I meant to write about this the Sunday before last, and then I didn’t.
[Which is to say: I’m trying to make up for not writing anything that day by writing about that day today. Also, I had a good idea that day but I didn’t have time to write about it. Good ideas sometimes seem worth sharing, ESPECIALLY if you wait nine days and they STILL seem worth sharing. Alright. On we go.]
The Sunday before last, as I was wrestling with this new “I really want to be at church but I now always have meetings on Sunday mornings” lifestyle, I decided to go to choral evensong at a church that I have dropped in at, off and on, for years and years and years.
My churchmate that day pointed out, quite fairly, that choral evensong is not super participatory. Sometimes it feels a bit like a concert.
It was good, though, and it felt less like a concert than, say, an ACTUAL concert. Because every so often we got to say something, like “Amen”.
The thing I am writing about, however, is not the church service. It is the actual concert that happened after the church service.
After evensong, as it turns out, there is usually an organ recital given, most often, by a guest musician. This particular Sunday our recitalist was Charles Kennedy, from Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama. He played a bunch of Bach and a bit of Tournemire. It was all lovely.
It made me think of a time, several years ago, when I spent a summer in a small, very French community to improve my spoken French. I was confused most of the time, and frustrated, and annoyed by a whiny roommate and immature classmates. One weekend we took a trip to a nearby city and I made my way to an old stone church on Sunday morning. Enough of the mass was familiar that I could follow along, stumbling over the French translation to liturgies that run through my blood in English.
At the end of the service, the organist broke into a very familiar Toccata and Fugue as the postlude.
(A warning about that video: the church organist of my story was not wearing sparkles quite like seen above. For a sparkle-free version, go here.)
As I recognized the familiar opening phrase, I could feel myself settle more deeply into the wooden pew. Weeks of frustration with French verbs, with foreign vowel pronunciations, with the difficulty of language and translation and incomprehension – all of that melted away as I realized that there is a language beyond all our nouns and pronouns and modifiers and adverbs. A language that speaks directly to all of us, that brings us together and helps us understand each other, and that speaks more profoundly than any phrase or novel to the greatness of God.
Which is to say: thank God for good music. Amen.