Writing has been slow and difficult for me lately – like pouring thick, dried-up molasses from a three-year-old bottle you find in the back of the pantry. It takes forever to squeeze anything out, and when you finally do, it’s too gritty or too sweet or just no good.
In short, I’ve been stuck. I don’t know if it’s Mercury Retrograde (yes, I actually believe in that stuff), middle-age hormones (those, too), all the awful news on TV, or just a bad case of the midwinter blahs. It’s been cold, so I’m not getting outside much. My yard is brown and clumpy with Spanish Moss, my beloved birds aren’t coming around as much as I’d like, and I’m feeling nature-starved. The other day, a party of cardinals showed up briefly, careening around my yard like a bunch of giddy school kids, and I burst into tears. (Where’ve you been? You don’t call… you don’t write… )
So, anyway. I’ve been in that place we typically call a rut. There are good things behind me and good things to come, but it’s hard to see any of that from the bottom of a rut. Last night, however, I peered over the rut’s edge and even managed to climb out for a bit, so I thought I’d trying squeezing the ol’ molasses bottle one more time.
The truth is, I’m feeling better today – and even writing – thanks to my weekly session of choral therapy. As some of you know, I sing in a church choir. It’s a damn good church choir, as far as church choirs go, and a big reason why is that we have an excellent choir director. He works us hard and keeps upping the musical ante . . . even when we wish he wouldn’t. We are Presbyterians in a small southern town, you see, and some of us are set in our ways. Wary of change. Sticklers for “how it’s always been done.” You might even say we’re prone to ruts. Fortunately, we are not left to our own devices.
Last night, we started working on music for Lent, which begins in two weeks. I adore Lent – the mystery and majesty; the self-imposed discipline (seldom maintained, in my case, alas); the slow, dark build to the bright burst of Easter; the minor chords. Even though it comes around every year, every year it feels new. A new chance to dive deeper into God. A chance to get out of my rut. And you don’t have to be a Christian to embrace the spirit of the season, either. My inner pagan (the one who believes in Mercury Retrograde) revels in this late winter walk in the wilderness, this turning inward and burrowing down and waiting for seeds to sprout.
As I perused the stack of Lenten music in my folder last night, my spirits lifted. There was Mozart’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus,’ with its sublime harmonies, and a host of others I know and love. After working on next Sunday’s anthem for a while, we took up the Mozart and I felt my soul start to purr. (Seriously, that’s what it felt like. A soul purr.) Next we turned to “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” one of my favorite old stalwarts. Except . . . it wasn’t. What?! I opened my music and realized – much to my chagrin – that this was a different “Create in Me a Clean Heart.” A new “Create in Me a Clean Heart.” I grumbled . . . silently. I shot my choir director a dirty look, and he laughed. He knows me too well.
So here’s what happened. This new “Create in Me a Clean Heart” was hard. It didn’t make sense. Rhythmically, melodically . . . just chaos and confusion. I missed the old “Create in Me a Clean Heart.” I felt gypped. We worked our parts, drilling and drilling, and for 15 minutes or so, it sounded like nothing. (Nothing good, anyway.) But our director kept pushing us, and we kept working, and suddenly – it always happens like this – suddenly the nothing was something and we were making music. And it was beautiful. Even more beautiful – dare I say it? – than the old “Create in Me a Clean Heart.”
Or maybe it just seemed that way. Because it was new. (Ironic, I know.)
In any case, I left choir practice and trudged to my car through the cold drizzle with a happy, rut-free heart. Like I almost always do.
The moral of this little story is two-fold, I think: 1) We must always be open to learning something new, and 2) Some of us have to learn that same old lesson anew, week after week, day after day.
Update: My friend Lily – who also happens to be our organist and a choral singer, herself – read this and added a #3: Singing in a choir just makes everything better.