Sing not to heaven

Back when I attended a Christian university, there was a weekly gathering up in the seminary chapel, where people would go and sing hymns and “praise and worship” (camp-y) songs. I went now and then, not so much for the content as for the form – I love to sing, even though I consider my own voice mediocre. I decided for the time being that the content didn’t matter so much.

At those meetings, everyone faced pretty much the same direction in pretty much the same way. While a few would sit down on the floor and look downward, introspectively, and a few would stand at the back and glance around the room occasionally, most stood in a pack in the middle of the floor, face-forward. If they weren’t reading the words off the projector screen, they would gaze upwards, as if they were trying to sing to an invisible something somewhere near the ceiling, or through it. They would sing words about wanting to see this “You”, wanting to know it/him/her, wanting to understand it, to love it, to be loved by it.

And I could not help but think, when I saw them gaze longingly skyward as they sang such words,…

* * *

Ma chère Piety,

I think you fear responsibility.

All of the beauty, all of the strength, the wisdom and compassion you praise in your God: these are the very best in humanity. And all of the ugliness, the violence, malice, and cruelty you condemn as Satan — these are the worst of what humans do. All that you praise, that you worship with your eyes to the stars, and all that you decry as evil, looking toward the lava of earth’s core…. All of your sacredness and all of your evil is within us. It is us.

It is all about people, the best to the worst contained wholly in one human, and I think that it is this which you cannot handle. You can’t believe that good and evil can live shoulder to shoulder in one being, nor that extreme (supreme) good or extreme evil can belong to something that is so — so utterly — ordinary. So unexceptional. That the woman scrupulously inspecting every apple at the grocery, before settling at last on the first one she picked up, can be both demon and saint.

You cannot believe it. You can’t believe in humans. So you fracture them, and believe in gods instead.

And if evil and good are all in us, all in you, then the only ones who are responsible for all of the good that we do to each other and for all of the evil we do each other, too, is us, ourselves. If good is to happen, we must do it. If evil is done, it’s entirely on us.

That kind of responsibility is just too frightening, it seems. It’s too much for you to bear.

You all sing with such longing, such praise, such yearning to ‘see’ — if only you could see that what you are really singing to is no God at all, but each other!




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