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Singing Your Song

May 6, 2010 1 comment

The drive to school took about 45 minutes in our VW bug. I’d lay in the back seat, singing goofy little songs.

I still make up goofy little songs.

I believe we were made to sing. In fact, I might go so far as to suggest that each of us is a living, breathing song.

We don’t tell our heart to beat in rhythm. It simply beats. As we join the constant pulse of our hearts, we clap, dance, jump, and sing. Step outside and we might discover a tree, a sun, and even a breeze reminding us to sing (and maybe skip).

At times in life, I’ve lost the song. Too busy trying to be grown-up and look grown-up and respected as a genuine, successful grown-up, I’d forget to sing. Sometimes I’d be too serious, too important, too spiritual, too busy or too depressed to sing.

All sorts of odd folks and experiences help me to remember, help me to hear, help me to start singing again. Sometimes the laughter of birds startled it forth. A walk around the neighborhood, a funny little story, a Psalm of David. And of course, my wife has always been able to stir up a song in my heart.

One of the most profound stirrings of song in my heart came when I began baptizing my imagination in the stories and poems of Celtic Christians. With hearts and pens tuned to the rhythms of the psalmist, the Celtic poets sang the praises of God as they meditated upon His Word, as they beheld His good gifts in the trees, birds, books and people around them.

They praised their friends, their leaders and their loved ones. Yet as one 13th century Irish poet proclaimed,

To praise man is to praise
the One who made him,
and man’s earthly possessions
add to God’s mighty praise.

All metre and mystery
Touch on the Lord at last,
The tide thunders ashore
In praise of the High King.

Their words and hearts were tuned to sing of the great High King Jesus. Even as they sang, they invited the world around them to join in the song:

Glorious Lord, I give you greeting!
Let the church and the chancel praise you,
Let the chancel and the church praise you,
Let the plain and the hill-side praise you,
Let the world’s three well-springs praise you.
Two above wind and one above land,
Let the dark and the daylight praise you.
Abraham, founder of the faith, praise you:
Let the life everlasting praise you,
Let the birds and the honeybees praise you,
Let the shorn stems and the shoots praise you.
Both Aaron and Moses praised you:
Let the male and the female praise you,
Let the seven days and the stars praise you,
Let the air and the ether praise you,
Let the books and the letters praise you,
Let the fish in the swift streams praise you,
Let the thoughts and the actions praise you,
Let the sand-grains and the earth-clods praise you,
Let all the good that’s performed praise you.
And I shall praise you, Lord of glory:
Glorious Lord, I give you greeting!

The more I’ve read, the more I discover a people immersed in prayers and songs. They had prayers for waking up, prayers for sweeping the house, prayers for making the bed, prayers for milking the cows and even prayers for talking a walk.

My walk this day with God,
My walk this day with Christ,
My walk this day with Spirit.
Ho! Ho! Ho! The three-fold all-kindly.

A certain playfulness spills over in many Celtic prayers. In this playfulness a dance with the Creator. God is not away on some far off planet. He is present. Ever present. Fully present. I need to be reminded of a Savior who near, not far:

May Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ to my right, Christ to my left, Christ where I lie down, Christ where I sit, Christ where I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me, Christ in every eye which looks on me, Christ in every ear which hears me.

As I listen to the steady cadence of these prayers, these songs, I hear the music in my ever beating heart.

We live in a world with many images but little vision, many sounds but few true words, many jokes but little deep joy. There is suffering all around us and often within us. There are troubles in life we cannot explain. Our dreams and hopes do sometimes whither and fade.

But our heart keeps beating.

We may take a cue from the old pumper and tap a toe, whistle a ditty, make up a song, and then make up another song. We might actually discover music that the good Lord put inside us that we never even realized was there.

As we sing and rejoice in His goodness, we might be surprised how music, like oxygen, rejuvenates, refreshes, and tunes us to the sweet Lord Jesus who ever prays (and sings) over us.

Psalm 126 – Returning

July 13, 2009 2 comments

A cool burst of wind turned the falling droplets toward him, christening his face. Looking up momentarily, he drifted off between sleep and waking. His stomach felt queasy on the shifting ship.

But his soul felt numb in gray light between life and death.

He was going home. But there would be no parade. The band wouldn’t play. The people wouldn’t sing. Most folks would probably avert their eyes when passing him for fear of adding to his shame. The great missionary who left Rogersville with a vision from God to convert the Burmese was traveling home a broken, god-forsaken man.

Everything he planted, the soil rejected. He tried to farm but nearly starved. He planted the gospel in the people only to watch a drought suck their faith dry and send them back to their old rituals. The only thing that remained in the soil was the body of his wife and child. Fever and some unknown illness stole her life. All the while he cried out to God, but the heavens were silent.

He sat by his wife and child’s grave for one year. When God refused to kill him as well, he decided to return home from this exile in hell.

Memories of his failure haunted him day and night.

But not today.

He remembered an old Psalm that he taught the people there. Today the words of the song drifted and danced around his half-conscious stare. As the words of the song played over and over in his memory, he began dreaming of another time, another people, another nightmare.

When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream. (vs 1)

The nameless, landless people sat in the darkness of Babylon. Israel ceased to exist. Her children were no longer “children of Israel.” They were exiles. Nameless, faceless people who watched their past burn to the ground. Without a past or a future, they sat and wept.

But the Lord turned with a turning toward them. He called the dead bones back to life. He gave them a name. He gave them back their land. He called a non-existent nation back into existence. And after a 70-year-nightmare, they woke up to a glorious, shimmering dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing. (vs 2)

While their eyes wept, their mouths sounded forth with joyous laughter. And their hearts resounded with singing. As they returned home, “They said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’” And the newborn Israel resounded, “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are glad.” (vs 3)

He woke up. And he remembered the faithfulness of the Lord. He remembered how the Lord restored him from the point of death as a child. He remembered the laughter and rejoicing that echoed from house to house throughout the community.

He remembered the dramatic provision the Lord made for him and his wife when they were planning to launch on the missionary trip. As they were saving money for the journey, the community joined in preparations. Strangers even came and blessed them with provision. They went out rejoicing in God’s blessings and looked forward to His continuing blessing.

But then the dry season. Then the failed crop. And then, and then….

His mind drifted back to the song.

Bring back our captivity, O LORD,
As the streams in the South.
Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him. (vss. 4-6)

The covenant community now living back in the land, remembered and resounded the song of the captives coming home. But even as they did, they cried out for God to turn a turning toward them yet again.

Crops were failing in a life-sucking drought. They watered the ground with tears crying out for God’s face to look upon them, to look upon the land, to heal the land, to resound His word of joy across the land and beyond.

Their tears of anguish in the land reminded him of his tears sown over the land, the people of the land and his own wife and child. He planted his most valuable treasure in that land.

As he reflected, something turned. Something almost imperceptible turned within him, upon him. Something like the first hint of dawn before the sun appears.

In the middle of this moment, he would not have been able to explain this something. He didn’t fully understand it. Yet in the weeks and months ahead, he would talk about this moment. He would talk about this psalm. He would remember the crop that he planted in Burma. He would ask God to tend that crop and water that crop. He would ask the Lord to bring him back home to that crop.

The almost imperceptible moment awakened his dead heart.

Now he realized that his heart was in Burma. He turned back toward Burma. Or the Lord turned him back toward Burma. In this turning, he sensed the face of God once again. And he asked the Lord to turn a turning toward the people and the land.

He continued gazing across the deck of the ship. The droplets now blossomed into a spring shower. He stood up and lifted up his hands and for a moment remained motionless, resting in the falling rain, resting in the faithfulness of God.

Psalm 125 – A Translation

July 2, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been reflecting on Psalm 125 and trying to write a mini story in it. As a way of getting inside, I thought I’d write my own translation based on the rhythms I am hearing.

Psalm 125
Rest in YHWH like Mt Zion
dwelling, resting, abiding on and on and on.
YHWH surrounds Jerusalem like the mountains
surrounding, enclosing, guarding on and on and on.
NO!
Wicked rulers are not like the mountains
shall not endure
shall not remain
shall not rest
in the land YHWH created
for His people
for His children
to rest
in His way
in His truth
in His goodness
in His love
But to those who hate, who reject, who resist
His way
His truth
His goodness
His love
Remove from the land.
So the land
may be Shalom
and Shalom
may be the land.

Categories: Bible Tags: , , ,

Psalm 124

June 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Psalm 124

Stepping out into steady drip, drip, drip of an early morning rain, Victor walks toward home. The cool, crisp air greets him as soft water streaks down his face, reminding him that he is alive. Alive.

The greenness of the grass washes over his eyes, the sweet smell of spring flowers mixed with the earthy smells of mud and trees intoxicates him. He looks around and beholds a new world. A new creation.

Fallen trees and leaf-covered paths suggest a heavy rain had passed through this place. A deluge. But now the devastation of last night’s storm has given way to a gentle sun penetrating the soft, spring rain flowing into rivulets along the road.

Overcome with thanksgiving, he stops walking and lifts up his hands and to proclaim,

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.(Psalm 124:1-5)

This Psalm burned in Victor’s soul as he meditated upon the words day after day after day for the past 15 years. Plunged into prison for his faith, he was starved, beaten, mocked, and drugged. Despair engulfed him, darkness choked him, death drew near.

Day after day after day his confession of faith was tested. The enemy came like a flood, swallowing Victor’s faith and and hope and love. Yet the Lord was faithful even when Victor felt the last vestige of faith slipping from his soul.

He thought the world forgot and feared that God forgot. From the depths of Sheol, he cried out to the Lord. “Remember me!”

And He did. In the place of forsakenness, Victor encountered the faithful love of the Lord that lasts forever.

And strangely, in this place of pain and loneliness, he also met a company of friends. As the prison swallowed Victor alive, he remembered Jonah plunged in the bowels of the great fish. As he faced year after year of suffering and hardship, he remembered the Israelites breaking under the harsh whip of Pharaoh.

In heart of darkness, he met King David crouched and hiding in a cave; Jeremiah in a sinking dark well; and Paul being stoned and left for dead. As He descended down in the dark chasms of suffering, Victor came to realize he lived in a great company of saints. In the mystery of God’s encircling love, he rested in this family of the not forsaken.

One vague story haunted him in the dark watches of the night. Again and again his mind returned to the 3rd century story of St. Julian, an old man accused of following Christ. Tormented and crippled by gout, Julian was carried into the court for trial. This frail and broken man stood without waver in the face of judgment and destruction.

Victor dreamed. And as he dreamed, he encountered Julian.

“Get up!” The gruff voice of an old soldier wakens Julian from his momentary dozing. Stiffly and slowly his rises. His shoulder is dislocated and his swollen feet feel like clods of earth attached to his legs. Julian hobbles towards the guard with a secret smile.

Today he is going home. As he walks, his shackles fall away, and Julian is free. He is going home. He thinks of himself like a bird getting ready to fly. And he remembers an old psalm and silently sings:

Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped! (Psalm 124:6-7)

Dried blood cracks along deep cuts, and fresh streams wash down his back. Once again a secret smile. Julian remembers another washing.

Long ago in another age, he was plunged into waters of life. As Julian was immersed into the waters of life in death, he remembered and was remembered.

The Lord gathered this poor and forgotten boy into the family of God. The joy of this embrace gave him a song that never ceased. And like a bird from the heavens, he never stopped singing Psalms of thanksgiving to Lord who put him in family.

Today the song bubbles just beneath the surface. For in the great and merciful love of his Lord, Julian now enjoys the honor of another baptism. And in this great cleansing, he feels giddy like a young a boy with the fire of life.

Again and again, the dreams of Julian encouraged Victor and reminded Him of God’s unfailing love. Today as Victor leaves the prison and walks home, he envisions Julian walking home alongside him.

He soaks in the cool rain, the mud-soaked ground, and gentle mist floating over the fields. At the edge of the field stands on old stone house. Crossing the path, he walks toward two people working in the morning drizzle: the wife of his youth and his boy become a man.

A song flies upward from his mouth to the throne of God. As he sings, he tastes the sweet joy of St. Julian.

Tears of joy flood Julian’s face as he climbs the cold, stone steps one last time. The joy inside him overpowers the twisted and broken limbs and for a moment, he walks upright before the cheering crowd. Soon he will be home, but first another promised baptism. As Julian walks into the raging fire, his secret song explodes out from his lungs in a psalm of praise.

Julian’s and Victor’s voices join the chorus of David, Jeremiah, Daniel and all the people of God walking home to the Father:

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8)

Singing the Vision

January 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Singing is one of the ways the ancient Hebrews remembered their history and their commission. The Psalms are songs of praise to YHWH rooted in the Law of the Lord. This patterns starts immediately after the crossing of the Red Sea. A song is composed to memorialize this event and YHWH’s redeeming hand in the midst of it.

The psalms climb to the heights of human joy and drop down to the depths of grief and lamentation. While focused on the objective unchanging Law of the Lord and the story of God’s people, these songs give full expression to human emotion and human experience. By singing the songs, the listener begins to enter into the story and world of the people of God.

Music integrates words, emotions, imagination and body. Singing requires both our breath and our thoughts. In one sense, dance is the song moving and expressing through all the members of the body. In music (song and dance), there is movement between words and ideas, and in this movement hidden connections may be revealed.

This is not irrational. Instead, it might said that music fulfills the real, objective connections between realities that may not be obvious otherwise. Because melodies can bend backwards, overlap and play atop one another, we can see multiple connections between notes that might be difficult to see if we were simply staring at a score.

These connections between notes are like connections between ideas and action and vision. Humans are connected in relational ways that may not be obvious to the human eye. For instance, I cannot see a physical connection between father and son but they are connected on multiple levels. Extend this outward between man and man, man and creature and even man and objects, and I may discover many more connections than I ever imagined.

The Church Fathers expressed this connection as perechoresis and rooted this idea in the Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit (one God in three persons). Perechoresis is sometimes expressed as the loving dance between Father, Son and Spirit. In the dance, we cannot distinguish between Father, Son and Spirit. They are one, and yet they are three.

They extended this idea of a loving dance to all creation and all the spheres. The whole cosmos is created to reflect the loving dance of God. Every particular person and thing in creation is distinct and yet all are created to move in a harmony of love. Music helps us to experience, remember, see these connections.

Thus music can stir vision by revealing unexpected connections and by rehearsing ideas in my body and memory.

Art and Vision
Developing out from the power of remembering in stories and song, we begin to see how all the arts express this memory in different ways. Painting, poetry, drama, architecture and all the arts put this music into forms: some more solid (permanent) than others.

Meditation as Song

August 22, 2008 1 comment

I’ve been chanting the Psalms in the mornings, and it occurred to me today that singing is meditation. In the past I’ve thought of music and chanting as a means to focus the mind on a singular idea. So music was a way to meditation. But I considered the actual meditation pure thought.

Now I realize that the Psalmist is not stripping the outer world away to think in a purely rationalized or abstracted level. Rather singing is meditation. Just as eating the bread and drinking the wine is remembering the Lord’s death.

While thinking draws on a rationality, true meditation is so much more. It brings together imagination, rationality, the physical body and emotions. Meditation is training me to be a whole/wise person (a home sapien) and not simply a homo logicus.

Dusty Saints

February 22, 2008 Leave a comment

The psalmist cries out to the Lord,

“My soul clings to the dust; Revive me according to Your word.”

During Lent, the cry of the psalmist becomes the cry of God’s people. Like Adam we hear the resounding Word of God announcing, “For you are dust and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).

Unlike the birds, we have flown beyond the horizon to the moon, and we may even fly to Mars. Unlike the fish we have learned how to live under the sea and upon the land. Unlike the ants, we’ve built buildings that stand and stand and stand and continue to stand. Unlike the apes, we’ve formed clans and towns and cites and nations.

While inspired by the world around us, humans continually discover new ways to rise above the natural order. Like gods, we create, we rule, we master, we thrive. In rain and drought, we survive. We work in darkness and light. When new obstacles cross our path, we learn ways to surmount the obstacles and even use the energy from our struggle to grow even stronger.

Diseases may threaten us but eventually, we find ways to overcome. Even while facing the dreaded cancer, diabetes, heart disease and AIDs, we don’t give up. In fact, we are discovering more and more solutions to fight and win the battle against these threats.

The accomplishments of humanity boggle the mind. We live in a time of such exploding innovation that no one can even keep up with all the new discoveries that surface day after day after day.

We are lords of creation, and yet, we are still nothing more than dust. In spite of our power, our creations, our glory, we are fading. Soon we will die. And soon we will be forgotten. Like the grass, we wither and fall and fade.

We are but dust and to dust we will return.

When God decided to image Himself, He created a world. From this world, He took the dust and breathed upon it, and “man became a living being.” In spite of our accomplishments, we have no life outside of the breath that sustains us each moment.

Take that breath away, and we falter and fade. Thus the psalmist prays, “My soul clings to dust.” And yet, even as he acknowledges his dustiness, he calls upon the Word of God to revive him. The psalmist knows that the Word of God breathes life into his dust, for the Word is forever settled in heaven (Psalm 119:89).

While we rejoice and celebrate the wonder of human accomplishments, let us not be intimidated by the appearance of human mastery. We are not of the universe after all. Our kingdoms fall. Our innovations fail. Our power fades. We are but dust.

As we journey through the Lenten wilderness, let us cling to the Word of the Lord. His breath sustains, his Word creates and re-creates us. And by His grace alone, we can feed upon the Word that will stand forever.

Advent Dreaming

December 3, 2007 Leave a comment

Advent is a time for dreaming. A time for recovering ancient, long forgotten dreams. A time to expect, anticipate, we rejoice in the day when the wrongs will be righted, the righteous will be vindicated, the weak will be made strong, the justice of God will prevail and be revealed to all people. As we dream of a world made right by love, we might just begin to walk and live in the reality of that love in the ways we speak, act and live toward our fellow humans.

I wrote a little story about advent dreaming, but I thought it was too long to post here. If you want to read it, it’s at the following link:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/668203/Going-to-the-House-of-the-Lord-Psalm-122

Categories: Advent, meditation Tags: ,
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