Friday, February 7, 2014

Chanting Psalms in the Stairwells

Many of the worship services at Mepkin Abbey begin with this chant:

"Oh, God, come to my assistance,
Lord make haste to help me."

As we sang it together, I thought about how often I turn to this bit of the Psalms (Psalm 70?), and often in its sung, liturgical form.

One time I had to go to a meeting that I knew would be very difficult and quite possibly ugly.  I had prayed my personal prayers.  But I still felt uneasy.

In the stairwell, I took a minute to center myself.  That bit of the Psalms floated up out of my consciousness, and I sang it.  I immediately felt calm.  I felt that otherworldly assurance that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

That sense of calm carried me through the meeting, which was difficult, but not ugly.

I love the acoustics in the stairwell in my work.  Almost anything I sing seems to be transformed into pure sound that ascends straight to Heaven, even though I really know it's only transcending 4 floors.  I love how the sound bounces off of the concrete walls.  I love how my voice sounds and how I feel every cavity in my body opening.

I think of that stairwell as a hidden sanctuary.  It's ugly, in the way that stairwells often are, with gray and often sticky floors and white walls which are sometimes marked with graffiti.  I feel fairly safe there, since you can't enter on the ground floor.  Besides, I'm often the only one using it.

It's a strange sort of sacred space.  Do I make it more sacred every time I sing?  Did I begin to sanctify it when I sang the Psalms?  Or was it sacred before I got there?

I do sometimes wonder if anyone ever hears me chanting Psalms in the stairwells.  Would they be able to hear my words?  What would they think?

They'd probably smile, the way that I do on the rare occasions that I hear someone else on a different floor singing.

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