mean retirement from life so we show up and we sing. We are all in different places when we arrive, but after a few minutes, we are on the same page amid the music notes, the lyrical melodies, the sharps and the flats (and our own sharps and flats). We are a community of common melody, often harmonious with the ability to laugh at our (more than occasional) discord.
Sometimes, we don’t sound like we are all on the same page. Sometimes, one section finishes a song before the others (and maybe even will announce, “we won!”) We practice hard, and work our way through familiar and challenging tunes. We hope, eventually, to end all in the same place. By the time Sunday morning comes around, we generally do. That place where we end, many times, is even holy.
I rushed into choir tonight, ten minutes late (which for me is “right on time”). I pulled out my music and started singing. I couldn’t settle my mind down at first, as my thoughts were swimming with emails I had yet to send, calls I hadn’t yet returned, and several connections that needed to be made before morning. But, somewhere in the midst of Ave Verum Corpus, I could feel a visceral change in my body posture. I was relaxing, noticeably. I settled into a strong singing posture. My breathing began to deepen, my lungs filled beyond their quick, hurried breaths of the rest of my day. My own tempo moved from vivace to andante and eventually a non-rushed, easy adagio. Music had worked into my body, mind, and spirit and created holy ground.
As we ended our rehearsal, we departed by singing the Lutkin benediction as has become our custom. This is our musical prayer, a collective embrace of our communal spirit that reminds us that we are blessed by each other’s presence, and blessed by Divine Presence. In choral music, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. I have felt God in that space for as long as I can remember, no matter what my theological beliefs were or what descriptors I put upon the experience. I could feel that presence in our benediction tonight, as we prayed vocally to be blessed and kept in the knowledge and love of God; to be at peace. My voice echoed with others, and I remembered our choir friend at whose funeral we sang this benediction last year; I sometimes think I hear his deep bass resonant beyond the voices in the room. I think of my choir friends and I gathering around at send-offs of people to whom we lovingly said good-bye as they left for lives and ministries in new places. This sung prayer was our musical gift to them, a sustained prayer of blessing on their journeys. As I sang tonight, I noticed that I had closed my eyes, that our director was no longer directing but had simply joined the singing. I heard one voice raised in collective harmony. Holy Ground.
A benediction, an invocation of divine blessing. Tonight, I have been to choir. I am blessed and I am at peace. And this is the real reason why I will be back week after week.
Tonight, this benediction is my Holy Ground.