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Singing is Beyond Words

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Jim and I have been married for 33 years. His sister was a high school friend, and Jim was in my sister’s class, so we have known each other for a long time. I have been an English teacher since 1982, so technically yes, I am licensed to correct your grammar. Jim is currently a contractor and handyman. We have 3 adult (more or less) children.

I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. There was a time when everyone I knew was Roman Catholic, and of course, all the relatives were, too. Jim was raised in the ELCA Lutheran church. When we got engaged, there was much talk among my parents and sisters about my proposed mixed marriage. We shared core beliefs, so I didn’t care what faith he was raised in. It was also sort of satisfying to be able to rebel just this little bit.

When we were close to having our first child, we talked about attending church together. Having a child raises all those questions about baptism, and community, and what sort of person you want this child to become. Because I was teaching in a Catholic school, and attended church in that community, Jim converted to Catholicism because he wanted everyone to be able to ‘sit in the same lifeboat.’

Although Catholicism seems grim from the outside, I can say it rested relatively lightly on my shoulders. In the house I grew up in, it was a straight-forward, practical thing. You’d pray to a saint, and if they didn’t deliver, you’d turn the statue’s face to the wall. Yes. We did this. I cannot say that this is exactly what the church intended in its encouragement of prayer. I grew up fairly unaffected by my brush with organized religion.

My faith at that time was a small, pale thing. Then I started singing in the choir. I clearly remember singing at an advent service, standing where I could see the advent wreath. This particular church, during this particular season, had the wreath arranged above the candles, suspended from the ceiling. As the smoke from the candles rose, it wafted through the wreath. At the same time, there was a reading from the Old Testament that included “the smoke from the burnt offering rose to heaven.” And I got it. I saw the smoke rising. I understood the deep metaphor of the rising smoke as a sign of an offering pleasing to God. I began to look for other metaphors, other understandings of the rituals of service, and I began to have a deep appreciation of church services.

Then we moved to Buffalo. We struggled to find a new community of friends, and people to worship with. A natural connection was with parents of our children’s friends. And school band. It is hard not to bond with a another band parent when you are standing together in the rain, trying to tape a tuba back together. Many of the parents we enjoyed were members of Zion.

Then the children went off to college and we stopped going to church. I would have told you we didn’t miss it. And then one day, we went to services at Zion. It was like coming home. People greeted us warmly, were happy to see us, and welcomed us in. We got back to the car (just) before we both cried a little. Jim said, “What are we doing? Let’s just go here.” A sensible man.

Understand that this hasn’t been that easy on all fronts (I have a sister saying prayers for my soul). But in our time at Zion, both Jim and I have been able to take part in many different activities that support the larger Buffalo community, giving us the opportunity to really practice what it means to live like Christ.

Besides outreach programs, I have had the chance to be involved in the music ministry. Singing is so kinesthetic — I need to read the music, sing the words (correctly!), and because I am doing those two things, I move to the music, too. I am completely absorbed. I sing things in songs that I could never say to a person, and struggle to say in prayer. There are phrases in some songs that I can’t sing without crying. Singing is beyond words. It is an ancient human practice to express those things deeply felt. It is elemental. It isn’t performance, it’s prayer and praise.

I think there are folks who would like to join the music ministry, but feel they aren’t good enough, and I’d like to encourage them to join us. We would not let you fail.

Wherever we can help out, or do our part, Jim and I have tried to step up. Pies are my ‘thing’ so I donate a ‘pie of the month club’ that is auctioned at the silent auction on SERVE weekend. Maybe you had a great slice of pie at the Marysville ice cream social? Maybe it was from one of mine!

Serving the community is really why we are here. In the end, all we have is each other. We must do all we can to support, nurture, and love each other in all ways.

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