If you know me, then you know there are few things in life that make me more uncomfortable than the prospect of singing in public. I can kill a bug without blinking, I’m a veritable pyromaniac, and the sight of blood does not make me squeamish. But even just writing of the possibility of unleashing my tone-deaf, rhythmically-challenged self unto the world makes my stomach flip on its side.
Over intersession, then, I found myself confronted with this very possibility, but, crucially, I would not be singing alone. Two hundred other students filled the hall around me, their voices raised towards the sky. And yet, I still could not join in, not for a fear of judgment or scorn, but because of the songs themselves; I was on Princeton Faith and Action’s annual Ski Safari, and the men and women around me were exalting God and Jesus with a passion that took my breath away.
This passion is precisely why I did not add my voice to the mix. One of my close friends, and the friend who convinced me to go on the trip in the first place, later asked me why I didn’t, and the best I could offer her were words of discomfort. The exact fountain from which these feelings sprang eluded me in that moment, and only as I lay in bed later in the crawl space between sleep and wakefulness did the reasons become clear.
I am a spiritual person in that I believe in a higher power and in various practices reminiscent of a mix between prayer and meditation; however, I would not say that I am religious. For this reason, my discomfort in singing stemmed originally from the fact that I did not believe much of what lay in the words. My friend told me that this didn’t matter, that others would not feel disrespected, as I expected and feared they would. And yet, the next night, the same creeping sense of paralysis invaded my being as we sang again.
Again, only later did I identify just why my muscles refused to even let me sway along to the rhythm set by the drums. It wasn’t just the fact that I didn’t feel like a true believer or that I feared being disrespectful towards those who felt the words in the far reaches of their souls, but also the fact that there would be no time for reflection. I sought to reflect not only upon my personal beliefs in relation to what I heard, but also upon the emotions that I could feel myself suppressing as a way to better engage with those around me and, to some extent, with myself.
The sermons delivered every night, on the other hand, held me transfixed in their universality (despite being intimately linked to the Bible) and left my mind reeling for hours afterwards. The man who delivered them spoke of wishing for a home and of hope and fear and many other feelings that cut across pretty much any dividing lines. However, there’s something more freeing and more passionate in music, I think, and to some extent I wish that I had allowed myself to sing. To do so would have perhaps been to gain an experience that would further extend my knowledge of Christianity, which itself was one of the main motivations behind my decision to go on the trip in the first place. I’m happy and feel as though I learned a lot just by hearing the words found in the Book of Isaiah interpreted by a man for whom I have much respect, but I wonder if I could have gained a firmer grasp of what those around me feel and think and believe if I had allowed my reservations to drop away —if I had had a little more faith.
I also have to wonder what about this experience was different than one I had in high school at a friend’s house during a major Hindu holiday, during which her entire family exhorted me to sing along with several hymns, and I did. There’s something to be said for the community that was forged by my willingness to engage, no matter my own beliefs, and to suspend any reflection until later. Perhaps this is what religion can be to some people —leaps of faith leading to said reflection on oneself, one’s community, and the greater world around us. Perhaps I was just more open years ago, and less cautious. Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps being wrong and questioning yourself until you get it right is actually a component of religion itself. Perhaps any generalizations like these are inherently wrong.But, in the end, these musings lead me to the same point; namely, that blind faith is sometimes just as valuable as prolonged reflection that yields the same result.
Kelly Hatfield is a sophomore from Medford, Mass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.