Monday, September 24, 2007


Just listening is hard.

In choir last week, the director played a recording of the Bach cantata chorus we were working on and asked the choir to listen. By the middle of the movement, just about everyone was singing along. Sotto voce, yes, but concentrating on the notes in their own part, not on the big picture--the sweep of the music, the back-and-forth of the counterpoint, the conversation between orchestra and chorus.

Singing along is fine. In this situation, it was an opportunity to experience the tempo we are trying to achieve, somewhere between a lively allegro and zoom! there it goes. But singing along is not listening.

In kindergarten music the other day, I said listen, I have a story to sing for you. Listen. "Over in the meadow in the sand in the sun, lived an old mother turtle and her little turtle one." Most of them listened. (We were having a surprisingly good day in kindergarten.) But all the way through ten verses--little foxes two, little birdies three, little bunnies ten--one little girl persisted in trying to sing along. She didn't know the tune. She didn't know the words. She didn't pick up on the repetition from verse to verse and at least get those parts right. She just made a low, untuneful, unmusical quiet sound, even after I had reminded the class that their job was to listen. I don't think she knew she was singing along.

In church on Sunday mornings, as the lessons are read, most worshipers look down, following the text in their bulletin. Sometimes it's hard to hear or understand the reader. Ours is an acoustically lively sanctuary, friendly to music, less friendly to the spoken word. But I think we follow along with eyes as well ears mainly to keep our minds from straying, or to avoid looking directly at reader.

I went to church twice yesterday, so I heard the sermon twice. As I sat in the pew for the second time around, I tried to remember from the first service how it all came out. It was hard--something about righteousness? Had I listened all the way to the end in the first service?

Even in conversations with friends, my mind jumps off track and goes to work on what I an going to say next rather than on what is being said to me.

Listening means taking in someone else's thoughts, words, song, experience. Being aware of the bird in the tree outside. Letting someone else make the music. Letting someone else make the argument.

Hard to do.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


It's a beautiful September day. There's a clear blue sky and it's 53 degrees outside--a little cool for September, but a chance to wear a favorite sweater and look forward to fall. I'm wearing the cotton and silk cardigan that I knit and sewed together over the summer. As long as I'm wearing it, I may have to go visit the yarn store this afternoon and show it off.

My son and I made a quick visit to the farmer's market this morning. We were too late for the donuts he was craving--donuts made on the spot, in the church basement, and rolled in large dishpans of cinnamon sugar. Eat one, and you can actually feel the jolt when the sugar hits your brain. A half dozen is plenty for this household. One is plenty for me.

There were people everywhere as we drove from the farmer's market to the bread store where Kurt got honey wheat bread as a substitute for the donuts. At the stop light, I waited and waited to turn right. Waited for parents with small children to cross in front of my car. For couples and singles with bags of produce and armloads of gladiolas from the market. For a whole field hockey team, walking towards the high school where there's a big tournament this weekend. They were tall and strong and far more attractive than any teenage girl pop star.

The maple tree by the garage is starting to change from green to gold. I woke for the first time this morning at 6:30, when the sun was still low in the sky. The leaves that fill the view from my bedroom window were a dull green. But at 8:00, with the sun on them, the maple leaves were that glorious subtle mixture of green and gold that can only be seen in September.

I want so much not to waste days like this. I think to myself, we should be off camping. We should be outdoors enjoying ths best of all possible months with every inhalation. Energized by the clear air, I should be upstairs cleaning out the attic, or in the yard, pulling weeds to make way for chrysanthemums and daffodil bulbs.

Why does September perfection prompt so many "shoulds"? Today is a blessing, a gift from God's grace. Whatever I do this afternnon--and I probably won't clean the attic or clean up the yard--whatever I do with this sweet day, the warm sunshine, the quietly dancing leaves, the snap in the air, the energy all around--God made them to give me joy.