My favorite song to sing is called “Nirvana,” by Sam Smith. When I sing it to the empty, vaulted chapel of St. Michael’s, I love the way the melodies bounce back to me off the high ceilings and stained glass windows. It’s spiritual. It’s a time when all of the masks that I wear fall off and a place where all of the messaging I take in - how I should act or who I should be - dissipates like the reverberation of the sound waves that burst forth from what feels like the deepest part of me, a part that isn’t anatomical.
Part of my exploration with Life Together has been connecting the dots between this act of singing and the actual reasons behind why I do it. The answer has been more difficult to find than I thought it would be. Meaning, I sing because it’s just something I have always done, like it’s something that just needs to be done. It truly doesn’t matter which song I’m singing because it’s never been about the lyrics, it’s all about the act. It’s like I’m trying to express something beyond words – something that no one can ever articulate, but something everybody encounters. It’s like every high note I hit is me reaching into heaven and borrowing God’s glasses to momentarily see myself as knowingly and as lovingly as God sees me every single second. Doesn’t that sound like something we could all use? With all the ways that our world, that’s filled to bursting with imperfect people, can make us doubt ourselves, dislike ourselves, etc., it’s no wonder I turn to this form of worship.
Speaking of worship, lately I’ve been trying to be more intentional with this practice. Now it’s been one thing to belt out some contemporary pop songs by myself, but I’ve known it to be an even fuller, richer experience to sing with others. When it’s a group of people collectively attempting to express that piece of the divine inside of them, something remarkable happens – sometimes I can feel it, other times not – it’s otherworldly, almost alien. Or perhaps better, maybe it’s ancient. Maybe it’s returning to something that’s been done since the dawn of humankind, performed simply because we are what we are - human. When I think about that, suddenly, a group of strangers and I shakily chanting a new song in French (like we did the other week) doesn’t seem so unlikely or bizarre.
As I’ve alluded to, a core practice of Life Together is “discovering your contemplative being.” For 10 months, we as fellows are encouraged to explore different ways to connect to God, to each other, and to ourselves; to navigate an internal transformation – our relationship with the divine – so that our inner being, our mode of thinking, our spirituality allows us to make the external impact on the world that we desire. After reflecting, maybe I’ve always had a spiritual practice, but actually being able to identify it and name it has brought on new motivation and purpose. Nowadays, when I sing “Nirvana” in an empty church or join a chant with my fellow fellows, it’s still a time to reconnect, and still a place to see myself how God sees me. It just happens that God’s in the front row.