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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.

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.

Advent – Rejoice!

December 23, 2008 Leave a comment

The feast is upon us. For those who’ve kept the advent fast and for those who forgot. For those who’ve been watching and for those who fell asleep.

Suddenly an angel appears announcing, “Good news!” And the dark night becomes a festival of light. Thousand and thousands of voices join in the song,
“Glory to God in the highest,
Peace on earth
Goodwill to man!”

What? You don’t feel like singing? You don’t have the Christmas spirit. Your back hurts. You’re in a bad mood.

I would suggest that for all these reasons, you must sing. Sing out! Pierce the darkness of dis-courage-ment with the light of courage to praise. Even now God’s redemption draws near to you. Today is the day of salvation.

It’s a day of good news, great tidings, delicious, delightful, happily-ever-after news. God has declared “Peace!”

In spite of our warring hearts, in spite of our false loves, in spite of our constant failings, He declares, “Peace and Joy!” In the miracle birth of baby Jesus, we behold the Heavenly King who comes to make all things new—even your sad story.

The story that you thought was a story of failure has become a grand adventure. A love story. A song and dance. A fairy tale that out fairy tales even Snow White and Cinderella combined. For the Prince of Peace wakes your dead soul with a holy kiss and invites you to the Wedding Feast.

Even now He is present and the angels are singing all around you. In fact, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of voices have joined in the song. The saints of the ages have joined in the glorious refrain,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.”

He has not forgotten you. He did not abandon you. Even now He calls you by name. Even now He looks upon you as His beloved.

For the babe Jesus came as King, as Lover, as Healer, and Lord and Redeemer. He did not simply come to restore the people of Israel, He came to restore all of us into His life of love.

Let us join the angel song.

This rejoicing. This singing. This praising. This is why we have our tongues. For once let us use them for their real purpose, to sing hilariously to the good God of Heaven who enters our world of sin and death and pain and suffering, so that we might enter into His world of love and life and joy and peace.

So get up and let us all light up the darkness with the joy of singing, dancing, laughter and love.

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.

Sing Out!

October 25, 2006 2 comments

Here’s a nice little quote I came across while reading Anthony Esolen’s “Hearts Uplifted” in Touchstone.

He who sings prays twice. – St. Augustine

I tried to track down the original wording and according to the Church History Forum, this is apparently the original quote:

For he that singeth praise, not only praiseth, but only praiseth with gladness: he that singeth praise, not only singeth, but also loveth him of whom he singeth. In praise, there is the speaking forth of one confessing; in singing, the affection of one loving.”
(St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 73, 1)

Now while I like the theological accuracy of Augustine’s actual wording, I must admit it doesn’t pack the pithy punch of the traditional rendering.

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