Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful. Necessity is the mother only of cliches. It takes playfulness to make poetry.
My heart is so full this week. I have no words. Not yet. But I’m going to try here to describe it. Words are all I’ve got. Words and tears.
I joined our church choir this year. It was a very tentative decision for me. I love to sing, but I’m not really a soloist. Choir is perfect because it’s all the singing and very little of the attention.
I really love to sing. My mom talks about my singing “Jesus Loves Me” at the top of my lungs to the point that our neighbors, the Fabrikis, would hear. It was always while swinging, mind you. Is there any happier thing than singing while swinging?
But I was timid about joining this time. I had quit the church choir in my previous life. God had blessed us with two little lives, and I couldn’t be a very regular member. Inconsistent child care during the rehearsals made it doubly hard. So I bailed. And then . . . well, then Grant’s participation in the choir was brandished like a cudgel. So choir participation was this layer-upon-layer of triggers with a little tiny flicker of joy deep, deep down. But I doubted whether I could be reliable enough, compliant enough, strong enough, precise enough . . . good enough.
So we inquired first.
We: “We’d need to bring our five-year-old. Is that okay?”
They: “Oh sure. He can sit in on the rehearsal.”
Whuh? . . . Excuse me? In the same room? That’s okay? You don’t mind?
We: “Well, I don’t know how often I can sing on Sunday mornings. The kids can’t sit alone in the sanctuary yet.”
They: “Sing when you can. We understand.”
What? What did you say? I must have misheard. You understand? Uuuuummm. . . .
So I attended the first rehearsal. In pants. That alone would have sent my fellow previous-life sopranos into peering-over-the-half-glasses glares. I remember those stares. Every vocal part has a personality, you see. The altos are the hold-everything-together planners. The tenors are the clowns. The basses are the sleepy stompers. And we sopranos? We are the water-bottle-wielding judgers (who usually can’t read music worth a very strident hoot).
But I did it. I joined. And it was okay, of course. More than okay. It was just normal. Everything about that rehearsal was dramatically different than anything I had experienced within the last 25 years. Mind you, we sang many of the same anthems I had sung in my previous life. So it wasn’t the music. It was the spirit.
It was playful, not perfect. Breezy, not worrisome. The choir director was having fun, and so were we. He joked. He teased. He scolded, too, but with such a twinkle in his eye that we didn’t feel scolded. He liked us.
And that littlest choir member, too, was no bother. Granted, he’s a good little guy. But our fellow singers loved on him and included him like . . . oh I dunno, a covenant child, maybe?
It was friendly. It was communal. It was fun! Deep, deep down, I remembered how it felt in choir in junior high and high school. This current director triggered my memories of that director from 30 years back. I don’t know why. Do they collect the same music jokes or something? It felt so familiar. But I remembered. I remembered singing before it involved carrying a knapsack of duties. I remembered singing for fun on the swing. For joy. For freedom.
I remembered me.
And this weekend the memories came swarming back during our morning run-through of Saviour. It’s an modern oratorio with all the jazz chords and syncopation and with the whole Gospel story front and center.
Providentially, I was assigned to sit next to my good ol’ choir partner from undergrad and grad school, Cheryl Greene. Cheryl is the most dramatic of dramatic sopranos with a voice that can peel the paint off the back wall. When you stand next to Cheryl, you feel as confident as she because you know you have the note if she does. And she always has the note.
So there we were. Like old times. I remembered it all. In my muscles I remembered. I remembered when Cheryl helped me find my lost engagement ring on choir tour in Grant’s home church in Festus, Missouri. Back then in 1989, in one of those Sunday-school-rooms-turned-dressing-rooms with both of us wearing identically ugly BJU choir dresses, she grabbed my hands, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “I know it sounds gross, but look in the trash in the bathroom. You might have thrown it away when you were drying your hands.” And sure enough, she was right.
I remembered that and all the good things from that time. In that choir. Yes, at Bob Jones University under Dwight Gustafson and Warren Cook. The good things. All the good things that I could summon from deep inside. Right there. Standing next to my same dear friend, while we sang and swayed . . . swinging our bodies to the music, relishing our new freedom in Christ alone.
And all those triggers were blasted away.
There are probably a dozen BJU grads singing in this choir. Maybe more. I looked at each of us, remembering all the tears and the hardships and the journey that God has brought us through. To this place. Singing here. About all the freedom Jesus has spoken for us.
This is the New Kingdom. This. This is what it’s going to be like. I felt It. Not regimented with the spontaneity stomped out. Not burdened down with cutoffs and precision. It won’t be perfect because we make it so. Those New Kingdom singers don’t have to pass muster first. Human precision (in politics or musicianship) is utilitarian but far from sacred. No, the New Kingdom is playful with children sitting on laps and humming along. Music, like food, is always more delicious than useful, more sacramental than nutritious.
This performance was a remembrance for me. An Ebenezer. A memorial to say God has brought me thus far.