Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How Can I Keep from Singing?

I rarely watch live news anymore at home and I particularly avoid listening to it as I drive. Most of my news these days comes from internet news sources like Google News from which I have the ability to skim headlines and choose which stories I actually want to spend the time and psychic energy engaging. 

I find that in the instances where I absolutely have to drive (I actually take the bus to teach at Valencia most days), I often arrive at my destination frazzled. Between distracted drivers barreling down the interstates in semi-trucks and texting drivers barreling through intersections on red lights, construction which seems to be ubiquitous and unending and unexpected traffic snarls that add unplanned for drive time without warning, driving has become a real endurance test on a good day. 

Adding an unrelenting torrent of negativity and mean-spiritedness that the news has devolved into these days to an already stressful situation makes little sense to me and often proves to be more than I can take. 

While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness 'round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.

While I value silence above all else, I have also begun to listen to a handful of CDs that range from meditative jazz to monastic chanting. They tend to soothe my soul. Among the CDs are a couple of albums by Irish singer Enya.

When tyrants tremble in their fear
And hear their death knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?

Choral Offerings at a Deeply Sacred Site

One of her songs takes me back to the summer of 1985 during which I spent two weeks in England. The choir from the Cathedral of St. Luke here in Orlando did a tour of English cathedrals singing evensong and some of the main services there.

One highlight of that trip was a visit to Westminster Abbey. Standing around the Tomb of the Unknown American Soldier, our choir sang a 19th CE American hymn a Capello, “How Can I Keep from Singing?”

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;

It was a weekday at the Abbey with its common rush of tourists. The cassette recording made that day by the priest who accompanied our choir initially reflects a lot of background noise of passing sight seers that slowly abated as our singing went on. By the end of the hymn, it was so silent that you could hear the last notes of our song echoing from the stone ceiling far above our heads.

And then an explosion of applause.
Thro' all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

It takes my breath away to remember that magical moment. And when I hear the angelic voice of Enya singing this hymn, it takes me back to that moment all over again. I feel the joy of honoring unnamed fellow Americans, brave soldiers who died serving not only my own country but many others as well. I feel the awe of singing in a majestic place of worship over many centuries in which the holy permeated the very stone, wood and glass around me. And I feel the peace of leaving that offering to G_d and humanity in that very holy place.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

This day I am grateful for the many privileges I have  been fortunate enough to enjoy. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to sing in cathedrals all over England and to attend services in sacred places around the world. I am grateful to have found a way to at least temporarily escape the angry, dehumanizing noise of American politics of our times to hold onto what sanity I have left.

Finally, I am deeply grateful to Enya for her angelic voice who often sings to us in Gaelic. (Apparently the angels are Celts- who knew?) Her words and melodies echo in my soul and soothe my aching heart. And, yes, most often I find that I cannot keep myself from singing.

Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)

© Harry Coverston 2017


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