Thursday, March 6, 2014

Chanting brings community

[This article was originally printed in the San Diego Diocesan Messenger this year. I made some edits]

Chanting brings community. Yet it might seem dull to some people. After all, it’s saying a lot of words on one note, right? Well, technically, yes, but chanting unearths a simple beauty, an extra dimension to prayer.

I came to chanting through the monastics. Sure, I knew about Anglican chant but I’d never been part of a congregation that did it in such a way that we all knew what note we were supposed to be singing. Either because it was too complicated, or none of us had really been properly taught.

The first time I participated monastic chanting of the psalms, I got completely lost, so it’s not like I was initially excited by the idea of chanting. But then I rediscovered it during a retreat to Mt. Calvary monastery in Santa Barbara (which, coincidentally was the first place that I'd participated - but at their old location in the hills behind Santa Barbara).

The new book was easier to follow. The chants morning, evening and night created sacred boundaries and balance. Suddenly, I was hooked. Who doesn’t want more balance in life?

It was like I heard the psalms in a whole new way. I would find myself humming throughout the day, a little phrase from one of the psalms, that met me in the space of my daily life. Kind of like a spiritual earworm. But in a good way.

Helena and I don't chant in our robes :)
I also discovered that chanting brought community. It sneaks up on you. Not in the obvious way, which led to me becoming an Associate of the Order of Holy Cross, which is the order of monks at Mt. Calvary, but in the way chanting is sung together. Yes, one voice leads and the other echoes but it’s more complicated than that. Chanting can sound like the angels if all the persons are in harmony together -- not musically, but in relationship. 

Monastics have this unique community of living together and praying together and it becomes all one. A disruption in the house brings disruption into the chanting. What flowed seamlessly is now ragged, off-key. A monastic house finding healing and the music stops dragging, and even if the voices aren’t perfect, the chanting is beautiful, reverent, holy. 

This effect doesn’t only occur in monasteries.

We echo this in worshiping in our churches. Often the hymn singing sounds like mush, because how connected are we to each other really these days? But then I have experienced moments when the Holy Spirit enters in, usually during a well-beloved hymn, and my skin tingles and comes alive.

Chanting might seem stodgy, but give it a try: you might find balance, calming meditation and community.

I usually chant at St. Paul's Cathedral (San Diego) on the third Saturday of the month, with Helena (pictured above) and Verdery but due to varying schedules, on March 15 we are chanting at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church as part of the kick-off to a Quiet Day (well, morning-ish, technically).



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