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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, October 18, 2003
    The song and how you sing it
    It's about the song and how you sing it, Community Week on Iona. This is a gathering of people who like to sing. Here is Richard singing old Scottish serenades before breakfast, which begins with a short sung grace. There is Emily leading a volunteer chorus in a mesmerisingly beautiful chant before our evening prayer. Chore teams sing while they work. Kathy starts business sessions by invoking vocal harmony. Late night Taize in Reilig Oran; afternoon Wee Sings in the Chapterhouse: it seems that in every room in the Community's centres, people gather to exercise heart, soul and vocal chords in praise and enjoyment.

    This year the Community's new members performed The Sound of Music to everybody's delight; and the encore provoked scenes of such arm-waving emotion that we might have been on the terraces at an Old Firm derby, or at a pentecostal rally. We were singing Climb Every Mountain like our lives depended on it. Maybe they do. Because (as an Abbey sermon reminded us) in life, you have to get your dreams right, and do all you can to follow them. Life's about the song and how you sing it:
      Climb every mountain
      Ford every stream
      Follow every rainbow
      Till you find your dream.
    Rainbows broke out over Oban last Saturday as members of the Iona Community boarded the Mull ferry, saying hello to sunshine for the week. And, in our better moments (and last week there were many better moments) members of the Iona Community are following the same rainbow, trying to harmonise our lives to help shape a just and peaceful world.

    Two songs particularly touched me deeply, defined the dream for me last week. One was that old wonder, Amazing Grace, sung to a blues piano accompaniment during the closing communion service. Engaging those words always brings me back to the the dream's core - deep gratefulness at God's gracefulness. But it was the blues which did it for me, got my tear ducts flowing - how deeply I am touched by the blues, always, for it is a music of struggle at one with the spirituals. As James Cone writes, the hope for a this-worldly liberation is deeply engrained in these musics. It's a hope I share, it's a dream the Community chases.

    The other song was Holly Near's Singing for our Lives, which we sang together before a session on how we may raise £1 million to develop our island centre work. It's a protest song, written after Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in California, was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone by Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978. It was the theme song of vigils which followed in San Francisco. It holds the dream.

    Gathered in Iona Village Hall, we were aware that down at Lambeth Palace Anglican world leaders were deep in debate over something which cost Milk his life. That morning, the song and how we sang it meant a great deal:
      We are a gentle angry people
      And we are singing, singing for our lives
      We are a land of many colours
      And we are singing, singing for our lives
      We are an anti-nuclear people
      And we are singing, singing for our lives
      We are gay and straight together
      And we are singing, singing for our lives
      We are a peaceful, loving people
      And we are singing, singing for our lives