Sing we now of rationalists and existentialists

Saturday we drove over to Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, where Angela and several other singers from the Puget Sound Revels were staging a sing-along of traditional springtime songs and some sea shanties. As with all things the revelers do, this was an audience participation event. Our daughter Mara and I sat in the circle of tables and chairs and joined in.

I was moved not only by the songs themselves, but also by the fact that these songs were being sung out loud by real people in a community-oriented celebration, right there in front of and around us, and that my daughter was experiencing something that the world’s cultures have to a large extent thrown away.

Angela and fellow reveler take their turn leading the assembly in a traditional song about sheep shearing. Image courtesy of Gary Peterman.

Angela and fellow reveler take their turn leading the assembly in a traditional song about sheep shearing. Image courtesy of Gary Peterman.

It got me thinking. One of the ways to characterize the differences between my wife and me that make our marriage such an interesting subject of study for me is to imagine idea-driven people versus experience-driven people, or rationalists versus existentialists. I’m a recovering rationalist. I have lived most of my life responding to voices in my head that are always arguing and weighing the merits of one version of absolute truth against another. That is, I have experienced the world through a verbal filter, because that’s how I have best been able to make sense of it.

The problem is, as you know, that the world usually doesn’t make linear, verbal, rational sense, so you can pretty much spend your life’s energy engaging the voices in your head, or arguing with the people on the bus, and have nothing to show for it at the end. I think a lot of people fall into rationalist ruts of one sort or another. And I think it’s a real gift of grace to be handed a way out of that sinkhole. For me, it seems the gift of my wife was God’s way of providing me a pathway to a saner way of living and a more authentic spirituality. I’m fixin’ to tell you why.

One of my favorite things about Angela is that she does not labor to integrate every action into a rational manifesto of what the world should look like, as I am prone to do. I am likely to talk and talk about big plans, and the big problems that stand in the way of their fulfillment, and then be discontented. Angela just does stuff. She takes the world in the shape that she finds it and responds with her gut. She is often content. Little things well done make her smile.

Angela stays out of harm's way while the Devil kicks butt and takes names. Image copyright Revels, Inc.

Angela stays out of harm's way while the Devil kicks butt and takes names. Image copyright Revels, Inc.

Her involvement in the Revels is an example. About five or six years ago she auditioned for and joined the Revels, which through song, dance and storytelling celebrates both the Christian and nonchristian aspects of “the shortest day”, the winter solstice, in traditional cultures. There are about ten different Revels organizations in as many cities around North America, and each year the show focuses on a different theme or era or part of the world. She was in the show for the next three or four years (until Mara became two, essentially) and it has enriched our lives immeasurably. She is still frequently if peripherally involved with Revels doings.  

From Angela’s excited reports, the “idea” of the Revels found a home in my head right away. Before I even saw the first show she was in, I approved. It smacked of community and tradition, of taking the time to put something beautiful together on stage. But when I attended the show at the marvelous Rialto Theater in Tacoma, I was captured at a whole different (nonverbal and nonrational) level. I so connected with the whole spirit of the Revels — inclusive rather than exclusive, invitational rather than evangelical, shared with and enhanced by the audience rather than bleated out unilaterally from the stage — that I immediately wished I had joined them myself.  I felt a throbbing in my soul. It just felt right. It seemed like the most wonderful thing anyone could be part of. I was proud of Angela for just following her quiet little thread into such a worthy endeavor, and grateful because it rewarded me too.

Now, years later, this spin-off sing-along event was taking place in what amounts to a strip mall, and a nagging part of me wanted somehow to devalue the experience because of that. Granted, the idea behind Third Place Books was to combine a large book store with a spacious commons and activities and food — a communal gathering place where people would enrich each other’s lives. But it was still in a strip mall. I often fantasize about this kind of hootenanny arising suddenly around me as I play a fiddle on my big wooden porch in some rural community. Thing is, I live in the urbs not the rus, I don’t have a big wooden porch, I don’t play fiddle and I’m not a gregarious Irishman that people look to for spontaneous hoedowns.

I said in this blog’s About page that the journey we’re on is partly about compromise, about valuing good things where you can find them and where you can make them. What I experienced was that the revelers made something really good last Saturday, in suburbia, in a strip mall. I’m so glad I was there.


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