Cara Modisett is a collaborative pianist, essayist, teacher, and a contributing editor to Episcopal Cafe. She currently serves as Music Director at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Roanoke, Virginia. Cara attended our MMC workshop at the Barbara C. Harris Camp and Conference Center in October and offered this poignant reflection at the concluding Eucharist.
We have prepared for the mystery of this hour.
Last night, twenty or so human beings and one yellow lab circled a campfire, and it struck me how small an ember we were, glowing deep in the woods, circled in turn by towering trees and, beyond those, by the high, silver constellations, the waxing moon and the sweep of the Milky Way, so distant and incomprehensible, and also so close that it felt like we could almost hear the music of the spheres.
We seemed fragile, this circle unbroken, singing and laughing and roasting marshmallows, and our music moved from the songs of summer childhoods to something deeper. These last days, while we have been sharing these mysterious hours, inviting God and one another into our souls and hearts, the whirlwind of the world has kept circling beyond us, the hurricanes of weather and politics.
While I was thinking this, and during a break in the singing, one of us stepped forward to give thanks for being able to sing in the night when the morning is what we wish for. And in that thanksgiving was the promise that our fire was stronger than it seemed, small as it was within the world.
We begin with breath – that’s all the tools you need.
We’ve spent these last few days as teachers and learners and as friends-in-becoming, and often the lessons we’ve spoken have carried as much weight as the music we’ve sung:
Gather, invite, smile.
Take things step by step.
Music without dissonance is boring.
When we move out of our comfort zones, we can find great joy.
When we make music together, we are never on our own.
“Everywhere I go,” someone told me last night, “I hear someone singing.”
Trust ourselves, trust each other.
You don’t have to be perfect.
A song is a container for the message, the ministry, the prayer.
The congregation is the choir.
Liturgy creates holy space for holy work.
Even when we forget the words, the music doesn’t have to end.
What is created through us can reach far beyond where we are.
Music makes community because it reflects community – our sorrows, our love, our yearnings, our awe. When we breathe together, sing together, walls come down, hearts open, eyes see, ears listen, lips pray. Music is a way in, a reaching out, a meeting of souls, a conversation with God, a communion with the world.
I bind my soul this day
To the neighbor far away,
To the stranger near at hand
In this town, and in this land.
Perhaps not surprisingly, so many of the songs we sang these past few days are containers for the same word.
Dona nobis pacem.
Da pacem cordium.
Give peace to every heart.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
Liturgy creates a space for holy work; holy work creates a space for peace.
We gather together
Be known to us in the breaking of the bread
Now the silence now the peace
These past few days, every time we gathered in a circle, if someone was outside it, we reached out and embraced them in. We made room – we created space – where God moves in us, teaching us how to love, giving us music to carry back to our families, our congregations, our neighborhoods, our towns, our cities – into the spinning world again.
We are walking each other home
We will share our light
As we walk each other home.
Note: Text in italics and/or indented is taken from music that we sang over the course of the three days, or from conversations or the workshops themselves.