"Fall is a good time to roar against the wind…"


Winter/Spring 2002

Photo by Todd Vogel ’03

My Favorite Day of the Year

by Steve Webb ’83

One of my favorite days of the year at Wabash is Chapel Sing. I find Chapel Sing so moving, in part, because it is so damned loud. It comes near the end of September, when classes threaten become routine. Just when I start to despair that the semester will never end, I can venture out onto the mall and run smack into a sea of sound.

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 your voice.

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 Wabash.

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