When I was a young adult (oh so many moons ago), I had the wonderful opportunity to sing with small ensembles in various churches across the country. These were great learning and stretching experiences for me.
One of the most memorable moments came when we were guests at a Haitian church which was, I think, located in Montreal. I have no idea if our performance went off well that night or not. What I do remember is how vibrant and dynamic that service was. Significantly contrasting my own church experiences, the service included shouted “Amens!” and “Hallelujahs!” At first, I didn’t know what to do with that, but it wasn’t long before I was caught up in it. We joined in, and it was momentous.
The music was incredible–richly textured voices, intricate harmonies and all of it a cappella. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’ve puzzled over whether or not the joy was manufactured or genuine, and though I grasp how music can be manipulative, I believe those people were authentically experiencing that moment, and they were experiencing it with everything they had.
I never thought I would experience such a moment again. And then I did.
On a very bright and warm Sunday morning, I walked to a hotel conference room to meet with colleagues for a book discussion. I noticed two attractive older ladies in the parking lot. It was clear they were friends, and likely had been a very long time. They laughed easily as they strolled, heads leaning slightly towards each other. It isn’t often I see Sunday-best anymore and I thought of my Gram, who would have dressed in her beloved purple to join them.
“Those hats suit you well, ladies,” I said. “I hope you have a fantastic day.”
They smiled at me. “God bless you.”
Equally well-dressed greeters shook my hand as I entered the building. Their enthusiasm for the Lord’s Day touched me and stirred my memory.
“Have a great service,” I said.
Oh my gosh, did they ever. My group was meeting in Salon D, and church was happening in Salon E. Remembering my time at the Haitian church, I was quite curious as to how this would all turn out.
And I didn’t have to wait long. As my group started into a discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird, the church group started singing. I smiled. It was going to be exactly the same. Before long, the joyful a cappella notes were making the movable walls dance. The microphones in our room were insufficient.
Our group moved to Salon B. What an incredible counterpoint the music added to our discussion of Scout and Jem and Atticus Finch. We spoke about layering, of symbolism and motifs. We pulled on story threads and discussed literary tapestry. They nuanced and shaded with rhythm and style and texture.
The scholars who discussed the novel that day taught me much. I seek more meaning in the words, I understand the world in a way I didn’t before, and my mind is occupied still by all the things I do not know.
I see the world differently now. But in my mind, I hear it differently too.
I hope I always will.