Monday, February 15, 2016

Descants

We had an interesting Ash Wednesday. Since we’re between pastors right now our pulpit supply was coming from across town and she got caught in a massive traffic jam.  She called to say that in the best possible case she would be a good 30 minutes late.   Our solution was to pull out the hymnal and just start calling out songs for the pianist.  For the next half hour we sang our way through the hymnal and ended up having more fun than we were probably supposed to have on Ash Wednesday.

I think everyone’s favorite was “Holy, Holy, Holy”, as opposed to “Holy, Holy” which we sang right afterwards.  It was a pretty holy night.  But there was a reason everyone loved “Holy, Holy, Holy.” We had a little something extra that night that we don't always get with the song.
Like most people I love music, but I’m not a  musical person, technically.  I can’t make music nor can I understand much of it when I hear it.  What I mean is, when somebody says something like “C sharp” they might as well be speaking Japanese because I simply cannot comprehend the sounds one from another.  I can tell pretty much when one note is higher or lower than another but that’s about all.  I like peppy tunes.  I like powerful music and mournful ones.  I like the whole gambit of it at the appropriate times, done in an accomplished way.  I am a great appreciator of music.  I’m not a great critic of music, which is to say that if you’re not really good I could be your best cheerleader because I probably won’t know you’re bad.

But what I do love is a good descant. And that is what made “Holy, Holy, Holy” so special the night of Ash Wednesday. We don’t always get the descant but when we do, that song changes completely.  It goes from just a bunch of musical notes arranged in a pleasant way into a spiritual experience. 

When we started singing the song I remembered there was a part for the descant, looked around the page and, sure enough, there were the notes, the section of notes for someone to sing a descant!  I LOVE a good descant!!  But not everyone can or will sing it.  It requires a soprano to sign a completely different tune , singing against the tide, so to speak.  It takes, not necessarily a prima dona, but a generous soul.  A woman willing to put herself out there to give of herself to make my evening a better time.  I am always grateful to whoever sings the part.  You don't always know who sings the descant because it's not one of those parts that really stands out.  It is very much a part of the whole song. Very often listeners don't even know what has happened, they only know that the song somehow changed.  The descant is only sung on the last verse. Kind of a grand finale.  It sneaks in and leaves a silver bullet.  

And, Thank you, Jesus, --Thank you, Debbi, our congregation's newest member, --I got "my" descant:
 

I think the extra staff here is the descant with the notes for the descant. And that's about all I can tell you.   I’m not sure what the addition of the notes does or even what the notes are or how to perform them.  But they add “something” to the rest of the music that make their addition not just an addition of notes, it transforms the music into a spiritual experience; it transforms the music into something else completely beyond merely music.
When I say it turns it into a spiritual experience I mean that singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" with a descant can turn a church sanctuary into a Thin Place, a place where the barrier separating you from God becomes thinner, so thin as to sometimes become non-existent and you can reach out and touch God. A descant can make you feel that way.

I have friendships like descants.  Some friends have a way of adding their presence to my life in such  way that their presence add not merely the presence of a person but a spirit of something else entirely.  Friends who will add a thought to mine then a third thought will emerge from somewhere outside either of us entirely.  Later we will realize this was when the Holy Spirit joined us.  And usually when this happens whether it be a committee planning something decidedly non-musical or just a conversation between two friends, something like beautiful music will come forth.  A descant

Sometimes later we might look back and remember an especially good afternoon or a really productive meeting and wonder what it was that made it so much better than all the other moments or days.  I have learned over the years that that was when God joined us.

Sometimes on a walk in the woods I think God joins us to see God's world through our eyes. That particular shade of blue or brown that had been sitting on God's palette unused for a while until brought out only that morning just for today's walk.  I'm sure God enjoys hearing our appreciation, our gasps of discovery.  Then there is that meeting when we are stumped at the next move and we get up for a re-fill of coffee or fresh glass of water, more for the walk than the drink.  God sees us in the hall and thinks to follow us back into the meeting and brings us the missing puzzle piece that we needed.

It's the descant that flows over our lives, the soothing mood that we can't name or see.  Oftentimes we never know it visited.  The soothing brush against our cheek. The cool across our brow.

It is the God Visit. The descant to our lives.

2 comments:

Kim Dungey said...

My consistent thin place is at the Auburn Correctional Facility, the maximum security state prison right on the edge of our downtown. (Probably was on the fringes when it was built but we drive by routinely and don't think much about "our" prison.) We help lead a weekly Bible study there and that room is the holiest space I regularly encounter. Love it when we so profoundly feel God's presence. Usually does me have much to do with what we silly humans have planned.

Anonymous said...

Jane, thank you for sharing your blog. I enjoyed your writing. That hymn and the descant are special to me. I love your phrase "thin places".....and may borrow it...it perfectly describes how some of our music transports me to a special place.
Hugs....:) Debbi