I recently attended the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, TN. It was a great weekend, filled with celebratory events, master classes, and many fun and talented people. One of the most moving events I attended was the Sunday morning singing. I admit that I was hesitant to go. A non church-going PK (preacher’s kid) such as myself is often cynical of any type of service occurring on a Sunday morning (and believe me, I could have caught up on some needed sleep). But my lovely roommates gave me some positive peer pressure – It’s the best of what we loved of church (said one, also a PK). So I went. And I’m glad I did. We sang two of my favorite hymns – Amazing Grace and Will the Circle Be Unbroken. Singing is not only soul-moving, it is an act of being vulnerable: opening up one’s vocal chords and being brave enough to let the sounds (mine often far from perfect) come out, all in celebration of being present. A homily was given that included a poem, a short piece of drama, and my favorite piece– a section from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
As I reflect on last Sunday’s singing, I realize the reason it was so moving was that it honored my past (music, speaking, community on Sunday morning) but updated in such a way that I found it much more in tune with my own needs. In short, form and content came together in superb fashion. I’ve always turned to nature for solace; it is my sanctuary, for as Emerson said, In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity…, which nature cannot repair. So the reading of Dillard’s piece, which specifically examined parts of the natural world with a deep sense of reverence and awe, was perfect. Seated around me were people who had a shared sense of values – not just of Appalachia and nature in general, but of the written word and the sharing of such. I couldn’t have asked for a better service.