Introduction by Theresa F. Latini, Executive Director of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center
Yesterday I read an article titled, “Sing into the Funnel Please,” with a picture of a research physician doing just that. The article laments the loss of choral singing in Britain, citing instances in which the coronavirus spread widely as a result of indoor communal singing. The article also witnesses to the determination and creativity of the human spirit given how much singing together increases joy, bridges divides, and cultivates community. Consequently, singing doctors are trying to figure out a way for us to sing safely with one another again. It’s quite beautiful.
I remember my first worship service at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church at the start of the church year. The youth choirs were slated to sing. I was sitting on the end of a pew watching the processional and feeling moved as gangly teenagers, clad in colorful robes, walked up the aisle one after another. They just kept coming and coming and coming. I choked back tears as I wondered with delightful surprise: “How many kids sing in this place?!” The answer: a lot. It wasn’t long before my six-year-old daughter and four-year-old niece joined two different choirs and marched up the aisle, too. More tears then.
It’s one of the magnificent gifts of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church: a stellar music program . . . led by exceptional staff . . . highlighting eight distinct choirs made up of 800 choristers. That includes four children’s choirs, two youth choirs, and two adult choirs at two campuses.
In recent months, I’ve heard the sadness of my colleagues at Mount Olivet and my singing friends—those in church and other places—who are unable to express themselves in song alongside others in the midst of our pandemic. As resilient as these folks are, they feel constrained, dismayed, and diminished at times. And so, to honor their gifts to us—in the past and in the future—I am sharing a lament from a fellow chorister in this post. May we all join in his faithful song and conspiracy of praise.
A Chorister’s Lament
Early each morning, as sun still slumbers,
A barefoot monk sits solemnly on earthen floor,
legs entwined beneath saffron and maroon,
and chants his prayers:
May I be a guard for those who need protection
a guide for those on the path
a boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood.
O Divine One, you heard and granted the petitions of this ancient sage.
In your providence, he did become a boat, a raft, a bridge.
Centuries later, a brown-robed monk
begged that he might be an instrument of your peace.
An instrument plays and sings,
shares melody and rhythm, delightful and sad,
bending discord into harmony…
Once again, you heard and granted this humble monk’s petitions,
and in your mercy, you made it so.
Emboldened by these saints,
how I long to be your instrument, O God,
to play for you on glad tambourines
and let your trumpet sound…
How I yearn to be a boat, a raft, a bridge
for weary wanderers seeking safe harbor.
But all day every day, voices warn me I’m a vector,
akin to tick and mosquito,
transmitting deadly disease,
paving the road to hell
despite good intentions.
Well, if I’m to be a vector, O Holy One,
make me an agent of your loving care,
an extravagant host,
infecting with laughter, not despair.
If I’m to be a vector, Creator God,
breathe into me life-giving Spirit,
fill my soul with faithful song, my lips with honest words,
that in your good time, my voice might join with others once again,
rehearsing the stanzas,
repeating the refrain,
becoming boat and bridge and instrument proclaiming your glory:
a conspiracy of praise!
~ Don C. Richter, Eastertide 2020 ~
Inspiration for this lament comes from “Prayer of Shantideva” (8th Century C.E.) and “Saint Francis Prayer” (13th Century C.E.) both of which can be found on our Poems page.
Don C. Richter is Associate Director of the Louisville Institute and an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He previously taught Christian Education in two seminaries and has written and edited books on Christian discipleship and spiritual formation.