The Sound of Silence

A conversation last night, after talking about the team’s plans for intensive Polish language lessons for the next few weeks:

1st friend: What about having an English fast for a few days?

2nd friend: Oh yeah, that means we talk English as fast as we can and see who wins.

Me: Great, we’re on! I’ll give you a run for your money.

1st friend: I wouldn’t want to compete with Anita. (This is the same friend who thinks I should be an attorney.)

I laughed and laughed, humored with the play on words and not needing to defend myself.

But today I’m trying to take a talking fast of sorts. I didn’t take a vow of silence, but almost.

Not because I’m ascetic but because I’ve been socializing and singing intensely for the last 3 weeks with The Hope Singers.  Besides vocal fatigue, a sore throat virus attacked me, and now I can sing bass instead of 2nd alto.  This has happened the last 2 times I was on Hope Singers, so I know the pattern, and know that a day of silence will be medicine.

We used to have a neighbor who led retreats with his wife. He told me of the time they led a 4-day silent retreat. “It was hardest for the women,” he said with a wink.

I’m the girl who has enough words to finish everyone’s sentences without even trying, and even today a lot of things want to come bubbling out, but it feels so incredibly good to just be quiet.

Until, of course, the moment that I think of some comment or advice that will completely change your life and you MUST hear it now.

Announcing: Hope Singers Concert!

Everyone is cordially invited to a reunion concert by the Hope Singers at 7:00 pm on Saturday, August 20, 2011, at Martindale Mennonite Fellowship Center, 352 Martindale Road, Ephrata, PA 17522. The program will include information about Anabaptist International Ministries (AIM) and their work in Poland. Opportunity will be given for a free-will offering in support of this ministry.

Beginning in 2004, and every two years since then, the Hope Singers have traveled and sung throughout Poland. As an extension of Anabaptist International Ministries in Minsk Mazowiecki, Poland, the Hope Singers strive to bring encouragement to believers throughout the country and to bring an awareness of an Anabaptist presence in Poland. The choir is directed by Lloyd Kauffman of West Jefferson, Ohio, and includes about 30 singers from the US, Canada, and European countries.

The focus of Anabaptist International Ministries is pointing people to Christ and a lifestyle of wholehearted obedience to Him. Besides operating an English language school for all ages, the AIM team does private tutoring, Kid’s Klub, and Bible studies, holds weekly church services, and distributes the Seed of Truth magazine (in connection with Christian Aid Ministries).

For more information, please
~attend the above-mentioned concert,(and say HI to all my friends who are singing!)
~contact a board representative at homeoffice@aimpoland.org or 814-789-4394, or
~visit us on the web at www.aimpoland.org.
_______________________________

Cosmos in Chaos

In a recent conversation about art, creativity, beauty, excellence, and ministry, I wished for a week’s time to discuss the themes. I have no statements to make, only ideas to explore. Madeleine L’Engle’s book, Walking on Water is a good read about these matters. This is one of my favourite quotes from there:

Leonard Bernstein says that for him, music is cosmos in chaos. That has the ring of truth in my ears and sparks my creative imagination. And it is true not only of music; all art is cosmos, cosmos found within chaos. At least all Christian art is cosmos in chaos. There’s some modern art, in all disciplines, which is not; some artists look at the world around them and see chaos, and instead of discovering cosmos, they reproduce chaos, on canvas, in music, in words. As far as I can see, the production of chaos is neither art, nor is it Christian.

Several deductions:
~Making cosmos (order) out of chaos is part of embracing the glory and wonder of being made in God’s image.
~Creating cosmos communicates, and it is more than talking to myself, though that has its place.
~Christian art might be characterized best by its outward focus, its valuing God and others over self. Does that mean that art/ creativity is service/ministry? This reminds me of how Michael Card, in his Scribbling in the Sand, quotes Vincent van Gogh: The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.
~Jesus was an artist when He washed His disciples’ feet, and later when He served them breakfast.
~I get to eat brunch with several artists in just a couple minutes!

Bon Voyage, Hope Singers 2010

Following a path that looks more like chance than design but really is Divine Planning, I’m ready to pack up for my 3rd Hope Singers tour. And I don’t have words to say how excited I am.

Life is so simple on a choir tour. All you have to do is make sure you have your music folder and water bottle in hand at the right time. Everything else–bus time, conversations, exploring old towns, weather, picnics–is peripheral. But the peripheral things, the ones you don’t concentrate so much on, are what shapes the tour, and gives it meaning and delight.

My favourite story about Lloyd Kauffman, the conductor, happened after the first full program in Krakow in ’08. My part, 2nd alto, had a low note, I think it was a D, and I didn’t hit it. It was my favourite note in the song, and I felt bad for messing it up.

During the meal afterward, I was sitting across the corner from Lloyd. I told him I’m sorry I didn’t hit that note. He hears every note of every singer, so of course he knew which one I was talking about. He smiled big and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You’re forgiven–be cleansed and free!”

His gentleness and grace inspired me to not fail the music and from there on, I could hit the note fine, and when it was especially fine, he’d give me this huge wink that made me feel light as air.

Lloyd is a master with music, and with people. He arranges the songs we sing, and knows how he wants them sung, but is gentle and gracious when we fail his plans. Hope ’08 had many significant moments, but that one exchange with Lloyd probably changed my life.

Because Christ’s love and redemption is the most powerful force in the world.To hand out grace in the face of failure is being as Christ. If that’s the only thing that happens during a choir tour, receiving God’s grace and extending it to others, it is enough.

A Space in the Music

Sometimes the most helpful thing we can do is think of a truth and embody it rather than say it.

Not being a theologian, or not always being able to explain what/how I believe what I do, I am always looking for practical, tangible ways to live my beliefs. I believe that on this side of Eden, we cannot avoid pain. I believe that because of Christ, the Healer and Restorer, pain can be redeemed, even on this side of heaven. I believe that Christians’ highest aim should be to be as Christ to their world.

Hence, This article from “Christianity Today” rang clear for me in several ways.

It broaches the theological minefield of the subject of pain without offering platitudes. It uses the metaphor of rests in music as a way to be as Christ to our world. The sentence about embodying a truth without saying it is one I hope I can always remember.

Choral Recommendations

Pretty much the only music I listen to is choral singing. It feeds my soul and spirit with its layers of depth. It’s what I love to sing.And maybe I’m biased and narrow, but I think it’s most like what we’ll sing in heaven.

These are my recent indulgences, and the best choices I’ve made in a long time:

Voce, by Trinity College in Cambridge, England.

The gems on this one is Durufle’s “Ubi Caritas” and Schubert’s “Sanctus.”

Lighten our Darkness is an exquisite collection of evening songs. I love, love the arrangement of “O Gladsome Light.” And the powerful Russian dynamics of Rachmininov’s “Borogorditsye Dyevo.” When I ordered this CD, some glitch happened with their database and John Rutter’s assistant wrote to sort it out. Bravo on their customer service!

I count it a bonus that both CD’s have the song that’s so beautiful, I’d like it sung at my funeral. (Relax– I’m not depressed or tending toward self-destruction.) This is the English translation for the Latin words sung to a most restful, soothing melody:

The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God,
And the pain of death shall not touch them:
in the eyes of the foolish they seem to die,
but they are in peace.

…in pace…

Messiah at the Cathedral

A long time ago, last Saturday night to be exact, a bunch of us went to the old cathedral in town. We got in early, sat close to the front and watched the technician tune the harpsichord. At 8, the announcer told us to check that our mobiles were switched off, and reminded us of how special it is to hear Messiah in a church that was built around the same time Handel composed the music.

I don’t know which part was my favourite because there were so many. Phrases and choruses keep running through my head. A man of sorrows…And His glory will be seen upon thee…Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…All we like sheep…blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him, be unto Him…

They were the Irish Baroque Orchestra and Resurgam Chamber Choir, conducted by John Butt. It was a stellar choir and a gifted conductor, skillfully portraying Handel’s dynamics and eloquent pauses. The transcendent moment for me came when they started the crystal-clear, powerful chords of “Worthy is the Lamb.” It was like angels’ singing.

The music is powerful and moving in itself, but wedded with the words of prophecy, suffering, rejoicing, and triumph, Messiah is meaningful to me in ways that little else is. Driving out of the car park afterwards with a group of friends, I had nothing to say, but wanted to be quiet and savor the echoes in my mind. Sometimes the only fitting response to music is not praise, but silence.