When my wife, Darrah, and I met Andy in the Los Angeles airport, we thought we would never have a real conversation with him. This tall, muscular guy nonchalantly palmed a Bible as if he were pacing across the stage of a megachurch. But we soon realized that we would talk with him again, and soon.
Joan Chittister says that singing is what makes her Benedictine community a community. The singing of the group effects the unity that it represents. But since religious experience and convictions are closely tied to certain forms of music, music can also divide people.
Dear Chad: Your recent e-mail brought back rich memories of the long-ago days when you were my confirmand and I was your catechist. Your self-description and question moved me: “Does it take formal attendance at worship services to be religious?” You describe yourself as having paid your dues, as it were, by congregational membership, including in leadership roles.
Isaiah faced a challenge. How was he to awaken an exiled community from the lethargy of despair? The people’s confidence had been shattered; their entire worldview was drained of its mimetic properties. Former glories lay in ruins. Now the people lived in the land of the dreaded enemy, a people who goaded them with “Sing us some of those songs of Zion, miserable losers!"
"The rising of the sun / And the running of the deer, / The playing of the merry organ / Sweet singing in the choir” rings the chorus of “The Holly and the Ivy,” a favored carol of the season. It inspires me to a love song, an overdue tribute to the pipe organ, producer of merriment, inspirer of awe, mimic of angelic choruses, undergirder of hymns.
A half hour before the Sunday morning service begins, St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco already displays the holy chaos that characterizes its worship. In the domed entrance hall a choir is practicing motets.
I was in Cuba this summer on a mission trip, when our host pastor, Héctor Méndez, approached me, his face grave and drawn. “They have attacked a Presbyterian hospital and school in Pakistan,” he said, “and people have been killed.”
I find the return to school every fall very exciting. I like the start-up rituals. I still have to have new stuff—pens, notebooks, calendars, and of course new shoes. I am glad to see the faces of my friends and colleagues again and to hear what they have been doing since I saw them last. I love to see former students again and meet new students. I’m eager for classes to start.