By Andrew Taylor-Troutman
And sings the tune without the words / and never stops – at all.
As I’ve sheltered in place, I’ve made a habit of walking in the woods before dawn. In this liminal time before the coming light, I do not meet another person. But the birds make themselves known.
I recognize a few species by their songs. But my early morning musings are more often given to flights of fancy than disciplined ornithology. Are bird songs only a matter of mating propositions and territorial disputes? Or might the Carolina wren tell bawdy jokes? Does the tufted titmouse have political aspirations? Is the mourning dove actually a comedian?
I know I’m projecting my desire for human communication. Walking through the same woods in the evening, I encounter a neighbor and—across the chasm of six feet—she politely inquires, “How are you doing?” We had exchanged greetings before social distancing, but now I’m not quite sure how to answer. I’m not sick and neither are my loved ones. But I’m not “fine” either.
Sure, I have a cell phone and a laptop. I FaceTime and Zoom. But I yearn for deeper emotional and spiritual connections. I find myself re-watching video clips of quarantined Italians singing to one another from the balconies across empty streets. The only Italian I know is what I can read on a pasta box. They sing to me beyond the words.
I miss my flock.
Our church, like many, has moved to online worship, including livestreaming. While not the same, the teaching and the preaching are perhaps most readily converted to virtual experiences. But even with technological prowess, I still don’t think we can ever capture the experience of singing together in the same room. How voices merge and meld. How the harmonies carry me out of myself. How, if only for a beloved refrain, I am lost in an oceanic deep. Like how the women in the folk band, The Wailin’ Jennys, sing:
This is the sound of all of us
Singing with love and will to trust
Our congregation will continue to worship virtually for the indefinite future. For me, this means that the season of Lent continues beyond Easter for however long it is necessary to walk this wilderness journey of relative isolation. Once the face masks are put away, restaurants reopen and sports resume, and we go back to churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques, I wonder, what will be different? Altered? Transformed?
Perhaps it will be a deeper awareness of how much we need other voices in our lives, how beautiful “is the sound of all of us.” Though I yearn for social connections, I recognize that fasting can heighten sensitivity and deepen gratitude. In this liminal time, I’ll listen for what Emily Dickinson personified as “feathered hope” to sing in my soul.
Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is currently working from home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
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