Earlier this week I sang with a gospel choir I recently joined in San Diego. We were doing a Christmas event and had three sets to sing. Shortly before the first set, we learned that our director would not be able to make it due to an unexpected mishap that had detained him (he was fine but not able to get to us in time). Since he usually plays piano, we were without both direction and accompaniment. An experienced choir member valiantly took on the responsibility of directing, and another member who plays piano stepped up and played some unrehearsed Christmas carols. We did our best, but it was one of the more awkward public musical experiences I've had, and we certainly were not sounding like what one might expect of a gospel choir.
Toward the end of that first set, our assistant director, who had not planned to be there, came in and rescued the day. Armed with a hymnal and a courageous, spunky spirit, she led us through songs that were familiar to many but which we had not rehearsed as a choir, teaching us as she directed and while singing lead parts as she read the verses from the hymnal, turning from the choir and spinning around to face the microphone to sing a solo to the audience. It was awe-inspiring to behold, and it truly felt like the Holy Spirit was at work. Within the space of two songs, the evening was quickly transformed from disaster to delight.
After the first set, the assistant director called upon people from the choir to sing solos to round out the second set. She asked a high jazzy tenor to sing O Holy Night, a resonant bass to do We Three Kings, and a powerful soprano to accompany her in a duet of I Love the Lord, all of which the dear pianist agreed to play once she located the songs in the trusty hymnal and established which key was best for each singer. But there would be no time to rehearse before we had to begin.
"Laura," she asked, "Can you do O Come All Ye Faithful?" I'm not sure how she decided to ask me to sing anything. I had never sung individually for her or anyone in the choir in my six weeks as a member, though I had sent some videos to introduce myself when I asked about joining. Anyway, I said yes, looking out at the large gathering crowd and feeling slightly nervous at the thought of no rehearsal. She said she would hand me the hymnal when it was time for me to sing in case I didn't know all the verses to the carol. In the ten minutes until we were to start, I looked at the verses on my phone and pondered their meaning and what I might say to the audience to introduce the song.
O Come All Ye Faithful.... Am I worthy to be counted among "the faithful"? Certainly this year has demanded many leaps of faith in my experience. The biggest and most obvious was my departure from the familiarity of the Boston area to relocate to San Diego, where I knew about four acquaintances and had no idea what to expect or exactly how I would pay my bills. Frankly, I've never felt so good at faith. Faith requires trusting something bigger than oneself and having patience, two things at which I have failed miserably at times. I have often felt that I fall short in the faith department. Sometimes it just seems like I don't have what it takes to rely on something I cannot fully comprehend. Or can I?
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, says this about faith: "Faith is higher and more spiritual than belief. It is a chrysalis state of human thought, in which spiritual evidence, contradicting the testimony of material sense, begins to appear, and Truth, the ever-present, is becoming understood." (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 297).
So faith is actually approaching a level of understanding. It's not just a blind belief in something we cannot explain. It may not be a fully developed spiritual state, but it is based on evidence that is not limited by what our eyes may behold. For instance, that night when we started singing, things looked quite grim. The circumstances did not appear to be in place for the choir or the audience to have a positive experience. No director, no musician, no songs that had been rehearsed. But somehow the evening took on a whole different feel when we started to see some evidence of beauty and power once we gave over to the direction that was provided.
I thought about the familiar words of the carol about faithfulness. Often I like to look for commands in spiritual writing because they are clear and applicable. What does the song say we are to do? "Come...Come ye to Bethlehem..Come and behold him...Come, let us adore him." Other verses talk about singing and about greeting our Lord. But what this song about faith asks of us is simply to come forth, to show up, to be there ready to worship and praise our King of angels. And perhaps as we do this, as we "step out", we start to see "spiritual evidence, contradicting the testimony of material sense".
At the beginning of the evening when I learned that we were without a director and musician, I honestly wanted to escape and avoid what I guessed would be a mortifying experience. But there was something bigger at work. That whole trilogy of concerts consisted of a choir showing up and stepping out on faith, giving over to skilled direction and the true Spirit of Christmas, Christ itself.
As I was singing with the choir and pondering the verses of O Come All Ye Faithful, our assistant director had us start to sing Silent Night. After the choir sang a verse, she pointed at me and motioned for me to come down from the risers to the microphone. I assumed she must be doing a medley and that we would now begin O Come All Ye Faithful as she had asked me to do. But she placed the hymnal in my hands, opened to Silent Night, and said, "Sing any verse you want." So I sang the second verse. It's a song about the fruition of faith:
Silent night, holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing hallelujah
Christ the savior is born, Christ the savior is born
I admit it was a little scary to suddenly be singing a different song than I had expected, and it was a little startling when she asked me to sing a verse again, "like you mean it!" But it was all part of learning a little something about faith, about coming forth to worship without knowing where it might lead. And every time we come forth in faith, we might discover a little more of those "glories streaming". We might want to sing hallelujah. And we might know a little more tangibly that indeed Christ is here and has never left.
Here is a video that a friend took of Silent Night that evening: