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Spirit Story

Surrounded by song

By Keith Reynolds

Marion Ramsdale’s faith was sung. She lit up while singing. People who knew her noticed it. People who didn’t soon saw it too. Marion, a committed member of our United Church’s choir, walked with music in her step.

When cancer arrived, knocking at her door, she allowed it to enter the melody of her life and couldn’t help but keep singing. She had rough days — when her usual smooth alto sounded more like sandpaper — but she trudged on.

It was hard for the choir to see Marion lose her lustre. The choir is close. They know how to care for each other, especially when someone’s heart aches, body weakens or spirit sags. They stayed in touch with Marion; their care was palpable.

Time progressed, and so did the cancer. Marion hoped to make it through the treatments. She found new ways to be grateful for little moments. Visits with her family became more poignant. Walks still happened, just not as far. Time with her husband continued, as did sharing conversations with friends and the rhythm of routines.

“I don’t have the energy to play my keyboard anymore,” she told me one day. “I think I’ll give it away. I wonder who might like it.” The question hung for a while in the air. Marion gave much of herself away in those remaining days. It was in her to give, and she did not resist.

On one particularly difficult day in the hospital, a few calls were made. “Come to the hospital. We’ll meet in the lobby,” was the message. All who were able dropped what they were doing and came.

Walking into Marion’s room, the choir gathered around her bed and sang their faith. Hymnbooks opened, and pages turned to sing familiar and favourite tunes. Tears flowed easily, hearts stirred and the bond of singing drew the faithful even closer to the Mystery of it all.

Marion remained in her bed, the joy of the moment washing over her. With eyes closed and then open, she acknowledged the gift before her. Those gathered acknowledged the gift before them as well. It was a mutual tribute magnified by music.

We didn’t stay long. Tenderness can become too much to bear while singing. The voice gives way, and the strength that comes from hymns can weary a person. Faith expresses itself but also knows its limits. We need each other to get through the singing, and then we need each other after we sing our song. It is that faith song that buoys us up as we tread the waters of life. It is the waters of life that sustain the spirit and those words we cannot be kept from singing. As the saying goes, a person who sings prays twice.

What started out as a gift for Marion transformed into something for all of us in that room: a gift, a grace, a testimony to God whose song resides in all of life — the One whose melody keeps us singing. Moments may arise when we struggle to sing. We don’t have to; there are others whose song will carry us in the melody of the Mystery.

Rev. Keith Reynolds is a minister at Southampton-Mount Hope (Ont.) Pastoral Charge.

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