The Vocal Competition

Valley United Church, 2:30 p.m, Recital Class, Contestant 1

Quivering lace-dripped lonely dove

vaulted from the five-wire cage

to soar in apostle-painted sun,

you lean with syllabic sincerity

as your blue eyes weep black-eyed grief.

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,

a long ways from home

Your unlined face mourns

three century old parting

Bist du bei mir

geh ich mit Freuden*

and virgin passion pleasures

nodding grey heads

Quella fiamma

che m’accende**

Gathered in your beating breast

the sainted air transfigures

in profound angelic pronouncements.

Ave Maria

gratia plena***

until the judge

grounds your flight

with pencil point

Damp-palmed you settle, restless,

on the uncompromising pew,

despising the grace

in contestants two and five and eight

Oh hungry sacrificial dove,

why sing for blood

when you can

sing for love?

*If you are with me I go with joy –J.S. Bach

**That flame which sets me on fire –Benedetto Marcello

***Hail Mary full of grace

A Gold Shirt

blue jay ch IMG_5799

Mom said I sang a lot when I was a little kid. My favourite song was apparently “Que Sera, Sera” which I belted out in my bold three-year old voice from the backseat of Daddy’s cavernous Olds. Since I am now officially closer to one hundred years old than three, what will-be-will-be, at least on this green earth, has probably mostly already been –and it’s been mostly good.

I also remember singing something about a “blue bird of happiness.” I found the actual lyrics today. The chorus goes like this:

Be like I, hold your head up high,

Till you find a bluebird of happiness.

You will find greater peace of mind

Knowing there’s a bluebird of happiness.

And when he sings to you,

Though you’re deep in blue,

You will see a ray of light creep through,

And so remember this, life is no abyss,

Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.

Happiness, crappiness.

I was crying with my friend a while ago. It was the anniversary of the death of her little girl. She showed me pictures of her little one’s last day. There sat a disheveled version of my friend in a rocking chair. Her boyish husband stood beside her, stunned-faced, hand on her shoulder, as they tried to gaze into Lily’s eyes which were closing for the last time. The child was still connected to tubes; you could see a nurse’s hand on the edge of the frame supporting them. Not exactly a blue bird moment.

My friend’s blue bird, like all flighted birds, done flyed away. She has no desire to pursue happiness right now. Their pursuit of happiness was a journey that led to an abyss where the chirping blue bird, flitting high and out of reach in his very own personal sunbeam, mocks her.

Your story may be equally painful. The devil has an uncanny ability to custom-make horror and toy with our fears.

I wonder if we fear disappointment more than pain.

Hope can hurt –hurt too much to risk raising that flag again sometimes. I didn’t dare unfurl that one for nearly twenty years myself. If I saw a “ray of light creep through” I just ignored it as one more creep.

Yet Jesus promised joy and a peace that passes understanding when we trust him. Well, I kind of ignored him for a long time, but when I was finished my dark night of the pout, he was still waiting, willing to talk. Nothing else was working so I decided to listen. I read, in the book of James in the Bible:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Pure joy? You’ve got to be kidding!

I began to wonder if there is a difference between happiness and joy. Nowhere does God guarantee happiness all the time, but he does promise joy in the midst of trials. It seems to me that while happiness might drop by for a visit, joy is willing to move in.

So I asked, “What is joy?”

I think I am beginning to see it. Joy is wearing a gold shirt.

Remember the first Star Trek shows? I’m not allowed to forget. My husband spent weeks taping them all, then bought the boxed DVD set anyhow. He puts them on, turns up the volume, and promptly takes a nap on the couch. I’m the one who can recite the dialogue. The actors in the red shirts seldom came back for a second episode. It is much easier to feed those characters, for whom we have developed no fondness, to the aliens. But we loved our Captain Kirk and his emotion-free sidekick, Spock. Week after week they faced the perils of where-no-man-has-gone-before. Week after week their lives hung by a half-blasted plasma conduit or dangled by a thread of non-linear inspiration until Scottie swooped in –all Deus ex machina and beamed them out of there. We could breathe again.

How could we survive the tension?

Because we knew that our beloved characters were played by actors who had a contract until at least the end of the season –or even longer in the case of syndicated Star Trek spin-offs that still play out during hubby’s nap time.

This is the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is sunbeams and singing blue birds, and lo-cal non-fat lactose-free ice cream that tastes just like the extra creamy cookie dough stuff.

Joy is the excitement of hanging over a cliff all summer until the opening show of the new season when we know, we just know, that God has a creative solution in his script. Joy is the anticipation of seeing how he’s going to get us out of this one. Real joy is seeing the big picture, the reeeeeeeaaaaaally big picture on the really big screen of eternity, knowing that we have a contract with the Producer/Director. He gave everything for this relationship because he has a vision for character development that goes way beyond this season. It goes on forever.

I saw my friend smile the other day, when she talked about Lily in heaven.

See the big picture. Joy. It’s exciting really.