Visceral Reactions to Music (and other things)

Sunday mornings are rough.  Getting the kids up, fed, dressed, hair-combed, and out the door (or, if you don’t have kids, doing the same thing for yourself, after your Saturday night…).  When you get to church, don’t you just want to park it in a seat?  Why do these cruel Episcopalians and Roman Catholics (and others) make you stand, and then sit, and then kneel, and then stand again, and then kneel again?  Add in crossing yourself and bowing–if you’re the CrossFit type–and it’s practically a full-fledged work out before noon on a weekend!

Firday night, I visited our girls’ choir rehearsal.  It’s been almost 15 years since I attended one of my junior high choir rehearsals, but when the choirmaster gave the command to prepare to sing and poised his fingers above the keys, my spine involuntarily straightened and my lungs filled with air–and then I reminded my body that I wasn’t part of the choir.  I’ve been out of a choir longer than I’d ever been in one, and yet, dear Mr. Johns, our music teacher, had so drilled into his students–at least me!–the importance of posture in singing, that when my body was put in the same kind of environment again (not in a physical sense, as we were in the cathedral and not an old high school great room; but in a psychological–and spiritual–sense), it still responded the same way.

Early Friday morning, I’d taught a Men’s Bible Study (the new priest gets invited to visit everywhere, without regard for gender!) on the Psalms.  Explaining the five-book structure of the psalms, we turned to the end of 72:

18 Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel,
Who only does wondrous things!
19 And blessed be His glorious name forever!
And let the whole earth be filled with His glory.
Amen and Amen.

20 The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.

When I started reading verse 18, my right hand had an insatiable urge to reach up to my forehead.  What I mean to say is that I had said and heard “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel” at the beginning of the song of Zechariah (Luke 1:68) so many times (it’s used at the service of Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer) that my body, and a piece of my mind, forgot that wasn’t the same environment–in Morning Prayer, when we begin to say Zechariah’s song together, we cross ourselves, because it is a New Testament canticle (song/psalm).  My body is learning the same involuntary response to God’s Word that it learned in response to the prepare-to-start-singing command from junior high.

Episcopalian (or Roman Catholic, or other) gymnastics trains our bodies, minds, and souls to have a particular response when holy things happen–when holy words are said, when we ask the Holy Spirit to come into us afresh, when we admit that we’re sinners dependent on God’s mercy.  These actions, which are the most important things we do all week, train us to recognize those moments and to respond to them appropriately–with reverence, with fear, with joy, with attention.

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