Some music makes me cry

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about two pieces of music that each have a history of making me cry.

The first is a chant written by River Roberts for an event in 2007. That was my first year of being an ‘official’ member of Diana’s Grove Mystery School after having attended a handful of events the year before. I distinctly remember this one as the first chant that felt like it was speaking directly to me. It’s really quite beautiful:

Cradled In The Arms of Life

Let my breath be a gift to you
Take me home again
Let my bones be a gift to you
Take me home again
Let my blood be a gift to you
Take me home again
Let my life be a gift to you
Take me home again

Cradled in the arms of life
Take me home again

I don’t remember very much about that ritual from 2007, but I clearly recall the group scattered about the ritual area, each person singing this chant – this offering, really – on their own before coming back together around the fire, all of our voices joining together in that stunningly beautiful way that makes me forget, for a while, that I can’t sing for crap.

The other song that’s been running through my head lately is, of all things, a church hymn that I remember singing in my youth. Even at my most cynical points as a teenager (and they were rather epic, I must admit) there was this one hymn that I kind of dreaded because it always, always brought tears to my eyes. It’s called “Here I am, Lord” and while I don’t remember the verses reliably, the chorus is pretty clear:

Here I am, Lord, is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go, Lord, if you lead* me
I will hold your people in my heart

I never really *believed* most of what was taught by the priests and CCD teachers at Sacred Heart (my mom was the parish’s religious education director for at least 15 years, so let’s not tell her that part), though I invested a lot of time there – first as an altar boy and later a lector. I didn’t feel called to do those things because I was moved to do so by some great religious belief, but rather because they were things that needed doing and I knew that I could do them well. It was never service to god, but perhaps I saw it as service to that community. I wouldn’t have put it those terms back then, but looking at it now I realize that my pattern of, “I care about this group, and here’s a way that I can serve,” was on its way to being established even then.

It’s interesting to me that these two songs strike such a similar chord for me. My introduction to each couldn’t have been more different – the hymn in the staid, hierarchical Roman Catholic church, the chant in the context of ecstatic ritual in the woods. But of course, the message I take from each is similar. To me they’re both about service, about offering one’s gifts to whatever greater power one chooses to believe in. While the elemental flavor of the chant hits much closer to home for me on a, “This is more literally what I believe” level these days, the sentiments in each touch me in very similar, emotional ways.

(* When I went to doublecheck my memory of the hymn, it turns out that I had this line wrong. Somewhere in the last 20 years, the version in my head shifted this from “…if you lead me” to “if you need me.” I find that change very telling. I don’t much like being led by the universe, but being needed? Well, let’s just say that if a pair of robots showed up at my door with a recorded message from a friend saying, “Help me, Jason-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” I’d find it difficult to say no.)

4 thoughts on “Some music makes me cry”

  1. I approve of your musical taste, sir. Now I have that hymn in my head, remembering it from my own Catholic childhood.

    There’s a billboard on Western Ave for the Lyric Opera, which says something like “When was the last time you cried at a cubism exhibit?” Music has a way about it. Maybe it allows words to reach past rationality or something. To speak directly to the soul, if that doesn’t sound too cheesy. And there is something about singing words that makes them more meaningful. Laying new patterns in the soul, maybe?

  2. Well now you’ve done it. You’ve got me crying. “Hear I am Lord” gets to me every single time I hear it or sing it in my head. It touches the place in me that is what I have come to believe is my deepest calling. To serve. I had never put together the similarity of the two but it makes sense now. Cradled in the Arms of Life has almost the same effect.

    I have been asking myself for a year now, how do I want to serve? Who do I want to serve? Thank you for the reminder that the how and they who may be less important that the fact that I must.

  3. Both of those songs move me also. Here I am Lord is no longer just sung by Catholics. It made it into worship services at Chicago Theological Seminary and here at the School of Theology in Sewanee. How could future ministers and priests not love it? I also have very good memories of the chant and my Rites gift to Elizabeth Anne.

    The problem of walking between the traditional church and what I truly believe is rearing its head as we make plans for Christmas. I always liked the service at First Unitarian because there was celebration of the light as well as Jesus. I’m not sure where we will end up, but I will look into Unitarian churches.

  4. I don’t know the hymn (being raised as a non-practicing Jew), but I remember well the chant & the ritual. It struck a deep chord in me as well, and I remember dropping the “Let” after singing it a while, to even more strongly set my intention and devote myself to Service.

    These days I find myself not internally resourced enough to contemplate service, but a part of myself believes that this too is a leg of the journey I committed myself to in ritual long ago. I am preparing well my Gift……

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