You’ve heard of party crashers and wedding crashers, but perhaps you have never heard of a choir crasher. That’s me, the person who, back in the doldrums of September as election campaigns were still in full swing, shorter days and longer nights were just beginning to descend, and when Christmas trees were not yet at Lowes, I began to wonder in earnest … What can I do to make this season feel more like Advent?
A clear and undeniable suggestion came to mind: join the cantata choir.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no solo singer. I have an average voice…a congregational voice…that’s mostly on pitch and works well in a crowd. Harmony is a stretch, but I can make a joyful noise.
So, I emailed choir director, Yoon Nam, who told me they were welcoming seasonal singers for the Cantata and told me to come for the last part of their Wednesday evening choir rehearsal. I did and they were expecting me. My name was written on a sticky note marking an empty seat saved for me.
“You’re an alto, right?” Yoon asked.
“Yes,” I said, as I took my seat, wondering how she knew.
And frankly, I was pitiful. I couldn’t find the notes, couldn’t hear the pitches, didn’t get the rhythms let alone the words, so I spent most the time lost in the music, scanning the pages, frantically looking for the alto line shuffled among the four parts and the piano accompaniment. Oh my, what had I done?
After rehearsal, I thanked Yoon, apologizing for my dismal performance, wrong notes and poor sight reading. Ever honest, Yoon said, “That’s okay. You have other gifts.” Haha! Thank God I do. Just point the microphone away from me!
At the end of that first night of rehearsal, we dismissed from our seats to form a large, hand-held circle to pray. The choir, you see, is actually the largest small group you’ll ever be a part of, nearly 70-strong. Not only do they sing together in worship, but they care for each other, share devotional reading and always, they pray together to conclude their rehearsals.
Yoon prays and the room falls silent:
“Lord, thank you for letting us sing to you.”
That says it all. It’s the reason we’re here, the reason we practice, and the reason we are admonished to take care of our instruments, which in this case are our bodies and, in particular, our voices.
Unfortunately, I immediately realize that I brought very flabby praise muscles. My vocal chords are sorely out of shape. My harmony is hard of hearing. After thirty minutes of singing, I’m hoarse and exhausted. This is ridiculous! What kind of praise is this?
Week by week of Wednesdays, I showed up for just a wee bit of practice with this small group disguised as large, where a chair welcomed me by name, faces smiled when I arrived, and strong, confident voices surrounded me. With Mandy and Erin, the dual Rocks of Gibraltar in the alto section verily ringing out from behind me, all I have to do is open my mouth to let the angels sing!
And Yoon… there’s just no describing singing for her. She is hilarious, mimicking and imitating us in practice, yet, serious about drawing it all together perfectly. As we prepare for what is not performance, but offering, she is generous, forgiving and heartfelt. Her direction is a whole-bodied, whole-hearted, full-minded, soul-filled affair. Notes travel, phrasing moves forward, sound grows and diminishes, and praise, praise, all of it is meant to praise. Yoon teaches us to praise through song.
“Open your mouth like this,” she shows us. Because when we sing reluctantly and without confidence, our lips tighten and the sound is raw and quenched. Opening your mouth lets the note ring beautifully. “Listen to how it sounds. Listen to how it blends. Open your mouth and let the Holy Spirit sing in you.”
The Light of the World is coming and has come. Words just can’t quite say it completely. This calls for singing, as if there is a microphone in every pew, which surely is how God hears us. There’s just nothing quite so true as singing Glory to God, double forte. Oh my goodness! Thank you, Yoon, and new choir friends. It was amazing praising God together.
Lord, thank you for letting us sing to you.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ~ Colossians 3:16-17
During our ramp up to the holidays that’s an oft used expression. Don’t DO so much. When opportunities become obligations, our energy is sapped and the glow goes right out of the season. Simplify, we say. Moderate, we admonish. Let it go, we advise.
Usually we are talking about keeping the house clean or decorating every last inch, making another batch of cookies or planning that over-the-top celebration for the kindergarten party.
But Dr. Rilling is not talking decorating or cookies. In fact, I am pretty sure he never had a hand in either. He’s talking silence. Let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. “God’s greatest works are done in silence. So, often, are man’s.”
Why do I feel the need to speak, email, emote, evoke, criticize, chastise and rebuke what’s going on around me? Could I do more in silence? If I withheld my comment and sat with my thoughts for a moment, could I be better? If I took a deep breath and counted the 10 commandments, would the importance of what I was waiting to say have been said? If, in the silence, I prayed that prayer that Jesus taught us, ‘lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’, would I have answered my own prayer?
Today, as I write, I am nothing. I have nothing to show for a lifetime of study, several degrees, accolades, certificates and even a published book. But I am something. The something I am is a source of encouragement, the voice of hope, the means to move forward, and the place of connection. What I am is the sum total of all I have been, and then some. The ‘then some’ is more than I’ll ever be, and yet it is somehow there. Completely invisible and yet surely completed along the way.
Silence is golden, they used to say. Today, thanks to inflation (and the whole supply and demand thing) it might have gone platinum.
If I had a CD that played nothing but silence, would I listen?
If I did, what would I hear?
Frankly, had it not been for the woman who climbed the steps to my porch a few weeks ago to introduce herself and tell me what she brought to the race for the office she was seeking, I probably would have been among the ranks of the apathetic on this election day. But we visited for a bit. She listened as I told her about an issue of particular concern to me. Then we chatted about her three grown boys who nearly matched my three grown girls.
So, when election day came I thought, if I don’t mark anything else on my ballot, I’m going to the polls so I can cast my vote for her.
Well, that’s when I realized how uninformed I was about the other races going on. It’s not easy to cram for an election, you know. Trying to find details about candidates, their positions on issues, their voting record or even their character traits – even with the magnificent internet – is a research project I really didn’t want to undertake.
I dabbled a bit and then headed to the polls, certain of only one vote I would cast. Along the sidewalk outside the elementary school, I gamely accepted both pink and blue sample ballots and then settled into a chair in the hallway, put there to accommodate the long line of voters waiting their turns. There was no line and no competition for a seat. So there I sat and scanned, like a kid hoping to glean just that little bit of information that will earn him the passing grade on the imminent test.
Then I entered the nearly vacant gym, produced my ID, got my ballot, and sat to bubble in (completely) for the candidates I had selected and the bond issues I chose to support. Satisfied, I fed the ballot into the machine that would tally my votes. Whew! What a relief.
That’s when I looked up into the face of a white-haired gentleman, whose furrowed lines all led to the kind smile beneath his well worn WWII cap. He stood, poised to deliver my ‘I VOTED’ sticker.
“Put it right here,” I told him, indicating my left shoulder. He did, and with such joy that I just had to shake his hand.
“Thank you for your service,” I said.
“You were worth it,” he replied.
Wow. When you put it like that…
What if my life were on that ballot? The poor excuse for due diligence, the casual approach to decision-making, the haphazard consideration given to allocation of resources. What if, after casting that vote, I got to shake the hand of the one whose sacrifice made it all possible, and He replied, “You were worth it”?
It’s an election year, folks. Bubble in completely.