We went to evensong tonight at a cathedral that is 1000 years old. From my Episcopalian childhood, I remembered vespers as a 20-minute ceremony almost entirely in song, so I thought Sophie might enjoy it. But this evensong was almost a full eucharist. Sophie barely lasted through the first lesson reading. She didn’t understand the need to be quiet or the reason why I wouldn’t more actively help her move the prayer cushions into a pillow-fort. We had to leave before the first song, due to Sophie’s fussing, but as soon as she heard the choir began the psalm that followed the first lesson, she calmed down and sat in my lap, sitting in the doorway outside the chapel, mesmerized.
Then, as she was going to bed tonight, she told her baby-doll that she would take her to “eensong,” which would require “shhhh”. She asked me to sing an evensong. None of our ordinary lullabies would do. (Frankly, I’m getting bored of our ordinary lullabies, too, but I thought Sophie’s attention-span was longer than mine.) I reached down into my memory and came up with “Allelulia, Christ our passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the peace, allelulia.” My childhood choirmaster, Mr. Wright, composed the tune I know best for these words that we sang almost every Sunday. It’s probably wrong to sing it outside of the communion ceremony, but it didn’t matter, Sophie loved it tonight. She requested extra allelulias.
No other church-song lullabies would do. Not “Silent Night,” not “Swing low sweet chariot,” nothing that wasn’t in the style of the psalm she had heard this evening, with its long sustained notes and odd harmonics. How odd is that? My 2-year-old can distinguish styles of sacred music. Either that or she really likes to hear me sing “Allelulia, Christ our passover….” That was what put her to sleep tonight. Too bad I never memorized any other psalm tunes. But, I guess, it’s lucky for her that I have even that one psalm-style chant in my memory.
There’s nothing like hanging out with children to make me humble about my knowledge. Yesterday, Sophie asked me what thunder was, and the best answer I could come up with was, “It’s clouds banging together, way up high.” Where does thunder come from? What is the tune of any other psalm? I can recall fragments of words (yea though I walk through the valley, who doesn’t remember that? but who can sing it?). I can picture the odd circle notation for psalm-singing, so different from other musical writing — but I can’t put it together. Fortunately, Soph was happy with lots of “Allelulia, Christ our passover.” She was happy to hear about the clouds banging together, too.
I had thought I would have a few more years before my child made me aware of my own ignorance. I actually like that it’s coming this soon. There’s a passage in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek where Annie Dillard writes that our goal in life should be to sail out to the horizon of what we can comprehend, but that some of us don’t ever get that far, some of us forget to look round in wonder, some of us just play pinochle in the bottom of the boat.
Sophie isn’t playing pinochle. She is far too busy jumping in every puddle and examining every snail, soaking in every new discovery, including psalm-singing, in a way that makes me better understand Annie Dillard’s goal for every pilgrim.