Sunday night, after the latest mass shooting at a small Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I went to Evensong at Christ Episcopal, the church I attend.
I don't think of myself as a "churchy" person; in the tradition of Quakers, I live my spiritual beliefs in my everyday life. But there's no Quaker Meeting in Cody, and Christ Episcopal is nearby. It offers great music, plus inspiring and thoughtful sermons by the Rector, Rev. Mary Caucutt; also, I have good friends are among the eight-o-clockers, the attendees of the early service. All of which equals community for me.
Evensong is a sung worship service that grew out of the Catholic tradition of vespers, evening prayers. I first heard it in Cambridge, England, when for two college terms, I attended lectures, worked with the Conservation Corps, and once a week took in Evensong at Kings College Chapel with its soaring Gothic architecture and famed choir.
The beauty of any kind of spiritual liturgy sung, chanted, and set to music transcends anything I can write. Perhaps that is due to music's power to move us beyond words, and into the realm of awe unfettered by our analyzing, critical left brains. (Listen to the voices of Kings College Choir sing Evensong here, to see what I mean.)
The news of the shooting in Texas came on the heels of another spate of deaths among my close friends, two expected but still leaving huge holes, another totally out of the blue–a friend with two kids in high school who died of sudden heart failure. My own heart was pretty sore when I walked across the church parking lot in the snow on Sunday evening and slipped inside to find a seat.
And then the music began, first just the organ, soaring notes that filled the church the way good music can, twining around each of us, as if drawing us closer and wrapping us in its warmth and richness. And then the choir, their voices adding to the ribbons of sound.
Then quiet, and all of us chanting a prayer, before the organ took over again, and the choir coming in, voices mixing and melding. Then silence, another chant, and the bell choir, ringing out a gorgeous round, each note holding and then fading, the whole a sonic tapestry.
The service continued on, music alternating with chanting, and some spoken word. I felt my heart swell with the notes and crack open. I felt the music rush in to soothe the pain. At the end of the hour, it was just the organ again, swelling and then receding, the echoes hanging in the air with the most gossamer of shimmers.
The choir at Westminster Abbey singing evensong. (Photo from the Westminster Abbey website.)
Sated and uplifted by that spiritual hour in the company of friends, I walked back home in the darkness and snow to my cozy house, feeling more at peace with the world. I grieve still, but my heart no longer feels like a bleeding wound.
The words that stayed with me are these four, "And walk in love…." If you're a Bible-person, you may recognize the phrase from Ephesians 5:2, an epistle written to early Christians guiding them in living their faith. (I had to look it up, a Bible scholar I am not!)
What does it mean to "walk in love"? To me, it means:
- Doing whatever we can to heal our own hurts, and then extending our compassion and kindness to the world.
- Speaking our own version of truth to power, not letting ourselves be cowed or silenced.
- Standing up for fairness and justice, for the right to be safe in our daily lives.
- Spreading Light in the form of loving daily actions, not engaging in the darkness of hatred and fear.
- Nurturing and celebrating diversity of thought and lives; appreciating that when we walk with love, we will take many different paths.
- Sheltering and tending the "least among us," who may not have all they need to live whole, healthy lives.
- Embracing all of life, finding the beauty in each day, and the humanity in each heart.
In sum, for me, it means living with my heart outstretched as if it were my hand. (I'm paraphrasing a line from a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter.)
I'm sure you can think of many more ways to walk in love through our days. There are many different ways to live a life with love, just as there are many different people in the world. That's a good thing; if we were all alike, the world would be a poorer place. If we decree that there was only one "right path," we block others from walking their version of love.
There is quiet but muscled power in walking in love through life, in speaking up for what we believe in. In tending to heart and spirit in order to use their strength for healing and action and restoration of this battered world.
Together, we can walk in love. We must.