In many ways, summer has become a time of respite from the hard work of the school year, the fiscal year - and for those in church life, the liturgical campaigns of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. We shed clothes and (some) responsibilities, and recall the joy of the sun (at least in my cloud-covered Northeast city).
I have been seeking my rest and recharge this summer with church musicians from around the country – first at a convention (admittedly, not so restful) then at a smaller skills institute. We have sung songs – some new from the Praise and Worship genre; some nostalgic from the Dameans and the St. Louis Jesuits of the early Catholic folk group movement. We have talked about the dwindling people in the pews and the spiritual hunger of young people. And we have envisioned a Church melting like a glacier in global warming – lumbering and foreboding.
These musicians are, inevitably, regular church-goers. We see what is happening in churches week in and week out, year over year. And we are pondering questions like, “Why be Catholic?” “Is there a place for institutional religion today?”
We have a sense of something epic in the offing, but what exactly that will be, we can’t yet grasp. This is more than intellectual debate. For many musicians, change in the Church is a direct challenge to the ability to make a living in response to a calling.
We wonder if we are in denial or hope, or both.
The skills institute I attended was with a hundred musicians at a Jesuit center. I had opted for a retreat track to reflect on my faith journey, but after a day, I fled the babble of my thoughts for the refuge of a voice class, led by a charismatic African-American teacher and preacher. I wanted to be out of my head and in my body. I wanted to stop thinking and let God into my gut where I could be cracked open by song.
I wanted to bleed love.
So many days, the words of social and church discourse – not to mention the political noise - sound like bullets whizzing by me. I am tired of dodging them. I am tired of firing back.
Instead, I long to walk slowly, and eat as if I’m tasting applesauce for the first time. I want to give thanks for the feel of fresh sheets on a bed. I yearn to look others in the eyes when I answer them and, likewise, enjoy the real presence of an eager dog chasing a slobbery ball or a 2-year-old grandson – so grand -- navigating a backyard sprinkler with squeals of cool joy.
Perhaps that is the gift of summer. The slowing, when we allow it, so that we might bask in a moment of sun, recall the delight of simplicity, refocus our gaze on what is in front of us. It is, for me, an act of surrender -- to the care of the voice shepherd and the promise of the cross – so that I might sing myself into being once again.
Kathy Felong is editor of Pastoral Music, a publication of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians.
Where do you seek respite? To what do you surrender?
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Monks in Our Midst: writings by monks from the 3rd to the 21st centuries.