I was supposed to perform yesterday. I was supposed to be part of the Lafayette Master Chorale “Cathedral Classics” concert. Instead, I went for a walk in the sun and worked on a puzzle. Those were lovely things to do, but they weren’t the same as singing in the concert…and they definitely weren’t the same as singing in this concert in particular.
When I was five, I started singing in the choir at the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul in Burlington, Vermont. Every Tuesday afternoon I went to the choir room where I learned about music: breathing, key signatures, rhythm, and dynamics. I also learned about the Episcopal liturgy. Near the end of our rehearsals we usually marched into the chapel where we would sing evensong: “my soul doth magnify the Lord,” “now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace…”, “we entreat thee to hear us good Lord.” These are the phrases that stuck with me (and yes, a five-year-old using the word “entreat” seems a little out-of-sync with the culture). Finally, I learned about the importance of the group. We breathed together, we counted together, we prayed together, we played line tag outside the church after rehearsal together. Choir was such an integral part of my childhood that it looms large over everything else.
Choir was where I first became aware of connecting with God.
When I first felt called to ordination, I was reluctant to respond to that call. Mostly that had to do with my own issues about being seen and feeling worthy. But a not insignificant part of my reluctance was a knowledge that if I became a priest, I wouldn’t be able to be in the choir anymore. The grief around not singing in the choir was tremendous. The choir was the place I most deeply experienced God’s presence aside from the Eucharist. Yes, I could still sing the harmony of the hymns, but it wouldn’t be the same as coming together as a group, breathing together, working together to help God’s presence be known in the liturgy.
And so, when my children were big enough and I had completed as much official schooling as I care to for now, I auditioned to sing in the Lafayette Master Chorale. I auditioned just in time to participate in the annual Lessons & Carols service/concert—another liturgical staple of my childhood. I felt like I was truly at home. My heart was full.
In early January of this year, the war drums were beating loudly in our country. No amount of running could make a dent in the anxiety I felt about our administration’s actions in Iran. I prayed all day. I ran many, many miles. I contacted my legislators. I meditated more frequently. I added an extra therapy session or two. But the thing that truly calmed me? Going to Chorale rehearsal. We breathed together. We focused on the music. And I lost myself in Beati Quorum and Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem. I was able to breathe and be in the present moment as I connected with God through song. It was a balm for my soul. Now that balm is not available to me, and I miss it dearly. I miss being together in song.
So yesterday I listened to recorded versions of these pieces. I channeled my grief into the removal of the well-loved yet dilapidated swing set from our backyard. I have faith that we will see saner days and that the Master Chorale will sing together again someday. For now, I take comfort in hearing this music, even if I can’t fully embody it. God is still present in the music, but my physical distance from the choir is a little bit like a mask, keeping me safe in some ways, yet leaving me longing for an unfiltered breath of fresh air and a chance to raise my unmuffled voice in chorus with those around me in praise of God.