I attended the ordination of our new priest, the wholly wonderful Teri Daily, this morning at our church. The handbell choir played the prelude and postlude. I acquitted myself well with my G4, A-flat4, and A4 -- I even managed to play or pluck a couple of notes in the Vivaldi that I'd never been able to get to before.
But that was the prelude. By the time communion was over, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to see the music for the postlude through my tears. Someone put just about every hymn and anthem that makes me cry on the program. "Here I Am, Lord" was the offertory. "One Bread, One Body" and "And I Will Raise Them Up" were the communion hymns. I was a puddle by the recessional.
One reason these songs affect me is that they are aspirational -- they soar. That kind of music usually hits me in an emotional spot; I was always unusually susceptible to the praise music that was just becoming ubiquitous during my time in church youth groups.
But there are particular lines that stop me in my tracks, too. "Here I am, Lord," says the first song -- immediately followed by: "Is it I, Lord?" Maybe the lyricist didn't intend it, but that moment of questioning, querying, wondering -- perhaps even doubt -- suddenly makes the song applicable to me in a way that it never would have been as a song of triumph or submission, either one.
"They who believe in me, even if they die, they shall live forever," asserts another of these songs, paraphrasing the Gospel of John. Now this may or may not come as a shock to family members, students, or old friends reading this blog, but I don't believe in subjective life after death. Yet the mystical hope in these words attributed to Jesus, the paradoxical reversal of expectations, affects me all the same. I'm struck dumb by the audacity of the assertion, the mystery that is simply stated. In what sense to live? In what sense to die? In what sense to believe? It's not a moment of doctrine, but a moment of credo. I can only bow in respect to that human capacity for hope and for the community that nurtures it.
I once heard a famous scholar of religion respond to a mention of the Holy Spirit by saying, "I may not believe in God or Jesus, but I do believe in the Spirit." I know what he meant, although I certainly experience faith differently. When I repeat the Nicene Creed each Sunday morning, I always feel the tug of hope and raise my voice to join the chorus during the third section: "We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come." I may not know anymore what some of the rest of it means, or how to translate it into twenty-first century concepts that I can carry in my head and actualize in my behavior. But I know that I believe in the life of the world to come -- the one that's waiting just on the other side of the present moment, where whatever I become here and now will be resurrected and given as a gift to that vast and unknown future.