What is a Spiritual Practice? It is as easy and hard as this: for me, a spiritual practice is something we do which draws us closer to God. Sometimes this doing is a daily occurrence, sometimes weekly, sometimes annually, sometimes a practice occurs only once. A spiritual practice is something you know you are doing when you are doing it. You know it because there is a shift inside, a shift in what you feel, or experience, or just deeply understand. And what can come from a spiritual practice is a new knowing.
For as long as I can remember I have loved singing. Since I was 6 or 7, I've loved singing in school and church choirs. I’ve loved singing along with the radio at the top of my voice with all the windows down in the car. Ancient music. Contemporary music. Melodies. Harmonies. I love the hearing of a new song, the learning of it, the full-throated singing of it, and with some – the knowing of that song by-heart.
There's singing in the shower and singing in the dark. There's singing when you're on top of the world and singing when you can't remember your way. There's singing to forget and singing to remember. There’s singing at your grandmother’s knee and singing in the cathedral. There's "standing on the promises," and "swing low, sweet chariot." There's singing at the beginning to mark and claim, and there's singing at the end to bless and release. All of these are true and right and just in the nick of time.
What makes singing a spiritual practice? It's an "all in" activity for me. From my head to my toes, I'm all-in. When I am singing, I am fully participating. Singing is about my breath and it's about my breathing. When I plant my feet on the floor, when I straighten my back and breathe deeply, when I open my throat and focus my attention - I am ready to sing. What comes next is my proclamation and my question; it is my knowing and my unknowing; it is what I don't understand and what I have known my whole life. All these are part of the greater whole, and yet...even then...it is not all of it. There's always (somehow) more when I am singing.
For Christmas 2018, I asked our son, Sam to sing with me in the church choir. Just from Christmas to Easter. For years, we'd heard his amazing, deep bass voice singing in the shower, and I wanted him to experience choral singing. Along the way, he has (like his mothers before him) caught the singing bug. And we couldn't be happier. There is something about blending your voice with the one singing on your left and right. There is something about 30 people sounding like 300, and those same souls sounding like 4 or 5. How does it happen? It's the leaning into the music that brings it about. Somehow that intentional, unison leaning in changes everyone in that exact moment. It is a shared work and a shared gift. It is a moment in time and a moment when time stands still.
One hundred years ago (it feels like), I taught our son, Brogan how to play a few simple chords on the guitar. These were the same chords I had learned to play around summer Girl Scout campfires. He too, has caught the music bug. His guitar playing is incredible. When he plays a song, he knows the technique and then some. He's got it. Watching him, you can witness this difficult-to-describe-knowing of Brogan that starts deep in his soul, moves through his body, through this guitar and settles on the song. And when John Brogan sings, as I watch him, I imagine that this is what I must have looked like when I was his age. When Brogan sings, he seems lost and found at the very same time. For an hour, for 3 hours it is just Brogan and the music.
Spiritual practice for our sons? Boy, I hope so. What I know is that they are held in the mystery and magic and presence of something beyond themselves. When I watch each one sing, I know that they are giving their hearts voice. And in that moment, that is all there is and in that same moment, there is so much more.