I've chronicled my experience thus far with singing in my parish's choir here and here. To summarize what I wrote, I was welcomed under very unusual circumstances with a rather intense welcome on the part of the other members. It was a pretty clearly fitting CL example of encountering Christ in His Church. And then I wrote about how, indeed, this following of Christ as I had met Him was having a definite impact on me. It was just hard for me to find the words to speak about it, or even think about it.
It's dawning on me, though.
It really isn't rocket science, but I think for me to really see it, I had to discover it myself and find the word for it. What I find in this choir is love: not some self-conscious plan of supporting one another, or an effort or a project of being a part of each other's lives, but an organic Christian love. I've been seeing it again and again and again in various interactions among different members, like folks with health issues being supported, others being congratulated on accomplishments, vacation news being warmly shared and welcomed, bad days being commiserated, tardiness being forgiven, lots of laughter, family members being introduced, and just all the little stuff of life on the part of everyone being honored and remembered. It all seems so normal, but really it amazes me. Being in the midst of this makes me realize what I often dislike about church activities or committees. That is, that this atmosphere of love is missing, and replaced either with plastic faces or with the kind of griping that reminds me of school. This griping is rooted in a belief that something external to us is forcing us to be together, and none of us really want to be where we are. Or both that and plastic faces.
We sang for the vigil Mass this evening. This experience really taught me something. As we began to practice half hour before Mass began our director, Joe, asked for a cantor. It seems he had forgotten to arrange for someone at practice the week before. As a few of the usual suspects were absent, it came down to one of the tenors or myself. As we hemmed and hawed, Joe stated emphatically but not without patience, "I need a cantor!" Now, when you come to recognize Christ speaking through the Body of Christ, it is an amazing thing to find oneself being literally called to duty like this. The tenor could not sight read music and the psalm was a bit tricky. So I became the obvious choice, most clearly obvious to the tenor and to Joe.
So there we are, practicing our other music, and in the last few minutes before Mass Joe ran me through the psalm and the gospel acclamation. As soon as I stepped up to the organ I found myself bursting with protestations: I don't have my new bifocals yet. This music is really high. I've never cantored at a choir Mass before. And then I sort of felt my spirit say "would you just shut up and get your thoughts off yourself?" If the Lord calls me to do something, am I going to be like one of those annoying prophets who comes up with all the excuses for myself?
A homily I heard recently discussed an image that captures what I'm grappling with here. It was imagery surrounding drinking the cup Christ gives us, specifically the three stages of picking up the cup, lifting up the cup, and drinking it. Picking it up speaks of facing all of what my life is, even the parts I don't like. Lifting it up speaks of acknowledging the gift of God, and letting one's light shine, so that God can bless others. Drinking the cup speaks of following through and doing, living out what God has given us to do. Essentially the point that spoke to me was the second, this thing of lifting up my life, of proclaiming the gift that God has given to me.
This is precisely where I'm struck right now. See, in my heart I might imagine myself saying "Sure, I'll cantor, no problem." But somewhere between my heart and my head I get this message that butts in and suggests that if I offer myself too readily I'm being too full of myself, too prideful, or just "too." Too intense. Too willing. Too goofy in love with the Lord to just do what He asks. Too. Like the kid in school who always knows the answer and everyone hates her for it. I want to look cool. I've practiced looking cool. And something tells me if I follow the Lord too intensely I don't look cool.
Then there was this other little exchange later on. We sang the Latin chant Agnus Dei, and I habitually always sing a certain harmony. Joe had a name for it, tegano I think. After Mass, Joe was quizzing around to find out who went off singing this harmony, and I was disclosed as the culprit. After discussing the technical nature of this harmony for a few moments, he nicely told me not to sing harmony during Lent. Oh, ok. I felt my face turning bright, hot red. Strictly habit, I assured him. We'd sing it later on, he assured me. Just don't sing harmony during Lent.
Was I upset by this? Oh my gosh, so to the contrary. First, it made me realize that when I sit in the congregation I can sing my little harmony until I pass out, and he would never, ever make a comment. But as part of the choir, I am different. I don't make up my own way of doing things because I belong with this group of people. I have a very strong streak of resisting conformity, and I hate just doing what others do because they do it. But this kind of belonging trumps that strong streak to the point of its being inconsequential. Belonging, this kind of belonging, is, as the CL lingo would put it, something that corresponds so deeply to the desires of my heart that I can effortlessly set aside singing this, my most favorite harmony in the world, because I prefer my belonging to my harmony. The thoughts running through my head as I left Mass were something to the effect that if Joe told me the altos had to levitate to sing their part, I would not only believe I could do it, but I would in fact do it. This is when I realized how real this business of following Christ in this choir actually is to me. Now, I know Joe wouldn't say that. But he has told us after a lousy pre-Mass rehearsal that a piece would be fine, and it was -- I think in part because of his confidence in us.
All pretty amazing stuff.