Simple Moodlings \'sim-pѳl 'mϋd-ѳl-ings\ n: 1. modest meanderings of the mind about living simply and with less ecological impact; 2. "long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering" (Brenda Ueland) of the written kind; 3. spiritual odds and ends inspired by life, scripture, and the thoughts of others
A personal perspective on Christian devotional music
My friend Julien, who has interfaith and ecumenical connections in our city, invited me to participate in a local conference put on by the Edmonton Committee of the Parliament of the World's Religions. I was offered ten minutes or so to speak about Christian Devotional music at a session on "The Importance of Music in Different Faith Traditions," along with people of Muslim, Hindu and Jewish faith traditions. It was an interesting interfaith experience of musical prayer. Each presenter either sang or played some music from their faith tradition, live or recorded -- and it underlined the value of song in all of humanity's interaction with God -- no matter our faith, music helps us to express ourselves when spoken word somehow falls short.
How does one do any sort of justice to the breadth of Christian music in ten minutes? I didn't even try, but rather shared my own appreciation for music by presenting a few bits of song that I love. I thought I'd share the text of my presentation, with a few pieces of music interspersed thanks to YouTube, for today's reflection. Thanks again to Denise and Dad for helping to lead the group in singing... and to Julien for giving me the opportunity.
A perspective on Christian music
I'd like to begin by speaking about Christian devotional music in my own life. Music has always held a particularly strong pull
for me in the celebration of my faith in God. I find that devotional music speaks
to and for my soul in ways that spoken prayer can’t. Fortunately, I grew up
during the time when the Roman Catholic Church began switching from hymns based
on Latin Gregorian chant, the maestros of classical music and ancient folk melodies to music with a
more folksy, contemporary feel. As a little kid, I always got
excited when someone played guitar instead of the organ because somehow, guitar
music was less intimidating. But that doesn’t mean that those Gregorian- or
classical music-based hymns don’t move me. Let’s try one verse of a song with the melody of Beethoven’s 9th
symphony, just to warm up our voices.
praise and thanksgiving to God are among my favourites. Marty Haugen's The Canticle
of the Sun is a contemporary, lively, and joyful song that uses an
adaptation of a prayer by St. Francis of Assisi, and I’ve already decided that
I want it sung at my funeral, especially because of the final verse, which
to our death that makes our life real,
knowledge of loss that helps us to feel
gift of yourself, your presence revealed,
bring us home.
Much of the
music that has been important to my faith life is based on scripture, which I
believe is one way that God communicates to me how I am loved, and how I am
expected to love. I also really enjoy songs that help me to express my love for
there might be as many different things that draw people to Christian music as
there are people. As a music minister, I’ve worked with people who choose music
based on the poetry or message of the lyrics, or the feel of a hymn, or its melody or rhythm. But
the biggest draw in my books is the sense of community that comes with singing
to God with others. I'm not one who wants to sit and listen to a soloist -- I like it when people can participate, and if people enjoy singing a song to God together, that’s
reason enough to sing it! I love it when we can raise the roof with an
uplifting tune... but I also enjoy quiet and reflective songs. So it was hard
to choose only a few songs to share with you.
I've decided to
focus on the music of a place known as Taizé, in France. It is a village where
an ecumenical group of monks welcome young people all year round to sing and
pray together three times a day, no matter what they believe. Youth come by the
droves to spend a week in the middle of nowhere, sleeping in tents and living
in community with the brothers. We’d like to introduce you to one of the chants
used at Taizé.
Bless the Lord, my soul, and bless God's holy name.
Bless the Lord, my soul, who leads me into life.
For the last
twenty–some years, on and off, I’ve participated in and led Taizé prayer gatherings
here in Edmonton, simply because I find it to be my favourite way to connect
people – and myself – with God. Merv, Denise and I, along with others, will lead a
prayer this coming Sunday evening (tonight) at St. David’s Anglican Church (7751 85th Street). I find that the
repetition of the prayerful and musical phrases open a room in my heart where I
know that God is; a door that often is forgotten in the bustle of my daily life...
but the beauty of Taizé chant helps me to center my awareness on God. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “To sing is
to pray twice.” Chant is my favourite prayer.
In terms of
how music helps us to experience the glory and ecstasy of knowing God, or how
it soothes our pain and sorrow, I could tell a dozen stories, but I’ll keep it
to just two stories with a single piece of music. The first time I heard the
chant we’ll sing in a few moments, I was at a Catholic-Lutheran student conference in Ontario, and the sound of many harmonious voices and many instruments raising
the song together gave me the goosebumps, and an absolute sense that God’s
Spirit was among us. It was glorious and very uplifting.
time that song spoke to me of God’s presence was with the coming of my second
daughter. Halfway through the pregnancy, during a routine ultrasound, a tumour
was discovered on my baby. It was a very difficult time – I was scared, and
sad, and eventually, angry – how could God allow such a thing to happen to an innocent baby? But to calm
myself and soothe my child, I began to sing this same Taizé chant whenever I
felt her move, trying to trust that God was taking care of us. Just after she
was born, she had a surgery to remove the tumour, and we spent a few days in
the neonatal intensive care at the University of Alberta Hospital. I rocked her in the rocking chair for hours, humming the
melody, and that’s how a Taizé song of praise became her lullaby. Whenever I
hear it now, it takes me back to a time when I am sure God was our consolation
and strength, and still is:
praises, all you peoples, sing praises to the Lord.
praises, all you peoples, sing praises to the Lord.