Those of us who went to Turkey in the spring of 2012 were familiar with the taize chant the congregation sang last Sunday. We stopped near Ephesus to worship and have lunch (in a carpet shop, of all places, and who says you can’t worship anywhere?) After cups of apple tea in a back room, Eric spun up the chant on his laptop and guided us into singing.
I’m not a very good singer. I love to sing, but after a childhood choir experience in which I was assigned to sing soprano when I’m probably an alto and therefore screeched like a car stuck between gears, I gave it up as something I can’t do. If you’d asked me if I wanted to sing along with sixteen other people while sitting on the maple Pergo flooring of a carpet shop, I would have said no.
Fortunately, Eric didn’t ask.
The experience was much the same as the service last Sunday. Eric explained the words to us, then started the track. The deeper voices came in first, then the middle part, then the highest voices. While we sang the chant I noticed a few things. The first was that I found it difficult to hold my chosen line, the middle line. I heard others singing the higher parts to my right, or the lower parts to my left, and my voice would slide up to match the highest part, or down to match the lower part, rather than sticking to my few notes. But when I did, I held space in the chant for other voices to contrast and stand out.
Holding that space was also very affirming. It’s like being true to ourselves, not easy to do when we naturally want to sync with the herd, but with each repetition I grew more and more confident that yes, this was my line, and I could sing each of the notes, and it was good.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if I can sing, what matters is whether or not I will sing.
In this respect, the taize chant is very similar to prayer. I started a regular prayer practice after the first prayer retreat with Bruce Van Blair. Even after nearly three years of practice, I still don’t want to sit down and pray every day. I still find myself shifting to other voices, other lines, rather than holding my own. But I do sit down (most days). I do try to listen and hold to my line. When I do, I find that I am singing in a chorus of voices stretching to both ends of time, and I have been singing my part all along.