There are certain things I know to be true. One is that singing creates community, that experience of varied people coming together for any number of reasons,trying, hoping to become something greater than their individual selves. One need not have a trained voice or even a ‘good’ voice. One need only have the desire and willingness to join in, to give that voice over to the greater good. When all the planets align in this kind of experience, many things happen. Music. Connection. Beauty. Laughter. A reminder of the ways we all depend on one another. Compassion. Healing.
Last night I was privileged to be part of such an experience. I am on retreat at Koinonia Retreat Center, a retreat we have called Art & Spirit. Both showed up in the waning hours of a summer’s day, as people of all ages and abilities came together to sing. No written music was visible. Most around the circle could not have read it even if it had been present. Instead, we joined our voices in the oral tradition known by humans for thousands of years. Following a call and response learning, we layered voice upon voice until the magic became visible and audible to us. Faces of those who never would have called themselves singers glowed with what they were producing out of their own mouths, their own souls. And the collective sound filled the room and the woods outside the windows with a sweetness that could only be named holy.
It has been my life-long experience to have been surrounded by the gift of singing. Growing up in a small community settled by the people of Wales, singing was a requirement, it was as common as breakfast in the morning and lunch when the sun was at high noon. We sang in elementary school, in church, in the car as we went for Sunday drives. The expectation was that all people were born singers. I continue to hold to this idea to this day. Song, and our voice’s ability to produce it is, I believe, a given. Most of the time we simply need to be reminded or invited. In joining our voice with another’s, miracles happen.
And yesterday I was in need of an experience of something that reminded me of this goodness that happens when people join their voices in creating beauty. I needed it because the early part of the day was filled with the experience of another thing that brings people together:tragedy. On my way home from church, at noon, my car filled with the boxes of books, papers and resources I would need for this retreat, I was suddenly surrounded by the sounds of sirens. Making my way along the familiar streets I travel every day, I was forced to pull over by the sight and sound of a parade of police cars all traveling at top speed, lights flashing, sirens blasting. It was unnerving to see so many marked and unmarked cars speeding by headed toward the neighborhood I call home. And yet, that was what was happening. They just kept coming and so I pulled off onto a side street making my way home while still seeing, even on the side streets, police cars everywhere, looking intensely at each intersection.
When I got home I turned on the television only to be confronted with the tragedy of the police officer who had been shot just blocks from our house, at an intersection that I travel several times a day. How could this happen in our quiet, unassuming little neighborhood? I asked the question so many have asked before. As the day played out, my husband and I listened to the news all the way to the retreat, our hearts heavy with the news of the officer’s death, knowing the incredible loss this was to those with whom he served, the community, his family. An ordinary day had turned into something that would change lives forever. Like everyone we wondered about the person responsible, what drove their life, how choices could have been made that led to such an act. Our hearts grew heavier by the minute and I couldn’t help but think of all those in other neighborhoods for whom this kind of event has become commonplace. And that thought was heart-breaking.
Last night as I stepped with music into my privileged life, I held the families of the slain officer and the one who had done such damage and all those who know acts of tragedy around the world. In a world that can often leave us feeling helpless, I once again knew the power of singing and how it can lift even the most heavy of hearts toward something of heaven. I sang for all those who grieve, all those who suffer, all those on the margins and those in despair. Joining my one voice with a host of others, I felt the power of community and knew I was not alone. My prayer is that this grieving family who started their ordinary day just as we all did only to have it turn very wrong, can be surrounded by the sure and certain knowledge that they are held by an invisible choir made up of people they will never meet but whose music sends healing comfort their way.