In a mid-year note to several friends this week I suggested the short stories in Everyday Wonder, from Kansas to Kenya, from Ecuador to Ethiopia for some fun reading.
I enjoyed most sending a note to my choir director and first theology teacher at the Presbyterian church in Amarillo, TX that we attended in the early 50’s. I included one of the stories, “Singing My Faith” in his note. I thought others might enjoy reading it also…so here it is:
Singing My Faith
by Priscilla H Wilson
I sang my way to faith.
Robed in short white cassocks, we seven-year-olds resemble angels in our sanctuary’s balcony. Our choir director, Mary invites us to join the Adult Chancel Choir in singing the last verse of “Beautiful Savior.” Maybe it is singing with those mature voices, or listening to the solo verse. Maybe it is simply our adoration of Mary who treats each one as a real human being.
Every Sunday the church choirs from first graders through adults fill the U shaped balcony. I show up, put on a choir robe, unearth the right piece of music and parade up the curved narrow stairway to the balcony with the other children for Sunday worship.
The magic of those early choir moments sets me on a path of sustaining faith.
Now, decades later, singing “Once to Every Man and Nation” sends my mind whirling back over the sacred music that has shaped my life. “Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide.”
Once? Every man? That word “man” must mean “human being.” But what about the word “once?” I encounter life decisions over and over again.
The harmonies and words in song become my prayer. While listening or singing, I let the Spirit do the praying in me.
Would I be a Christian without the words and music that reinforce my faith?
When singing I remember we are to love each other as we wish to be loved; to give our lives to have life; to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, comfort the poor. These things give meaning to my life.
During my young adulthood our church’s minister of music organizes a class that expands my world. As we learn to sing both the Brahms and Verdi Requiems, I am filled with wonder. What suffering, majesty, wonder and pain in life have I ignored?
In the early 60s, I spend a week with 5,000 women in Purdue at the National Presbyterian Women’s Conference. I listen to music and speakers throughout the conference. The Civil Rights music raises new questions about injustices.
As I listen to talks about women’s move toward salary and political equity as well as struggles against abuse I know my life has to count for something. Music strikes my heart as we sing, “I’m gonna live so God can use me.”
In 2005 our church choir learns Bach’s music and impossible German words in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. It is so demanding, I nearly drop out. But I remember, “Research says learning is good for my aging brain” so I stay with it. Three weeks before the concert I begin to rehearse a new story, “If I’m going to spend time on this, I want to truly sing it well.” (My puritan upbringing perhaps.)
And what happens? A guest conductor from Westminster Choir College arrives. His first question to the chorus staggers me, “What is Bach saying? How can you convey the agitation (humbleness or other emotion) Bach is calling for?”
I hadn’t thought about the meaning of the words. Pronouncing the words and singing them on the right pitch – was there more to think about? As we work on the meaning of the text the sound transforms those “impossible” German words.
Now, months after my husband’s death, our choir is preparing Brahms Requiem in English to sing on Palm Sunday. Twice before I’ve had the privilege of singing this incredible work. I’ve not paid much attention to the words before. As I journey with the text Brahms chose for this Requiem – through grief and mourning to hope and joy my nearly fifty-nine years with Rodney swirls through my being.
Singing has always been a joy, but now every word comes with a sacred message.
Each rehearsal and performance is a time of standing in the holy. This music is driving me to not give up, but to relate to others who are grieving. My care can encourage others.
Gratitude for this amazing experience fills my soul. The poetry in music throws open the door of wonder for me over and over again. Singing is an act of memory; it reminds me of what life is about.