An Inch, A Prayer, a Song

Last night we caught a bit of V for Vendetta, the bit where she’s in the prison which is not a prison, and her head is shaved and she is tortured. The bit where she finds a love note left from a woman named Valerie. I went to find Casey and I was a little teary and he said, are you ok? I said, I am. But I just remember how angry I was the first time I saw that movie, to know that none of what she’d experienced had been real, that it had been a test. And there was Valerie’s note, that even though I do not know you, I love you.

Which pretty much sums it up.

At class today we checked in, and we all said, briefly, how our week was.

One said it was a peaceful week, that finally there was this place of, just, acceptance. And we talked about prayer, about the different kinds of prayer (adoration, oblation, intercession, supplication, thanksgiving… and I can’t remember the other ones and the car is a long way away out in the garage with my book in it so that will have to give you a general idea), about different ways of praying.

We talked about how we pray, these are the kinds of hard questions we answer for each other, the kinds of deeply private things we share with each other. I said that for me to sing is to pray, that I don’t really ever sit down and just pray, but I do sing, constantly.

We talked about how if prayer is not changing you, then you’re doing it wrong. And I thought about my heart cracking wide open, it was at a Maundy Thursday service, and some very dear friends of mine came forward, and she washed his feet, and then he washed hers. And it brought me to unexpected tears, the realization that I loved these people; all the people. Anyone who says that love is easy isn’t doing it right, because it isn’t.

Casey knew that he was basically entering an on-going musical, I’ve always sung for him and around him and to him and at him and over him, but I told him only recently because I discovered only recently, that when I am singing I am not thinking. I am not not ruminating on how I could have done or said something better, I am not thinking about what to have for lunch, it is something that demands all of my attention.

Its hard, to have people talk to you all the time, as part of your job, because I have these people who live with me and claim me as their mother, as their wife; because I attempt to be social. For me, having to talk and having to listen are things that can make me very tired. But I can’t engage in a conversation when I am singing. I can’t listen to you whine at me or ask me for something or about something. All entreaties and requests must wait until the song is over.

And so song is a place where I am alone. It is a place where I am centered, where I am thinking of nothing, not usually even what comes next unless it is a song I am learning.

When I’m sad or lonely I sing, see from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and blood flow mingled down. Did ‘ere such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown. I sing, in your deep floods drown all my faults and fears, nor let His eye see sin but through my tears. 

When I’m happy I sing, I am sixteen going on seventeen, I know that I’m naive, or then sings my soul, my savior God to thee, or  fair are the meadows, fairer the woodlands, robed in flowers of blooming spring… 

I feel like when I sing it is coming from a place that is apart from me somehow. I feel like when I sing I am closing the door, just for a moment, on a very loud party, entering a room where there is a roaring fire and a storm outside the leaded glass of the window and a comfortable place to sit for a moment. And I feel like when I sing, though I am not consciously seeking to commune, though I am not actively listening for a reply, though it looks like I am choosing one of the forms of prayer, I am leaving it for God to sort out. To garner from the melodies the desires of my heart. And I always feel better after.

So that must mean its working.

Today one of my friends got a little choked up, a little verklemp as we read evening prayer together. I don’t know why. Perhaps it has been a long week, perhaps my friend is missing someone, but I like to think that the words just hit my friend in the right place today,  a vulnerable spot in all the armor we wear. I like how words can do that. I like how the words of other people can say just what I’d been thinking, but in a way that I hadn’t considered something before.

I watched the Book Thief last night, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was not as dumbed down as I’d feared it would be. Casey asked me, was the book better? It was, the book was like very dark, strong coffee, very good wine, very dark chocolate, it was full of words to be savored, words you can feel running through you like a cold drink on a hot day.

The words in the songs have to mean something to me, evoke a memory, a face, a feeling. So today I sang Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, and I thought of just two faces, instead of those who’d stayed to listen and, unwittingly, to make me nervous. Today, for the postlude, John played the Old Rugged Cross, and I thought about how the light comes in the windows of the church my grandpa and grandma used to go to, I thought of hearing Uncle Auggie’s voice, sure and true, and the higher soprano of my grandma, sitting next to me in the pew. I thought about hearing my grandpa Cramer sing as he meandered through a garage sale, under his breath, just the slightest hint of a hymn that he’d carried home on his tongue from church that morning.

I thought about how my mom cries every time she takes communion, every time she prays. I never used to understand this, because I wasn’t listening to the words. I wasn’t listening, truly hearing, the words of the communion hymn, the whisper and murmur of penitent and grateful prayer.

I’ll keep singing, some things can’t change. Some things can’t be relearned, only seen through different eyes, in a different way. A way that rolls the syllables around and tastes them, bitter or sweet, but truly tastes them. To lose all of myself in song is to adore. It is to contemplate. It is to intercess and to supplicate. It is to give thanks.

And to my friend, who was a little teary today; sometimes the words hit me in a sore spot too. Sometimes, in the middle of a song, the harmony that I hear behind me, a moving alto line or a soaring tenor line, sometimes I have to just stop because I am overcome. I have to breathe, to look forward at nothing and collect myself.

I’m not sure how to end this rambling dissertation on song as prayer, as loving the wide world and letting that be your inch.

So I’ll tell you one small thing that I’m sure you’ve heard before:

Every inch of me shall perish. Every inch, but one. An inch. It is small and it is fragile and it is the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose or give it away. We must never let them take it from us… what I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that even though I do not know you, even though I may never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you, I love you. With all of my heart, I love you. 

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