Communion

In the red hymnal, angled sideways on the stacking grey chair,
There were crumbs from last week’s communion.
I look at them.
I think they are the leftovers that filled twelve disciple’s baskets,
Wandered down from Galilee to this small Washington town.
This is the heavenmade bread that will last forever,
Handed down in the hymnal from the greying to the young,
And when we open to page 204,
There is the life-bread of our fathers,
Brown and crusty.
I plant another crumb-crop.

Breathing in the Graveyard

I took the time to stop tonight,
And walk in a nearby graveyard.
Whose ground this is I know,
But He does not mind my seeing it before
My time.
I came quietly as I could, though only the muse
Had arrested me.
I asked their pardon for the intrusion,
But said I meant no disrespect:
I came as a student, to learn how to be dead.
They were much better at it than I.
One vacant space was there.
I took my cap off, crossed my hands on my chest,
An amateur at dying.
Eyes closed,
World spins round my grave,
Myself temporarily withdrawn,
Touching this world the least I could.
Something told me not to sleep there,
Not to parody the masters of rest,
A gift they achieved before me.
My time is not yet come.
I left, again silent,
Like a child who does not understand many things.
And now to sleep.

Before the Threshold

One day I will find myself standing before that unmortal arch,
That stretches to encompass earth’s mighty bourn,
And all those born will surely pass its bound.
Beyond, who knows?
A door may yield both ways,
And outside the mere entrance to a grander in.
The crowd that sways in agonized expectation floods through,
The throng sighing in whispers of all land’s tongues,
And yet each man walks through coldly alone.
Yet not unlit: for gleaming in the crowd stand tall angels of humanity
Casting light not theirs, for the blind to see.
Their steps are clustered round with those that fear the dark.
Black veils and empty arches hold no fear for these,
Beyond them lies the home they always sought.
I, too, am prodigal from that land:
Be patient yet one minute, oh Father:
My feeble light forbids but feeble steps.
I give my last breath to the world’s restless wind,
Unweighed by sorrow’s cursed gravity.
Home on the horizon, heart raised like a victorious banner
Soon to set foot upon the firm, strong soil
Of that good land.

Commusic – Music with Other Folks: Quantity, Quality, and Questions

Recently I noticed something that I’ve taken for granted almost my entire life, along with most of my generation. The biggest things, the ones we assume as part of our existence, are the ones that become invisible, and music is no exception. Music, as it is today, exists in a new and different format from the way it has throughout most of history.

Music is in the hands of the masses. Without the necessity of an orchestra, or singers, or any sort of equipment besides an i-Pod, we can listen to music whenever we want. Think about it. Before music became portable, first in the shape of radio, then records, tapes, CDs, and mp3, we would have to gather at some spot with other music lovers of the same kind, and attend a performance or make the music ourselves. Either way, music was a community event. Now, it is entirely common to see coffee shops bursting at the seams with hipsters and their earphones, all on their own, listening to some new band nobody’s heard of.

***

Everyone’s on a private tap in this brown room, and buds are burrowed into their ears. It’s like drinking alone at a bar of many people. I feel the urge to splash my beverage over the crowd, really shock them with a good cold splash of Irish drinking songs, maybe start a jig on the big table. But everyone is drinking their music alone, silently noisy with themselves. I take a sip. Soon I too am staring at greasy counter on my faded oak-and-brass stool, watching the wood swim through the brown wash at the bottom of a glass of soundtracks. I am drunk with my story of one. It’s lonely in this fable. Maybe I’m just selfish. Maybe we all are. All I know is that we are alone together.

***

Part of the problem is scarcity. The more rare something is, the more people value it. When music was available only on special occasions, only rich people could afford it. But now that music is in everyone’s hands, we take it for granted, like water. It’s everywhere. It’s assumed. But if you take it away….

Now, a thought experiment.

Suppose you had a rock face on a cliff, and a chisel. You have your whole life to write something there. What are you going to write? Well, you can be darn sure it’ll be the most important, profound thing you’ve ever thought of. After all, it’ll be your life’s work.

The rarer something is, the more we pay attention to it. If we could hear music once a week, we wouldn’t waste that time listening to Friday by Rebecca Black. We would want something important, something meaningful. So here’s a question. Does the quantity of music available to us affect the quality of music we listen to?

This is why the old question “If you were on a desert island, which 5 ___ would you take?” is so effective. It limits the availability of something, and then asks us to really assess what we value most of all.

And there are more. When exactly did music in community get trashed? Is it a product of individualism? Did new, portable technology shape our music? Did lower-quality music make it less worth-while to sing with other people? I don’t have all the answers. But I do have some questions that it may be worthwhile to ponder.

Do you have music you could sing with someone?

Would you feel comfortable singing with other people?

If not, why?

Is all music lessened when you listen to it on your own?

If not all, which kinds?

Do you value music less because it’s so easy to access?

 

(If you’re a Christian as I am, a few more questions.)

Does singing with your church congregation have more meaning than other music, because you’re singing in community?

If you don’t think so, why doesn’t singing in community feel any different? Are you missing something?

What do the Psalms have to say about singing together?

What would Christ have to say about singing together?

 

If these questions interest you, or you want to discuss these issues, feel free to leave a comment, and we can talk.