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forgive us our trespasses

May 10, 2010

I was standing in church yesterday, fuming and frustrated. We were singing Britten’s “Jubilate Deo,” which happens to be a lovely, lively piece, but also one that, like most of the music at church this year, is new to me. We rehearsed Saturday morning, and we were just putting it together with the organ before mass yesterday.

MTA was not on my side. If I leave at 8 a.m., I get to church in 45 minutes. If I leave at 8:15, I get to church in 65-70 minutes. It makes no sense, but I must have waited for the crosstown bus for at least 20 minutes, which made me late. I hate being late to rehearsal. I should have taken a cab or walked. But by the time I had waited 15 minutes, it was the principle. I wasn’t going to spend more money to get where I needed to be, nor was I going to exert myself, walking a brisk 20 minutes and arriving all sweaty. I ended up running the three blocks from the bus stop to the church anyway.

Midway through rehearsal, I realized that there were two distinct phrase endings. I had not noticed a difference until then. It is upsetting when you realize you’ve trained your brain and voice to sing something incorrectly, especially knowing you have to perform it for real in a matter for minutes. I said “fricking” and I was shushed. The head usher was listening. Harvey is extremely sensitive to whoever might be listening. Anything could set these people off, and we want to play nice when we can. Still. I said “fricking,” not the real curse word.

That is when I realized that I have a potty mouth that I have a very hard time controlling when angry. I couldn’t stop profanities from falling over my lips. At least the subsequent curses were also under my breath. In my defense, I saw it as in service to the music. I want to get it right. I want it to be beautiful. It wasn’t my intent to offend anyone.

As we proceeded on to the actual masses, I collected myself and tried to get into a space where I could enjoy what I was doing. That is when I realized that one of the reasons I got so upset is that church music is important to me because it is how I pray. It’s the only way I know how to talk to God. Even typing that, “talking to God,” feels weird to me. I don’t pray on my knees. I don’t meditate in the pews. When I say the spoken prayers, they usually feel rote. They are comforting in the familiarity, but I don’t feel as though I’m talking to God through them. They feel more like man’s way of keeping us in line with the church. But music goes beyond all that and feels really special. It’s the closest manmade thing to God that I can imagine.

We got to the “Our Father,” and I couldn’t help stumbling over the “as we forgive our trespassers” line. It’s sort of tossed in right after “forgive us our trespasses,” and I don’t usually think about what that actually means. But given that I was feeling like both a trespasser and one trespassed upon, it hit a nerve. That forgiveness part is hard. I’m not good at it. Do we still get forgiveness if we don’t also give it?

This job has been a learning experience. It has been really stressful at times, but it has also brought me back in touch with the Church in the only I feel good about being involved at this point in my life and my “faith journey.” Among all the insanity, there have been moments of beautiful music, and thus, meaningful prayer.

At the last mass yesterday evening, I sang Harvey’s “Ave Maria,” with which I have been struggling all year. There are a few leaps that for some reason I could never hear correctly in performance. I would do OK with piano accompaniment in rehearsal, but then freeze and doubt myself later with the organ. Yesterday, I nailed it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Julia permalink
    May 11, 2010 1:28 pm

    Faith. Belief. Prayer. I’ve been having such a skeptic’s life recently. About my past church life, my “new age” explorations, my present church participation. Nada, nada, nada. But I can open myself to music. I stood in the little West Chester Methodist church on Sunday right next to my brother Mark who has a great baritone voice. And Liz was singing soprano. I switched into the alto and loved hearing the three parts together. And the old, old, hymns. And right then I caught the ‘peace’ that the scripture lesson had talked about. Right now that peace seems so accidental, a matter of grace, not a matter of my virtuous intentions–though living a virtuous life is now so habitual after all my years of guilty self improvement. I can’t deserve such grace, I can’t manufacture such grace, I can only catch it like a bubble, holding my breath, not to break it, not to send it away.

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