In these Dog Days of August replete with politics, athletics, wild weather (too hot, too many fires, too wet) and the shrillness of uncensored opinion about everything, I am looking to those sources of Grace that keep me centered, grounded, even in Joy! I know that much of my theology, much of my heart, much of joy lies in the songs that have accompanied me from the cradle, and will continue to do so as long as I love. I am sure that in these days of distress all round us, I need to keep close to this source of Spirit and healing from the Holy.
Music was a language into which I was born, primarily sacred music as sung by the communities in which I was nurtured. My family worshiped together in daily prayers, and all of us learned to sing in harmony, as we sang through the Inter-Varsity hymnal year after year. I played the piano in accompaniment. But while I was a seminary intern, I heard for the first time a melody with words that took root in my spirit, and continues to cheer, heal and haunt me. It is a 19th Century hymn attributed to Baptist pastor Robert Lowry. I was preaching one of my first sermons on the prophet Deborah, someone up against military threats, sexism and difficult odds. When she emerges from all the “tumult and the strife,” the next chapter in the book of Judges ascribes a full length song of celebration to her. After I preached, without introduction, a winsome young soprano soloist friend sang a capella from the balcony these words (not Deborah’s):
My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation/ I hear the clear, though far off hymn that hails a new creation./ No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging./Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?
The following verses sing about darkness, tyrants, prison cells, yet a clear deep sense that Love wins, and that alone is the prompt and cue for singing. Augustine has told us, that the one who sings prays twice, and so I am doubling my prayers through song this month–prayers for peace, for comfort, for hope, for healing, for resolution, for vision for energy and action; prayers of gratitude and praise, delight and laughter.
I include a youtube version of the late Jean Redpath singing this song on Prairie Home Companion; she surely could not keep from singing. I plan to follow her example!