The New Normal

The realities of our “new normal” become more apparent each day, with calendar entries that now include “Zoom meeting with boss,” “Virtual lunch meeting with client,” and so on. A latecomer to the idea of virtual meetings, I heard of Zoom technology through an email from the head of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music on March 11, alerting me to a Zoom meeting with our students. Little did I know that this would become my new reality. After my first Zoom meeting, all I could ask was, How on earth could this new reality be inspiring, productive or creative?

Poet Wendell Berry writes: “There are, it seems, two Muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate vision and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, “It is yet more difficult than you thought.” This is the Muse of form.... It may be that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

When we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work… when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. I find those words incredibly empowering!

As sterile and one-dimensional that Zoom, Facetime or Google Classroom may be, I have witnessed some remarkably inspiring moments in these virtual encounters. For example, one of my students, confined alone in his apartment in New Haven, Connecticut, with only a three-octave digital keyboard at his disposal, experienced a profound breakthrough in a lesson several weeks ago. The expression on his face when he said, “Oh! I’ve just had an epiphany!” was priceless and gave both of us tremendous joy. Or the shy choir member who would never stand up in front of the Sanctuary Choir and speak, actually speaking freely and comfortably during one of our weekly Zoom rehearsals. Or a virtual lunch with friends in France – friends that I would have visited this summer, but cannot now – where typically, during the meal we were enjoying together, talk turned to what we would be cooking at our next meal.

I can picture the congregation back together in worship in the hopefully not too distant future. We will come together again! Already, I can hear you singing. But I’m certainly mindful that it will be very difficult to read the hymnal with tears in our eyes. What a happy morning that will be!