Dear Christ Church Friends,
The herald angels sing “Hark!” as they announce the coming of Jesus, an old word (aka “hearken”) that means to listen to, listen for, pay close attention.
I don’t have a very good singing voice, but I love to sing the Venite, one of the Canticles that can be sung as part of Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. In staff or Vestry meetings we sometimes stitch our voices together, a patchwork of mediocre sound prayerfully and earnestly venturing into the first line’s invitation, “Come, let us sing unto the Lord.” There is something very intimate and raw about singing in a small circle of people.
I learned the Venite while serving as a priest at The Church of St. Clement in El Paso, Texas, where my Rector, Bishop Philip Jones, led us in singing the Venite during staff meetings. The first time I led others in it, I was seated in a chapel pew with two parishioners, keeping watch for our shift of a prayer vigil. Our watch was the wee hours of the morning, so we used Morning Prayer as a framework for intercession. When we got to the Venite, I decided to lead the three of us in singing, not saying, it. Neither of the other two knew it well, nor had very strong voices. The further we got into the Canticle, the breathier my voice became, constricted by nerves, and the more I began to sense myself moving off pitch.
Yes, there is something intimate and honest about singing prayers in the company of a handful of people, something vulnerable and unvarnished. Together, we bring our frail bodies before the Lord, our tender hearts, our insecurities and contrition. We also bring our ache for this violent and hostile world to be restored, and for God’s peaceable kingdom to come.
That’s why my favorite line of the Venite is the last one. It’s an Advent line. We live between the comings of Jesus, longing for his return, but also comforted by the fact that today, even today, he can be found. Never, not once while singing it, has the invitation of the Venite’s final line escaped me, “Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!”
Watch. Listen. Wait. Some day he will come. He is speaking today. Oh that today you would hearken to his beautiful voice.