This is not the chant I thought I knew.
And thank all that’s holy that no one else was around, because I was blissfully singing the chant I know (very similar, but not exact – the version I know includes a verse of “ai-aaaa, ai-oooo”) and did a cartoon screech to a halt when I looked at the hymnal closely. It was somewhat comic and fairly embarrassing, at least in my imagination.
But like mine, this one bubbles up anonymously from the neo-pagan traditions and just exists in the ether.
The earth, the water, the fire, the air,
return, return, return, return.
But what’s great about these chants is that they begin with a simple melody line that invites harmony and improvisation. It invites a cacophony of sound to grow and welcome the elements and then return to center, to calm, to focus.
And it’s that cacophony that I suspect many UUs are afraid of. I rewatched the Decentering Whiteness in Worship webinars in preparation for a workshop I’m leading on Saturday, and I was struck anew by something Julica Hermann de la Fuente said, that we worship an “ethic of control” – from time to energy – and letting ourselves immerse into a chant like this would be scary and uncomfortable. Yet in a properly held container by confident worship leaders, it can be freeing and deeply spiritual. I remember the Amen we sang at GA2016; there is a point at which the sheet music literally stops to invite the singers to improvise off the motifs, and we had to trust our conductor, Glen Thomas Rideout, to hold the space for it and bring us back together. I know that singing it was incredible; I can only imagine how beautiful it felt and looked and sounded to the assembly.
And I need more of this. I have been telling the UU Wellspring groups I am leading that I’m beginning to worry I won’t find a good spiritual practice after finishing this one, but singing this today – even though I started by singing the wrong one – tells me I need more chant in my life. Maybe I need to invite chaos and cacophony into my life…