Because She is Love, I am One Voice

In the Office of Readings today we learn how Thérèse of Lisieux came to understand her vocation: She realized that she was too insignificant to be an apostle, prophet, teacher, or martyr. Instead, she realized, “My call is love.” This leads to a question: In the great body of the Church, what, Lord, am I?

It’s a matter of “knowing one’s place,” isn’t it? As a recent convert, I realize sometimes that (a) my place is near the back of the line, but also that (b) people will see or hear me precisely because I’m a convert at the back of the line. We know this: converts can be very inspiring to cradle Catholics.

But while I’m standing here in line, what, Lord, should I be doing? Giving speeches? Handing out food? Caring for the sick? If I know myself and my talents, such as they are, I’m pretty sure I know what I should be doing. I should be singing.

I have always loved to sing, and when fellow parishioner Nancy Patch invited me to join the choir this summer at St. Mary Star of the Sea, I jumped at the chance. I can read music, sort of, not the way Fred, our choirmaster, can read, not even the way a good sight singer can read. But I can find my way around a clef, with or without accidentals.

I used to stand beside my father and mother in the Episcopal Church, where the hymns were always written out in four parts (I wish our Catholic hymnal had parts), and I would muddle my way through the tenor line until about age fourteen, then after that the bass line. And I loved hearing how my voice, when on pitch, blended with the melody.

This is what I love about singing in the St. Mary’s choir. Not being a soloist, heaven forbid, my voice just isn’t sweet enough, but blending, riding the wave of the basses behind me, and adding just a bit of water, or maybe sometimes oil, to the wave. The few times I’ve sung with the choir so far have been joyous times, adding my voice to the heavenly chorus (the choir loft is very high), and feeling the church fill with our harmonies. Of course, having a choirmaster like Fred makes a big difference.

Today, on the feast of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, this seems to me a good way of looking at this blog—another place, a tiny niche, within the great body of the Church, where I can make my small contribution. There are many kinds of bloggers, I already know this, after just six weeks. In the Catholic blogosphere, there are great prophets and prophetesses, like Elizabeth over at The Anchoress, and there are teachers, like Greg at The Deacon’s Bench and Rocco at Whispers in the Loggia. There are some wonderful Catholic-mother blogs, like Blessed Among Men and Minnesota Mom. None of these “parts” suits me.

I’m happy being down at the lower end of the register, riding the wave of basses stronger than I am. Let my sound be only harmonious, Lord. Let it help fill out the heavenly harmony, filling your Church with hymns of praise.

Now, off to North Carolina, to see my daughter!

  • cathyf

    I, too, am a choir voice. Not a soloist– I sing alto. The place I am now is not so good musically, and it's caused me to reflect on how important singing is to my own spiritual life.One thing that is of obvious quite practical import — you can't sing parts by yourself. (Ok, there was the late Easley Blackwood, a music professor at the University of Chicago, who could simultaneously whistle and hum in counterpoint. But a) that's still only two parts, and b) you couldn't hear this without giggling uncontrollably. So obviously not a substitute for 4-part harmony!) Which means that if you need a whole choir to pray well, then you need to handle all of the necessary social skills of being a member of a group. You have to show up for practice and work hard. You have to sing stuff that you might not necessarily like very much. You have to follow directions. (Every musical group that I have sung in has been a totalitarian regime — that's the only organizational model that works.) You have to listen to each other.Lots of other forms of prayer you can do by yourself, on your own terms, your own schedule, your own likes and dislikes. But singing in a choir requires you to step outside of yourself, and do things you might not have come up with yourself, and generally give up control and place yourself at the service of — and the mercy of — others.

  • EPG

    I also wish Catholic hymnals had parts. I grew up in the Episcopal church, and loved the music, just loved it (probably to the point of idolatry). I have sung in several choirs (in Episcopal parishes) as an adult, and know that well chosen music can enhance participation in the Eucharist to an extraordinary extent. For all the reasons cathyf (above) notes, I know the value of choral singing as a form of prayer.Now, as a non-Catholic drawn towards Catholicism, I wonder why so many parishes in this country (or at least in my area)settle for . . . well, settle for what they settle for. As far as I can tell, there are no parishes in my county that take the approach that St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish appears to take.

  • Anonymous

    singing is indeed a joyous form of prayer, it lifts your spirit and gives glory to the Lord. Keep up your wonderful blog, I look for it every day.

  • cathyf

    Well, EPG, there are a lot of Catholics who are indifferent to music in the liturgy, and some who are downright irritated by it. Which is one more part of being a choir member — you have to not wear out your welcome…

  • EPG

    Now that, cathyf, does make me smile. Because, as you probably know, the temptation for music directors (and the choir members as well) is to think of the music coming first, and to forget that the music should serve the liturgy, not the other way around. And I smile because it is a temptation to which I have succumbed, and to which I have seen many others succumb. As an antidote, I became fond of the Episcopal practice of having a Eucharist early on Sunday morning (generally at 8:00) with no music whatsoever. I couldn’t do that all the time, but it was refreshing. I viewed it as analogous to eating lean after a period of feasting.I have not found any Catholic parishes in my area that have that as an option, however.