"Fall is a good time to roar against the wind "
Fall is a good time to roar against the wind. Nature is preparing for
winter, the days are getting shorter, and yet summer is still in the air.
Shouting at the top of your lungs is one way of calling nature's bluff.
In the midst of a long semester, facing another Indiana winter, the students
proclaim that they still have a lot of life left in them. Would that I
could yell so loud.
When I was a student, Chapel Sing was a true rite of passage. It did
not mean that pledgeship was over, but it did mean that we had passed
a test that put our unity on trial. After all, Chapel Sing was not a one
day event. We had to stand on the patio practicing the school song nearly
every day. Singing together is a great way of establishing community,
especially when the active brothers taunt you and the song you are learning
is so long.
Chapel Sing has all the hallmarks of great ritual. Like all ritual, it
is paradoxically excessive behavior that is nonetheless tightly controlled.
It appears to be madness itself, yet there are a lot of rules. Thus, within
a set of parameters, the students do what they would never do anywhere
else. They shout until they drop.
The ritual actually begins even before the shouting. I still remember
the long procession to the chapel, arm in arm, across the mall. The Chapel
itself is a sacred building on campus, and it was made even more so by
that long, silent walk.
When I did Chapel Sing, we did not paint our faces. But that, too, is
an aspect of all ritual. Wearing a mask allows you to get some distance
on your everyday self. For a moment, you are allowed to express a vitality
that ordinarily is kept in check. Chapel Sing is thus great theater. It
is our own Wabash Opera, performed full throttle to the point of damaging
Rituals like Chapel Sing also leave you with a lot of memories. After
many years, all the days seem to flow into each other, and it is hard
to remember how one day differs from the next. Rituals are signposts that
say, "You were here."
They also connect you to the past. You do not stand alone. You have gone
where thousands of others have been. Americans suffer from historical
amnesia. We throw away the past as unusable. Rituals remind us that others,
too, have been where we once were. It is good to remember such things.
So I look forward to Chapel Sing. I do not know any other day quite like
it. When I see those guys singing, I know that I was once on those Chapel
steps too, and time slows down a bit, and the world seems like a smaller
place, a place where the generations can reach out and touch each other
even as time keeps moving us further apart.
Steve Webb 83 is the author of Good Eating and Taking Religion
to School. He is associate professor of philosophy and religion at