Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: August 2020

Have you sung together on Zoom yet?

Worship Woes

Have you sung together on Zoom yet?

It’s terrible, impossible, and I love it. I don’t know all the techy bits to tell you why, but Zoom only transmits one audio channel at a time. So if you try to sing together it frenetically bounces from one voice to another trying to figure out who’s speaking. I kind of feel bad for the poor little algorithm or whatever it is that does that math every time we sing on Circle of Hope’s Prayer Team’s meetings for Common Prayer on Tuesday mornings and Saturday afternoons.

Christians sing. It’s what we do. Not everyone has as many opportunities to sing as people who are part of a church. I mean, there’s the shower and the car when you’re by yourself maybe, but singing together all the time is a particularly Christian thing (not exclusively Christian of course, just very Christian in my experience). My mom and dad took my kids and their cousins on vacation together at their place in the Poconos and they wrote two different songs to sing. Charles Wesley wrote 6,500 hymns. I recently saw this lampoon of popular Christian worship music on YouTube and immediately wrote to the Circle of Hope Design Team leaders in gratitude for their innovation and creativity.

Grieving our very real loss

I have been particularly bereft by our inability to sing together very much. I love singing. We unite our whole beings in worship. That is we unite our own, body mind and soul — heart synced up with head through the bond of music and lyrics — body synced up with soul in our very breath. We get lined up in worship, even just in ourselves. But then we also get lined up with each other. A really good worship song, in my opinion, gets you to take a breath at the same time as everyone around you. (A good sound technician for a worship space mixes the sound so you can hear each other breathe). When I was 10 or 11 years old I attended a traditional hymn sing at the Ringgold Meeting House (this year’s event is cancelled but hope with me for Sunday, August 29, 2021, at 5:00 pm) and I will never forget the surreal feeling of sining an old hymn with each line punctuated by a very audible inhale in unison. We smiled at each other as we noticed it. It was so very lovely. Our bodies were completely in sync with each other and with the song which was directed toward God. I’ve read that in such circumstances even heart beats can synchronize!

But of course that might have been your nightmare last night. Singing together is a a great way to endanger a lot of people and yourself in the season of covid-19. Singing together on the  Prayer Call on Tuesdays at 7:15 am could be the upside down version of the Ringgold Meeting House hymn sing. We are painfully out of sync. It really is close to impossible. It’s more of a defiant trudge than a harmonious togetherness. But in that struggle to line up with one another, to follow the ill defined beat and unite with my brothers and sisters across the zoom lines has another kind of power to it. Without the benefit of actual somatic unity we are left with faith, hope and love alone. Faith that this prayer and song matters — to the ways of the world and the people with whom we are connecting, hope that we will be able to sing together again — that we will survive this mess and our community will endure, and love — love which is the easiest to imagine transcending all these barriers.

Resolve to adapt

Worship across the screen is difficult — certainly on the zoom call with our mics unmuted, and also singing along on YouTube live at circleofhope.net/onlinemeeting. I hope you will join me in moving beyond the lament of the loss and embrace the challenge of the new way of being together. It definitely takes more faith, hope and love from you, or directly channeled to you from God. The intangible power of tangible togetherness is no longer on our side. Worship might be becoming more of a discipline, accept it. Accept the challenge to praise. How many of the Psalms, our original worship book, follow the formula of defiant hope after all? We must start with the obstacles, that’s just how we are, but we must move beyond them as well. Let the strong conclusion of Psalm 27 encourage your bones (imagine courage sheathing your bones):

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

— Psalm 27:13-14 (they put it to music in France)

If I Can Remember My Dreams

On vacation in the woods, I am trying to tune into my dreams. It’s working. I always ask my boys each morning if they had an dreams during the night, so I thought I should point that question at myself more seriously. I sleep very soundly and  rarely remember my dreams.  I lament the loss of spiritual spelunking that could be done in my unconscious storytelling.  Here are a few things that have been helping me remember my dreams:

  1. I hate to admit it, but a key to my success is not reaching for the phone first thing when I wake up. The blue light of the screen zaps my brain into another world (and usually I don’t want to be there).
  2. I’m also getting  a bit more sleep which is likely contributing. Going to bed is such a simple way to be healthy.  Don’t watch another episode of Call the Midwife or just hit replay when Hamilton is over for the fourth time (Two real life scenarios).
  3. Walking in the woods or having some other mind clearing bodily activity. Vacation is for vacating — a kind of making empty. Is my head so full of thoughts all the time that the dreams spill out instantly before they even have a chance to be recalled?
  4. Writing them down. I remember more details as I attempt to recreate and order the chaotic tide of images in which dreams come. For example, a dream on Monday night featured a steam powered garage door opener which was unremarkable in the moment (as I dreamed it), and only named as such in the written recitation.

Here’s a poem I wrote about the project. It’s in Common Meter because I recently learned that all of Emily Dickinson’s poetry can be sung to the tune of the original Pokemon theme song.  But don’t sing this one to that tune until I’m posthumously famous, k?

If I can remember my dreams

If I can remember my dreams
It seems the day is won,
Nothing more than to shape the scene
To feel the work is done.

The labor of the waking eye
To reach back into sleep,
To grope that inner world of mine
With fingers blind and deep.

There only touch and feel to tell
What lies behind the sun,
What rises under every swell
Of moon and mind begun

Together in their vivid ball,
Unseen but very known,
Each swirl a pirouette of all
My heart could want to show.

To reconstruct this darkened dance
Here on this side of night
Is stuff of vision and of trance.
I’m grateful for what sight

Remains when morning breaks the plane,
And conscious thoughts unfurl
Today with all my senses trained
To know the outer world.

 

You can listen to me read it here:

Poetry and images by Ben White

A Vast Inside-Us Sky: A Sonnet

I stayed up late a few nights ago working on a project which included taking some video footage of distant lightning. Only the faintest rumble was able to lurch across the miles to my ears. It had me wondering about the earliest observant humans who had time enough to wonder how lightning worked. Was there ever a thought with traction in ancient science that posited different sources for lightning and thunder? I didn’t look it up, but the thought seemed possible. They often correspond, but could the correlation be common coincidence and separation be the norm? It seemed conceivable. Stretching out my mind to those ancient sages wondering how things worked opened me up.

I need more space inside me these days. How about you? Doesn’t this pandemic demand more space? We are so constricted. I’m feeling so much external pressure. Maybe everything is not so determined. Maybe nothing is so certainly what it seems. May wonder bring you hope and breezy mornings where you can pray and stretch and feel. Here’s my sonnet for you today. It’s been a while!

A Vast Inside-Us Sky

The lightning and – one, two, three – the thunder.
The lightning and – wait for it – the crack!

When did ancient sages start to wonder
Whether that was sound’s shadow on light’s back?

The sound and the fury was one with the flash,
But somehow distance wrought time so immense
It severed fact from fact – light from crash –
Made space inside of oneness – undid dense,
Unquestioned wholeness, and left us more than
Seconds and miles from what passed in the sky.

Something happened in that opened door and
Mind that happens in every watching eye:

A vast inside-us sky between the bolt and peal
Stretched out wide forever from fact to fact and feel

 

You can listen to me read it here:

Poem and photograph by Ben White