when in doubt, sing

I met with my spiritual director, Linda, last week for the first time since she retired in December. It was good to have the opportunity to (virtually) sit together again. We have been meeting via Facetime since my company closed the campus that housed my cubicle and I’ve been working from home. It was a different experience seeing her in the surroundings of her home rather than the parish, and even stranger seeing her without her clerical collar. But it was wonderful to meet again.

I talked about the loss of Pete Seeger, and the fact that I blogged about San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik’s tribute to him.Garchik wrote about his marvelous ability to get his audiences singing, and how people would feel “a little more optimistic about life’s possibilities” after hearing him sing. I certainly do.

Cynthia Bourgeault

Cynthia Bourgeault

One song that Seeger was well known for teaching audiences was “Somos El Barco.” There’s a video of that on my Garchik blog. I told Linda about that song and sang a few bars. I then said that I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, a perception I’ve long had about myself. She said, “You just were carrying a tune.” She told me about seeing Cynthia Bourgeault at a clergy conference, who told her audience that we can all sing, that singing is a different way of knowing, and that we shouldn’t let others tell us that we can’t sing.

She also pointed to the bookshelf behind her, where she told me was a copy of the book by myWheninDoubtSing friend Jane Redmont called When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life, a title I introduced Linda to shortly after we began meeting. The book suggests a wide variety of ways in which one might pray. If you have questions about your own prayer life, take a look. At more than 400 pages there is almost certainly to be a method of prayer there that works for you. The title comes from a chapter near the end of the book that discusses music as prayer.

Linda mentioned the phrase attributed to Augustine, “When we sing, we pray twice,” which is also an epigraph to that chapter in Jane’s book. Based on that session, I feel a little better about singing in private. Still, there are some deeply ingrained inhibitions there. They go back to sixth grade at Hemet Elementary when we had a roving music teacher. She came to our class perhaps every two weeks. She would walk over to me, lean over my shoulder, and not like what she heard. I was never able to make adjustments to satisfy her.

Indeed, my cat Clea of blessed memory never liked my singing. When Terry and I would sing she would glare at us with a very clear message of, “No singing.” Think of Shrek in the original movie saying to the Eddie Murphy donkey character, “Don’t sing!” Even Tasha gave me an annoyed look the other day when I was singing a couple of lines.

This is, nonetheless, perhaps a small start to a new relationship with singing.

remembering Pete Seeger

PeteSeegerAfter Pete Seeger’s death I paid tribute in Sacred Music Friday, but I didn’t write anything. Certainly I admire Pete greatly, but I couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t sound trivial and a repetition of what everyone else was writing. Then Terry pointed out Leah Garchik’s tribute in last Friday’s San Francisco Chronicle, itself somewhat belated because she was in Europe at the time of his death. I never had the privilege of seeing Pete in person, but Garchik did. She writes about seeing Seeger at summer music camp when she was thirteen.

quoteWhen we responded to his irresistible invitation to join in and sing, our individual voices were swallowed up in the full sound of the chorus he’d created. The thrill was not only in the sound, but it was as though the sound was a metaphor for the whole Seeger ethos, his social and political idealism; yes, we can all do this together.

She concludes the tribute by telling us:

quoteYears later, as adults trying to pass along some of his magic, we took our kids to hear him at Stern Grove. Not much had changed. Fans listened to Seeger, loved him and walked away from his performances a little more optimistic about life’s possibilities.

That’s it. I walk away from hearing Pete sing a little more optimistic about life’s possibilities.

Thank you, Leah.

And thank you, Pete, for all you gave us. We miss you.