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What We Can Do Is Sing.

by Larry Patten

Ihad just been at church. There, the choir sang. Wondrous. A brass quintet played. Glorious. The congregational hymns were loud and jubilant.

Then, after church, I went to visit a patient. I was his hospice chaplain. Led by his daughter, I walked down the narrow hallway of their apartment. Long before I arrived at the patient's room, I heard more music. "The youth group is visiting," the daughter reported.

At the door, I stopped and peered in. Young people were crammed in his room, forming an awkward line that extended from the door, past the large bed centered in the room, and ending by the hospital bed where the 66-old-year patient lay. They were singing . . . in Russian. A cappella, voices male and female, youthful faces, dressed for church. As I listened, unaware of their words' meaning, suddenly Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia rose . . . lilting, sweet, filling the room.

I knew the patient was a Christian pastor, Baptist by denomination, and from an obscure village in the Ukraine. An immigrant, he had journeyed to the United States for a new life.

Cancer, the worst kind of immigrant, had ruined his best dreams.

And here he was - and here I was - half a globe away from the village church he once served, with voices singing a cappella (from Italian for "in the chapel") alleluias (from the mixed Greek and Hebrew roots declaring, "Praise God"). A cappella alleluia.

I have heard Buddhists chant, seemingly in unison with the universe; Muslims beckoned to prayer, a singular voice soaring over rooftops; and Jewish cantors filling modern synagogues with ancient promises. Bridging the memory of decades, I can hear my grandfather at his ranch, with his body braced against the pasture's fence, shouting across the field to call his cattle. "Hey, boss! Hey, boss!" he'd bellow, equally forceful and tender. And the cows, as they say, would come home. Voices create home. Voices call us home.

With hospice, with this blatant time of dying, there is often the revealing of what's important. The truth that is not casually shared but boldly lived. What's next? Will heaven have those angels with harps we've imagined? Were the Christian gospels correct about a multitude of the heavenly host joyously proclaiming "Glory to God in the highest"? Does the Qur'an accurately describe a heaven of abundant fruit and forever-flowing rivers?

I don't know. In all sacred texts, there are divine mixtures of fancy and fact and faith. And yet I do know that as I listened from that door, vividly aware of the man in the hospital bed - and vividly aware of the worlds separating us and connecting us - that the room was filled with a cappella alleluias.

Often I've heard people say, "I can't go visit her. She's dying. I wouldn't know what to say." Or, "What if I say the wrong thing?" Go and sing. Go, if you can't sing, for the words are never as important as your presence. All of us are God's instruments. In Idries Shah's Caravan of Dreams, there is the Sufi saying: "You make me a sinner if you stop my giving you hospitality."

Angels were heard in a chapel disguised as a cramped apartment. Always, in every faith and language, on this side of heaven there is an alleluia.

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Author:Patten, Larry
Publication:Spirituality & Health Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2008
Words:548
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