If it’s Tuesday evening, then my ten-year-old daughter has choir practice. She’s one of a few dedicated children at our parish who lend their enthusiastic voices each week at Sunday Mass. I’m one of the harried parents who rush the choristers through dinner and battle rush-hour traffic to get to rehearsal on time.
While the kids are rehearsing, I’m off in a corner of the room reading a book or writing a blog post. Every once in a while, I’ll look up to see what the kids are doing, usually to make sure my daughter is paying attention and to observe the other children. They’re very entertaining. On this night, a little girl in the second row can’t seem to decide whether or not she wants to stay. Sitting with her winter coat first off then on, her knit hat pulled down over her hair, it looks like she’s ready to make a quick getaway. Some kids are whispering while the choir director is explaining the music and she has to call them back to attention. Sheet music is rustling in little hands, distracted heads are turning in all directions, and there’s always one or two late arrivals who rush in, flinging their coats aside as they shove past other choir members and take their place. All in all, it’s a pretty typical Tuesday night rehearsal.
Now the ever-so-patient choir director is teaching the children the Latin words of “Adoro Te Devote.” They repeat the verses over and over, slowly tackling each word, each unfamiliar syllable. I silently chuckle because the sounds coming out of their young mouths don’t quite resemble the Latin coming from the director. Obviously, the choristers don’t understand what they’re saying, and it shows, but everyone tries their best. What they lack in knowledge of the sacred language they make up in determination. I listen for a moment and then go back to my reading.
But then the children start singing one of my favourite hymns and I put down my book and sit at attention. The veterans in the choir know this song well and to my ears, they sound wonderful. They lead and the newer members follow along.
Only this I want:
but to know the Lord,
and to bear His cross
so to wear the crown He wore.
I quietly sing along but my mind starts to drift. I start to wonder if perhaps this is how the Lord sees our imperfect attempts at praising Him. When we come to Him with childlike faith, do we sound like young choristers who sometimes become distracted, misbehave, arrive late? Does He chuckle as He re-directs our attention back to Himself, guiding us gently and revealing only as much at a time as we can handle?
All but this is loss,
worthless refuse to me,
for to gain the Lord
is to gain all I need.
Coming from the children, the words of the song-prayer are pure, simple, honest. When we say these same words in faithful prayer, does Jesus see us as little children who stumble in our efforts to mean what we say? I’m confident that our Father lovingly caresses our soul when we say to Him: “I don’t have the mind of the great theologians and there’s so much I don’t know but, dear God, with Your Grace, my soul tries to praise You the best way that I can.” I can see our Blessed Mother, maternal arms outstretched, delighting in our imperfect song.
By now, the newest choir members are more familiar with the melody and are singing with increased boldness. The choir director is pleased.
I will run the race;
I will fight the good fight,
so to win the prize
of the Kingdom of my Lord.
Finally, the practice is over and the children noisily pack up their sheet music. As a treat, a generous mom has brought cupcakes for each of the children: vanilla flavoured home-baked goodness covered with fluffy pink frosting and decorated with a ruby-red fresh strawberry centre. The children are excited and eagerly get in line. A chorus of thank yous greets the smiling mom as they take their reward. They bite in happily, their faces expressing childlike elation. “The cupcakes are heavenly,” their smiling faces seem to say. Well done, good and faithful choristers. As we head out into the cold, winter night, the beautiful hymn continues:
Let your heart be glad,
always glad in the Lord,
so to shine like stars
in the darkness of the night.
“Only This I Want” by Daniel L Schutte. Portland: OCP Publications, 1981.
Picture courtesy of cartooncliparts.com.