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Archive for the ‘worship’ Category

This is the title of a hymn (sung to the same tune as “Bind Us Together”) by Charles Wesley, which I discovered in our Methodist hymnal. I am familiar with benediction songs, but don’t think I had ever heard a regathering song.

I love how this song brings into focus something that we often take for granted, until it doesn’t happen–the fact that, when we get back together with others, we actually all have made it through another period of time, alive.

And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!

There are six verses to the hymn (which is on the short side, for Charles Wesley, I’ve discovered). I won’t quote them all here. I do especially like the questions and the thoughts provoked by the third verse:

What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past,
fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last!

I appreciate those questions being voiced in the context of a church meeting. Stopping and looking around and realizing that not only in my own life, but in the lives of those around me, we come, not bringing amazing tales of heroics and greatness, but rather, choosing to worship together and cling to the Lord together, within the context of all of our ongoing suffererings, fears and conflicts.

Our Sunday finery might suggest a with-it-ness, but the reality is often far from “with it”. When that is the case, we do ourselves a service to make space for that brokenness and that pain and that suffering. If we think we need to cover up the troubles we’ve seen in the interlude between meeting with these brothers and sisters, if we feel like we need to be someone else–someone more exceptional and perfect–in order to show up at church, then we will neither find nor give the comfort, strength and encouragement that we were designed to give each other.

The other verses in the song celebrate the Lord’s sustaining and redeeming power, His salvation and the glad hopefulness of continuing to share in the sufferings of the cross.

And are we yet alive? If so, let’s take a good look around and actually notice what the Lord’s faithfulness has really meant for each of us since we last met. Let us consider what His faithfulness really looks like, not in some glorified, whitewashed way, but in the very real realities that each of us lives in.

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Streams of mercy never ceasing.

I love to listen to the CD, Deep Still Christmas, (you can hear samples here) at various times throughout the year. Last Easter I posted some thoughts that were stirred, listening to this CD on the way to my community sunrise service. The Christmas songs are mixed in with others, which are not explicitly seasonal, and I am often surprised by the things that touch my heart from that combination.

Yesterday, it was this one line from the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:

Streams of mercy never ceasing.

It goes on to say that the unceasing streams of mercy “…call for songs of loudest praise.” Of course, as an introvert, my response to the way mercies flow into my life is less often to break into songs of loud praise. Maybe songs of quiet praise. Or perhaps a gentle crying. Mainly, my heart just feels like it is flowing over with gratitude for the tender ways that the Lord has been and is faithful through so many painful and confusing and uncertain things I have had to face.

Last night, I was listening to a piano arrangement of the hymn, “Be Still, My Soul” as I fell asleep. It stirred feelings in my heart, in the exact place and way as the picture I have when I ponder the words “streams of mercy never ceasing”.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to thy God to order and provide;
in every change, he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
to guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

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David Ker asked something like that on two Lingamish posts recently. Well, I thought he asked a question along those lines on either this post or this one.  But, what I find when I go looking is this statement:

Somebody really ought to write a song that includes the bad stuff. Life is all about contrasts.

In any case, the feeling that stuck itself in my mind in response to those two posts, finds expression in the form of this question, “Where have all the sad songs gone?”

Many of them, I have found, are in the Methodist hymnal from the church I attend, and the Lutheran hymnal from the church I visited on Sunday (I was invited to a special joint service with their English and Spanish congregations. It was beautiful.) And in the Presbyterian hymnal from the church just a block away from my church.

When I need a song to weep to (or with), when I need a song that puts words to the sorrows of my heart and the trust that I hold even in that sorrow, those hymnals come through for me (well, I don’t yet have a copy of the Lutheran hymnal yet. It’s on its way, though, and from what I saw, skimming through the hymnbook on Sunday, I expect it to come through for me, too.)

A surprising place to find songs that include the bad stuff and the contrasts is the Advent section of the hymal. Advent is the time we remember the years of waiting for the Messiah, and the time in which we can make space for the tears, the waiting and hoping we continue to do as we go on living in a world with sorrows.

The “Oh, Come Let Us Adore Him” of Christmas celebration perhaps reaches it’s fullest meaning, when it is taken as a response to the other “Come” carol: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Song of God appear.”

And the chorus, with it’s “Rejoice! Rejoice!” that is based, not in completed fulfillment, but in the hope that “Emmanuel shall come to thee.”

Even though I know and find comfort and peace in Jesus, as Emmanuel, God with us, my heart understands and responds to the cry, “O Come, O Come.” Today, as then, God-With-Us so seldom comes in the ways I most want to be delivered, and certainly not on my timetable. He continues to be WITH us. And at the same time I rejoice about that, my heart longs and grieves and cries out for more.

Another thing I appreciate about the three hymnals I’ve mentioned here is the presence of liturgical readings between songs.  So, for example, in the Methodist hymnal, between the seven mournful verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” are seven short readings, each concluded with a corporate prayer, such as: “Come and save us, O Lord, our God.” or “Come, and with your outstretched arm redeem us.” Or, “Come, and deliver us whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.”

In the same hymnal is a “Canticle of Light and Darkness”–a group reading of prayers based on Scripture, with a line of music sung before, between and after the readings. The possible musical responses are:

–The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
–You are the light of the world; be light in our darkness, O Christ.
–O come, let us adore him, Christ, the Lord.

And here are the corporate readings (adapted from Isaiah 9:2, Isaiah 59:9-10; Psalm 139:11-12; Daniel 2:20 and I John 1:5). (R) indicates where the selected line of music is sung:

(R) We look for light, but find darkness,
for brightness, but walk in gloom.
We grope like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight. (R)

If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you,
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you. (R)

Blessed be your name, O God, for ever.
You reveal deep and mysterious things;
you are light and in you is no darkness.
Our darkness is passing away
and already the true light is shining.” (R)

Are there songs you’ve sung in church, which you can weep with? Which make space for the “bad stuff” you face?

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Every weekend I say good-bye to my children, as they leave to spend the next couple of days with their father.

Before they leave, I say a blessing over each of them:

You are my child, my joy and my treasure,
And in my heart, I’ll hold you forever.
In every word spoken, in every deed done,
Remember my love and the love of God’s Son.

and then, together, we sing these words:

God be with you till we meet again;
By His counsels guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again;
‘Neath His wings protecting, hide you,
Daily manna still provide you;
God be with you till we meet again.
(words by Jeremiah E. Rankin; music by William G. Tomer)

It has become a ritual that the kids are very protective about making sure we fit in before they leave. The first few times, we talked in detail about what the words meant. I seriously doubt they consciously pay attention to the actual words anymore or focus on the meaning while we sing. This is, I suppose, why some people do not like ritual or tradition. Repetition can become mindless and the assumption is that mindless equals meaningless.

For me, however, whether or not my children clue into what is being said on any given day, it is very important that they have heard these words each week. The words are there, and by sheer repetition, I believe they have become a part of my children’s lives and minds and hearts.

There are many things which happen in shared life which are not rituals or traditions which, hopefully, fill out and support the heart behind these words. There are many things, I also know, which seem to argue against the words (I have a 13 year old son. At this point and time, even my expecting him to help with the dishes is interpreted by him as contradictory to my loving him.)

Words of blessing and a song of prayer are emptiness if they are all there is to a relationship. When there is more to a relationship, though, I think ritual can be a beautiful thing. But, even when love is present and shown in more ways, I believe that there will be times that my children will not be able to see or remember or notice all the rest of the things that are there, announcing my love to and for them.

And in that time and place, I hope that these words will come back to my children in good ways as some kind of assurance or affirmation. If they can’t cling to these words as absolutely true in the face of things which make them question my love, perhaps the relentlessness of rituals that can’t be forgotten will at least add an element of doubt to the questions which seem to scream with certainty at them of the untrustworthiness of their Mom’s love.

And in any case, whether or not my children are able to take or hold on to anything specific from these rituals, the song itself gives me words each week to express a cry and prayer from my heart. There are so many details and specifics which weigh on me and grieve me and cause me concern. This song beautifully and concisely brings together my heart’s cry and puts words to my deep prayer. That they are the same words each week does not make them less meaningful to me. It feels like these words are able to hold all the nuances of meaning, however different the actual situation may be each time I pray and sing them.

At the moments when it is hardest for me to find my own words of prayer, I am grateful for this song which expresses so much of my longing, hopes and trust in the Lord for my children, in such simple words.

My children have left early this week, and my heart is extra heavy for them for a variety of reasons. May God be with them till we meet again.

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Have you ever heard that statement? I don’t really disagree, even though I don’t exactly agree either (e.g. it operates on a false assumption pointed out on a great post at Beyond Words that worship = music.) It’s a good post and I’m still thinking through all of it, but, for the moment, let me focus less on the metaphor itself or the semantics of “worship”, but more on the underlying assumption that being a “spectator” in worship (as in “corporately worshipping with music”) is bad. Which leads me to ask this question:

Who defines “spectator”?

I have at times felt very awkward because, when that statement was announced from the pulpit, it seemed like the admonishing one (usually a worship leader) was looking straight at me.

I have recently been realizing that, as an introvert in church, I look most like a spectator when I’m actually most fully engaged in worship.

This is not only true of me with regards to musically connected worship. The more engaged I am in any activity, the more serious I look. The more totally enraptured I am with someone or something in a given moment, the more still and silent I become.

I really like attending churches that leave space for emotions, for emotional expressions and for my emotions to be spoken to and delighted by the Holy Spirit. It is in those same churches, however, that I have sometimes felt the most awkward and the most stared at because of how silent and still I can be in worship. In those places, I may very well be the only one not clapping.

I may not, heaven forbid, even be smiling. Because another thing about me is that, sometimes when I’m very happy, I look very serious. (I just found this quote from one of the first blog posts I ever wrote: “But in some of my happiest, most contented moments, I have also been awed into facial blankness.” The post, incidentally, was called, “Being Happy and Not Smiling”. )

I was recently thinking that perhaps I’m a Quiet Charismatic. I have been called a Quiet Renegade before, but that’s a little bit different 🙂 .

In any case, as a quiet charismatic, it’s not so much that I need a quiet church as it is that I long for a place where a quiet expression of emotions is not looked down on or judged as “falling short”.

I have been in quiet churches, where it felt like there was no breathing space for emotions, or for me as an emotional person. I have also been in more lively churches where “emotional expression” was so loaded with expectations of how that is supposed to look, that I also felt like it was hard to breathe.

This is not about trying to create a fantasy ideal church–the ME church that works, first and foremost for me. (Click “preview” to see a miniature version of the complete video)

It has been helpful, though, to think about how to begin to be comfortable with being myself and with making myself at home wherever I worship and with whomever I’m worshipping.

Just admitting that some of these things are hard for me helps me feel less on edge when I’m in a situation that is not totally comfortable or where I feel conspicuous because my silence or stillness seems to be rather loudly drawing attention to me. And perhaps even causing me to look unspiritual or unmoved by the Spirit, at the times when I am most moved or touched by the Holy Spirit. I’m learning to be okay with that being between me and the Holy Spirit, and not concern myself so much with what other people may see or think they see. (I’ve got a long way to go, still, though 🙂 )

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To make words sing
Is a wonderful thing–
Because in a song
Words last so long.

(“To Make Words Sing” by Langston Hughes)

Music has been one of God’s great provisions for helping me survive when I am weak and hurting.

I am the kind of person who, when a song moves me, likes to listen to it over and over. Words put to music last. They stick with me. They stir up feelings, and since my memory is an emotional one, I can recall the truths easier when a song stores the words in a feeling place in my brain.

Sometimes songs are sermons to me, when my brain is in such a fog from exhaustion or pain that I can’t make sense of the other kind of sermons.

Sometimes songs express the prayers of my heart when I can’t form my own words.

Sometimes songs put shape to the gratitude and praises that are in my heart but are hard to see, fallen as they are between the cracks of my pain or tiredness.

With songs and hymns and spiritual songs, I am given the gift of words when I don’t have my own.

It is hard to remember truth when I’m in pain. But when I listen to words of truth set to music, over and over again, not just the words, but the truth and the feelings that go with the words seep down into the hurting places and really minister to me. And I don’t forget those kinds of words.

When a friend speaks truth to me in my pain, I might bristle, but when truth comes to me in song, I find that my bristles sort of deflate (oops, there I go mixing metaphors again).

I’ve included this quote recently on another post, but it fits here as well:

i hear many people telling me they leave church ‘uplifted,’ but few tell me they leave challenged (to live as Christ asks of them). i try to program music that does both. (comment from Scott Gray on metacatholic’s post, “Muting the Psalms”)

Spiritual music encourages me, challenges me, changes my perspective, stirs my heart, adds feeling to the truths I know. and gives expression to what I feel about and towards God.

Do you have words, which you are especially glad to be able to sing, because the song makes the words last so long?

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…grant us courage.

Those two words are repeated in each verse of the hymn “God of Grace and God of Glory,” which we sang at the end of church today.

In the first verse, the song seems to be a corporate prayer from and concerning the church.

But as I sang and repeated again and again the line, “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage” with a different line following it each time, it became for me a very personal cry.

I was praying it for myself. I was praying it in the context of specific relationships. And I also was praying it in the bigger picture context of being one member connected to the others in the body of Christ.

Wisdom and courage. Lord, I need these from you.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of these days.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving thee whom we adore!

As we progressed through the verses, my heart moved from this being a prayer that came out of a sense of heaviness and neediness to a delightful proclamation and affirmation of my desire, as part of the body of Christ, to serve the one whom we, together, adore.

Even with the delightful confidence of asking for wisdom and courage to continue to serve the one whom I adore, that was not the verse of the song which impacted me most deeply.

I was most moved by some of the words of verse two:

Fears and doubts too long have bound us;
free our hearts to work and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

I love the picture of being granted wisdom and courage to live these days. Living these days happens in the context of fears and doubts. There’s no getting away from them, I don’t think. But it is a hopeful distinction to me that I can live out these days, surrounded by emotions that go up and down in response to the difficult situations that have a way of coming along, but I don’t actually have to be bound by the fears and doubts. They are there. They are here. They are in and around me. But with God’s wisdom and courage, my heart can be and is freed to work and praise.

Sometimes I think we assume that if the doubts and fears are still around, something is wrong. But, I don’t think so. Doubts and fears can exist and affect me, but not necessarily bind me. I can be free to work and praise and live out these hard days in the middle of the doubts and fears.

I think, perhaps, it is a bit like the distinction I have mentioned several times on this blog, which Michael Card makes in one of his songs:

“When our questions dissolve into the silence of God,
the aching may remain, but the breaking does not.”

There is an aching without the breaking. And I think, similarly, there is a reality of doubt and fear that does not bind, but out of which can come a trusting (indeed, desperate trusting, during the times when the fears and doubts are biggest) that brings glory to God and is a beautiful way of living out these days.

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