Where Is Our Music?

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This is not a “ripped from the headlines” opinion article. It is not about a current crisis going on in the world, though I could write about many. But since it’s Friday, how about a gentler and kinder blog post on a subject easier to contemplate, one that hints at real joy!

This blog post is about something as old as time, something timeless and enduring and cherished. Something that is meant, among other things, to bring us joy. It’s about the music that tells our stories — the stories of a nation, of a community, of a church.

The benefits of music on the mind and body have been recognized since the days of the Greek philosophers. According to Plato, music “gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything.”

Today, researchers and scientists continue to explore how music affects emotions by  improving and enriching the way we think, feel and relate to the world. So we might ask the researchers, “where is our music?” Those in the know say that our music is in the right side of our brains, but researchers also tell us that listening to and performing music impacts the brain as a whole. Music stimulates both halves of the brain — the analytical brain (left) and the subjective-artistic brain (right). While the left brain processes elements in music such as pitch, tempo and structure, the right brain — often considered the more creative hemisphere — focuses on the melody in the music. 

And that’s all the physiological and psychological, scientific trivia I have about music. What I really want to share is how music affects worship. Where is our music when we worship?

I happen to be Baptist, and Baptists have deep roots in musical expressions of worship, seldom finding it difficult to sing from the heart — with unbridled joy — making melody and harmony that would soar through church sanctuaries large and small, simple and ornate.

Hymn singing has long been one of the most cherished acts of worship for Baptists. I dare say that many Baptists remember hearing about “the great hymns of the church” from an early age and learning about church music in their Music Makers or Young Musicians choirs. If funds allowed, the minister of music (AKA choir director) would receive music booklets from a subscription service designed so that children would learn about hymnody, music in worship, choir member deportment and, as we used to describe it, “singing parts.” 

Not so much today. These days, it seems that joyful, exuberant hymn singing is a little more difficult for worshippers. Many congregations are regrettably a bit more restrained than they once were. As for music in my personal experience, well these days the church music in my world is restrained enough to make me wonder, where is our music?

I have to say that our music is still an important element of our church’s worship, with hymns carefully and creatively selected to enhance worship. Then what’s the problem? I believe problem to be our disimpassioned attitude when we sing. That kind of attitude is robbing us of music’s full spiritual expression. I am not, by any means, a professional musician that can comment on hymn texts, hymn tunes, meter, or the history of Christian hymnody. I am merely a worshipper who finds music to be a primary expression of true worship. With a bit of reticence, I approach the conclusion that some of us sometimes sing words without paying attention to their meaning, sing hymns without noticing their theological message, or sadly, do not really sing at all, certainly not from the heart.

It is not for me to ensure that congregations sing and appreciate the words they are singing. I have no power at all to make individuals sing from their hearts. Yet, music that does not come from the heart is something like “fake worship.” 

There are so many ways our hymns can touch the heart and aid worship. I mention only three that seem most important to remember.

MUSIC EXPRESSES JOY . . . 

Most certainly, our songs and hymns can and should be expressions of joy. People in church don’t smile much, but singing, “then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee, how great Thou art!” ought to cause us to smile with holy joy! The Scripture calls us to joy:

My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you—
I whom you have delivered.   — Psalm 71:23

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before God with thanksgiving
and extol God with music and song.  
 — Psalm 95:1-2

MUSIC EXPRESSES THEOLOGICALLY SOUND THOUGHTS . . .

The hymns we sing in worship not only inspire us, they instruct us. A hymn like “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is theologically sound, proclaiming the attributes of God. There are many such hymns that enhance our knowledge of God. The Scripture challenges us to wisdom and identifies singing hymns as one way we learn.

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  — Colossians 3:16

MUSIC EXPRESSES OUR BEST WORSHIP . . .

When I contemplate that phrase in Colossians — singing to God with gratitude in your heart — I am prompted to more fully express my faith through song. I hope that our singing truly is an act of true worship, a time when we invite the presence of God and the Holy Spirit to be in our midst. Consider Solomon’s dedication of the temple. When all the preparations were done and the temple was finished, the worshippers sang and played instruments as an expression of praise, and the result was astounding.

The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:

“He is good; his love endures forever.”

Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud,
and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud,
for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.   — 2 Chronicles 5: 13-14

So I wonder: where is our music? Do we find it through our casual singing of three hymns every Sunday, or it is more than that? Could we make our singing more personally meaningful by paying  closer attention to the words of a hymn, receiving the thoughts expressed in the hymn into our spirit and reacting to them as part of our expression of worship?

I don’t know exactly what a temple “filled with the cloud” looks like. But it seems that a result of our songs of praise might well become cloud-like, as God’s Holy Spirit joins us in worship and fills the sanctuary with the power of wind and flame.

Don’t we need that kind of worship experience?

What If?

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Sometimes blogs express grief or anger, indignation or angst, fear or struggle. But today, this blog, must express joy, relief, hope and gratitude. If you saw my last post about my week-long medical evaluation at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, you know that my hope was that I would be approved for a kidney transplant.

Today, I received the phone call from Mayo letting me know that I am now on the transplant list and ready for a kidney. It was a phone call that rekindled my hope. It brought instant joy and a sense of relief. And then there’s gratitude, that the God who holds the universe holds me, too. 

Through the fear and struggle of 2014, through these five years of daily dialysis, God has held me in arms of love and care. I do not know if fear and struggle are over. Transplant surgery is an ominous thought at times. Strong, immunosuppressant medication for life is an ominous thought at times. My body rejecting the kidney is an ominous thought. There are dozens of “what ifs!” But I try to always look at “what ifs” through this empowering lens:

There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,

And you ask 
“What if I fall?”
Oh, but my darling,
What if you fly?

― Erin Hanson

What if I fly? What if I take the “wings of the morning?” What if I soar? What if the Spirit Wind blows across my life?

What if?

 

 

 

 

Blue Skies and Gentle Breezes

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Blue skies and gentle breezes. That’s Macon most of the time. Oh, and you have to factor in the gnats, the annoying gnats that we have because we live on the gnat line.

And there really is a such thing. Look it up. (http://southofthegnatline.blogspot.com/p/gnat-line-101_28.html) 

You will find that not only is the gnat line a real thing, but that it also sits directly on top of Macon, Georgia. No one told me that before I moved here.

Still, there are blue skies and gentle breezes this morning. For a few seconds, I am fully in the moment, fully aware of the blue skies over me and the warm breeze that points my mind to all that is good, to all the things about nature that we can count on.

Gnats notwithstanding.

In some ways, it’s a picture of life —the beauty of blue skies and gentle breezes, right along with the persistent aggravation of gnats buzzing your face. Certainly, life is like that for me. There are every day graces accompanied with aggravations, challenges and sometimes troubles. Life brings days of deep mourning sometimes and times for gladness at other times. 

Most thoughts these days take me to the very real possibility that I will receive a new kidney. The thought of it is both exhilarating and terrifying. I would not be me if I did not have the troubling thought that I might die in the middle of surgery. Or that I might contract a lethal infection and die of that. Or maybe I’ll be be compromised from the procedure and not recover.

On the other hand, maybe I’ll thrive with a new kidney. Maybe I will feel better than I have felt in five years. Maybe it’s true that I’ll live longer. Maybe life will begin again, fresh and new and full of possibilities. I love this message from the writer of Ecclesiastes.

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.

— Ecclesiastes 8:15 (New International Version (NIV)

What a good and gracious thought! The promise that as we are enjoying life, joy will be in us through whatever “toil” we face. Struggle, trouble, travail — we experience all of these in life, right along with the joy.

So as I contemplate a kidney transplant, I might just think of it as one of life’s “toils” that, by God’s grace, will be accompanied by joy. 

I think I can do this. After all, “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Blue skies and gentle breezes all the way!

Pesky gnats notwithstanding!

 

 

Through These Dark Hours

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Unafraid, unbound, unleashed from this earth, rising with every step, a dance to lift the human soul.

What do I do through these dark hours? How do I endure them, the lostness, the fear, the spiritual suffering? How do I make my journey and avoid the dark hours that overwhelm me along the way?

Dark hours are a part of our living, a part of our journey. They cover us — even those who are most religious and devout — like an ominous black cloud. Dark hours bring us fear, dread, a lack of hope. Dark hours steal the joy of our faith.

The term “dark night (of the soul)” describes a spiritual crisis in the journey with God, like that described by St. John of the Cross in his poem, “The Dark Night.”

In her letters, St. Teresa of Calcutta described how she endured a dark night of the soul from 1948 almost until her death in 1997, with only brief interludes of relief.

St Thérèse of the Child Jesus wrote of her own experience of the dark night, as she found herself doubting the existence of eternity. She struggled and suffered through a prolonged period of spiritual darkness, declaring to her fellow nuns: “If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into..!”

Examples of the experiences of those we look to as spiritual patrons of the faith do not really enlighten our own faith journeys. We walk our own spiritual paths, always hoping for the best, always striving to experience the holy along the way. And we hope beyond hope that we will not have to endure the suffering of dark hours.

The truth is that dark hours are required on the journey. We cannot walk around our dark hours, moving them aside like the sticks and brush we can so easily move off of our path. Our only option is to keep walking, to stay the course and to embrace the journey just as it is.

As I look back to take stock of my own journey, I see the the dark hours as powerful reminders of struggle and spiritual crisis. As I examine the past, I can say without hesitation that the dark hours were times I do not want to experience again. I can feel the intense pain of them, even now, the formidable affect of them on my spirit. The thought of them brings on a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that makes me want to quickly move on to the next life metaphor I might use in this post.

And yet . . . And yet, how clear it is from this vantage point that I endured my dark hours and emerged stronger, better, with faith intact and with a living hope to take with me on the rest of the journey. From the cloud of dark hours, I learned that I could believe again, hope again, move farther into my journey with joy — even unrestrained joy — because of God’s grace that gave me strength.

There is probably no writer that inspires me more than Bishop Steven Charleston. He has taught us how to live in his many writings over the years. In this piece, he shows us the way through our dark hours in these beautiful words:

Let us dance through these dark hours, while others crouch down, seeking shelter from a worried world, hiding in the shadows, afraid to hope for tomorrow, let us give them a sign they can see, a message made of music and motion, two dancers spinning light out of darkness, a waltz in an air raid shelter, unafraid, unbound, unleashed from this earth, rising with every step, a dance to lift the human soul. Let us dance so others can dance, dancers from every direction, standing up to join us, music filling the sky, a revolution of unrestrained joy, an invitation to believe again, to hope again, to be free again, dancing through these dark hours, as if dancing was all that we were born to do.

To be sure, I have felt the pressing urge to “crouch down” many times, “to seek shelter from a worried world, hiding in the shadows, afraid to hope for tomorrow.” But in the end, through dark hours I learned to dance.

Dance then, wherever you may be. I am the Lord of the Dance, said he . . .

It’s a good way to live.

It’s a good way to give witness to the world of our living faith and unrestrained joy!

Amen.

Clothed in the Love of My Friends

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Tivoli Copenhagen Poster “Rare Masked Harlequin Boy” 1972 Richardt Denmark by Permild & Rosengreen

Tucked away in my memory, there is a charming tale of a young boy. I’m not sure from where I remember the story, but I have known a few versions of it for many years. It’s one of my favorite parables. The story introduces us to young Peter, who grew up in a very poor family. Peter loved going to school and playing with his schoolmates. 

On one particular school day, Peter noticed that his friends were laughing and chattering with excitement about the masquerade ball that was the yearly highlight of the town festival.

“I cannot wait for the ball,” Suzanne said excitedly. “I shall wear a beautiful costume of indigo silk, with a mask to match it.”

William said, “l’m wearing red, a bright shiny red.” 

And Victoria gave every detail of the gown of purple velvet her mother was sewing.

One after another, the excited children described the colorful costumes their mothers would make for them — green, purple, orange, yellow, pink, gold, silver. They told of the fine fabrics their fathers had purchased on their travels. Every mother had set aside the fabric for just this occasion.

One of the children noticed that Peter was not joining in on the gleeful conversation and walked up to him.

“Peter, what will you be wearing to the festival?” she asked.

“I’m not going to the festival,” Peter said, “I do not have fine clothes to wear and my family cannot buy cloth for a costume.”

“But you must come, Peter,” another friend said. And then others joined in.

Their mood changed from gladness to sadness, and since it was now a sad and somber time for Peter, he slowly started walking toward home.

After he left, the children talked among themselves, wondering what they could do to help Peter get to the festival. William, who had been thinking through the dilemma, finally spoke out.

“I know! I don’t need so much cloth for my costume,” William said. “I can cut a small piece from my costume and give it to Peter. Perhaps his mother can sew it into something grand.”

“Yes! I can do that too,” said another. And then another, until all the children joined in. So they devised a plan to help Peter get to the festival ball.

779892E8-E60E-4139-8F7D-BA79EABE8FFDThe next day William arrived at school with a twinkle in his eye. In fact, all the children had twinkles in their eyes as they went to find Peter. Each friend brought to Peter a small scrap of cloth they had torn from their costumes. One after another, they gave Peter pieces of cloth of every shape and size. Small scraps snd larger pieces, blue, red, yellow and purple — every color you could think of really.649A5787-671B-4447-9C81-453A595FB029

Peter was speechless, and if one looked closely, they might have seen a tear slide down his cheek. Peter took all the little pieces of cloth to his mother, who would take the scraps and do her magic with needle and thread.

The special day finally came, and the happy children arrived, each clothed in a bright, beautifully colored costume. When Peter arrived, no one recognized him at first, but there was a collective gasp in the room. He entered the room, tall and proud, wearing a black mask and a multi-colored, diamond patterned costume.

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It was Peter, they finally realized, in amazement!

“Look at the beautiful red on his costume. It’s the same color as what I’m wearing!” 

Another child said, “There’s part of mine!” 

And each of Peter’s friends shrieked with happiness when they saw their own pieces of cloth cut into diamond shapes and sewn together on his costume. It was stunning — from the gold brocade, to the shimmering red satin, to the verdant hue of the green taffeta, to the sparkle of the royal blue silk. All the children were happy about what they were wearing, but they were even happier about the small piece of cloth they had shared with Peter.F76CB1DF-9191-4D1D-8C0D-0727F57C7CD1

Peter thanked them, having to speak very loudly to be heard over their happy exclamations.

“Everyone is happy tonight,” Peter said, “but I am the happiest one of all, because I am clothed in the love of my friends!”

From that day forward, Peter’s friends called him “Harlequin.” And that’s the tale of how Harlequin came to be.

So what does this little tale have to do with anything. Last week, I happened to pick up a fluffy, white blanket that’s in our extra bedroom. I held it and remembered that my friend had brought it to me in the hospital when I was so sick. Her church had prayed over the blanket in a church service and sent it to me with love. I was in bed for a long time, and each time someone covered me with the blanket, I thought of the echoes of the prayers it held and the love of the friends who sent it to me. Like Harlequin, I was clothed in the love of my friends.

As I wait on a possible kidney transplant and wonder whether or not a transplant will be in my future, the one thing that comforts me is the love of my friends. The truth is that I am covered with an abundance of love. My friends from from all over the world are praying for me, breathing prayers for my well-being and my health, offering me “colorful pieces of fine cloth” in the whispered blessings they send to me. 

Last night, the depth of caring that friendship can offer became very clear to me when I received an incredible message from a friend of many years. The message was that he had begun the process of donating a kidney for me. Stunned by his announcement, emotions tender, I remembered all over again that I am clothed in the love of my friends.

For that, I am incredibly grateful.

 

 

Joy

102F7D81-F946-4E11-A42A-07566031DEABAs I often do, I found today, in my lengthy list of unread emails, a plethora of pleas to do something. Save the bees. Save the libraries. Save the children. Save the political candidate . . . and several other things that someone wants to save.  I care deeply about most of those things that need saving, like the libraries and the children and the bees. And I spend a fair amount of time worrying about them and praying for them to be saved.

But for this day, I am laser focused on saving myself, saving myself from the onslaught of various illnesses, from nature’s effects of aging, and mostly, from a life filled with worry where there should be joy.

Memories flood my mind with sweet, little songs from the past: “The joy of the Lord is my strength . . .”  (1)  “I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart . . .” (2) Simple songs they were for us when as children we learned every word and took the melodies into our hearts to recall in the years to come.

And so today, I recall them, realizing that whatever may come, I have joy in my heart, and most of all, that I am leaning into the truth that the joy of the Lord is my strength. These were good and positive lessons to learn as a child, with simple music as the teacher. So today, I remember the songs, singing them silently as I write. Singing them aloud would most surely disturb the household. So I keep silent.

It can be a dangerous thing to keep silence, for in those silent times, there can be a flood of memories, thoughts, recollections, and the sacred space so essential to the spiritual life. Today’s sacred space brings these words to my heart:

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

— Psalm 28:7 (RSV)

You are being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, so that you might patiently endure everything with joy.

— Colossians 1:11(ISV)

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

— Nehemiah 8:10 (NIV)

On top of my end stage kidney disease, debilitating fibromyalgia, diabetes, and an almost constant barrage of new diagnoses, I have one job really: to find ways of guarding the joy that makes its home in my heart, to patiently endure whatever comes with joy. I must trust that joy really is there in my heart. I must believe that joy is still a part of my faith. I must know that joy has been with me on my journey, every day, at every turn, over every mountain and through every valley.

I must guard my joy lovingly and persistently. And I must guard my heart, joy’s dwelling place. When new illnesses come along, new concerns, new challenges, new problems and new sorrows, perhaps the most important thing I can do is to guard my heart.

Along with the other passages of scripture that have entered my sacred soace today, there is another tiny scripture passage that has moved me over the years. The writer of the book of Proverbs begins chapter four with a list of life instructions, and for twenty-two verses, the writer admonishes the reader to be vigilant, to be careful, to hold on to instruction, to avoid the path of the wicked, etc. And then in verse 23, the writer of the everlasting wisdom of the Proverbs gives us one more tidbit of advice and advises us to pay attention to this one instruction, above all else.

Above all else, guard your heart,
for from it flow the wellsprings of life.

— Proverbs 4:23 

I am never 100% certain about the meaning of scripture passages, but this one feels very clear to me — guard your heart and the wellsprings of your life will flow from it. I think the wellsprings might be joy! Not such a simple message, is it, that we have “joy down in our hearts to stay.”

 

(1) The Joy of the Lord Is My Strength, written by Alliene Vale, ©️1971, Universal Music.

(2) Joy In My Heart, written by George William Cooke, 1925

Life Can Lose Its Magic

 

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Photography  from Lize Bard’s blog, Haiku out of Africa at https://wandererhaiku.wordpress.com/2018/07/18/aura/

Life can lose its magic. 

It happens. 

It happens when labor eclipses the joy of leisure. 

It happens when busyness replaces moments of re-creation. 

It happens when meaningless prayers are more common than deep spiritual contemplation. 

It happens when relationships are taken for granted. 

It happens when entitlement replaces gratitude. 

It happens when despondency is more present that genuine laughter. 

It happens when nature becomes commonplace and we miss its breathtaking beauty. 

It happens when we hear the sounds of the birds as white noise instead of captivating birdsong. 

It happens when the dawn’s sunrise happens without our notice.

It happens when a serene, pink sunset that gently paints the sky loses its enchantment.

it happens when music becomes noise rather than the soul’s inspiration.

It happens when the shimmer of the moon is just a nightly expectation and the sparkle of the stars in the night sky becomes ordinary.

Life can lose its magic. 

How tragic.

 

 

 

Around the Bend

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Photo by Steven Nawojczyk

I wonder sometimes what I might find around the bend. “Around the bend” is an apt metaphor for the twists and turns of life’s pathway. No matter how long I have traveled my journey, no matter how much life wisdom I have gained, I never, ever know what what’s around the bend.

The pathway before me can frighten, even while I strain to see as far as I can into what lies ahead. The bend is sharp most times, and the angle hides my view. As I age, fear on the journey looms large, for I am completely aware of the dangers I might encounter around the first bend, and the next, and all the bends that are ahead of me. And yet, I am constantly graced with flashes of hope and faith whispering that what is ahead of me could be even better than what I have left behind.

The beautiful photo above by Steven Nawojczyk is a gift of calm waters bending in a gentle flow at the foot of a mountain, lightened by the golden rays of the sun. The image makes me believe that whatever is around the bend is lovely, peaceful, comforting, safe. And that is exactly what God would want me to believe, and woukd want us all to believe. I cannot help but think of the Psalmist’s affirmation that God “leads me beside still waters.”

In so many comfort-filled passages, the Psalmist offers sure and certain comfort. Hear the Psalmist’s words . . .

Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
Surely I have a delightful inheritance.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
   Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure . . .

You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

— Psalm 16:1, 5-6, 8-9, 11 (NIV)

And hear the words of the Prophet Isaiah . . .

Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. 
I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.  

— Isaiah 46:4 (NIV)

And so “around the bend” is not so frightening after all. In God — “who makes known the path of life” —  there is comfort, safety, protection, constancy, and even joy. Thanks be to God.

Every Bird’s a Songbird

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Art: “Songbirds in Apple Blossoms” by James Hautman.

As I sit on my porch this morning in a light, refreshing rain, the most prominent sound I hear is joyous birdsong, different strains of music from a variety of birds that co-habit in our tiny bird sanctuary. A statue of St. Francis appropriately stands among the feeders and the suet. The hummingbird feeders are in a separate spot, providing a banquet of sweet nectar to these delightful birds, whose fast moving wings create their most unique song.

I love to listen to the songbirds, and we are graciously blessed to live in a neighborhood with very few sounds — no traffic, no motorcycles, no speeding cars, usually not even people voices. Just the birdsong, with an occasional tree frog and the wonderful southern gift of cicadas. 

In my opinion, every bird is a songbird. According to scientists at The Nature Conservancy, the term “songbirds” refers to a wide range of bird species. Songbirds typically include finches, sparrows and warblers, but most often when someone is defining “songbird” they refer to beautifully colored birds that we’ve never heard of. The Nature Conservancy website features three: the Dickcissel, the Blackburnian Warbler, and the Kirtland’s Warbler.

I have never seen any of those birds, but I have heard lots of glorious birdsong. So I stand by my opinion that every bird’s a songbird. And in my better moments, I hear their songs as an offering to God, their songs of praise to God who gave them voice. During those times, I am drawn to the many beautiful and lyrical Psalms. This is one that is particularly moving to me

Praise the Lord, my soul.

Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.

You wrap yourself in light as with a garment;

You stretch out the heavens like a tent and lay the beams of your upper chambers on their waters.

You make the clouds your chariot and you ride on the wings of the wind.

You make the winds your messengers . . .

How many are your works, Lord!

In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number — living things both large and small.

When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.

You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills,

You give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.

The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.

— Psalm 104: 1-3;10-12; 24-25, 30 (paraphrased)

Many of the Psalms urge us to sing, to praise God with our voices. 

Sing to the Lord a new song . . .

I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

As far as singing, well sometimes we are reluctant, holding back an imperfect voice that does not always make pleasant songs. Sometimes we are convinced that our singing would not be such a worthy offering of praise. So we should probably remember that every bird’s a songbird. And as for us humans, it might help to remember that every person has a voice, every heart has a song, every soul has a melody.

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee. How great thou art! How great thou art!*

Amen.

 

* From the hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” a Swedish traditional melody and a poem written by Carl Boberg (1859–1940) in Mönsterås, Sweden in 1885. It was translated into German and then into Russian and became a hymn. It was translated into English from the Russian by English missionary Stuart K. Hine, who also added two original verses of his own.

 

 

 

 

The “Laughter of the Redeemed”

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So when the grand and glorious celebration of Christ’s resurrection is over, what do we do with our leftover joy? There is an easy answer to that. Celebrate Bright Week with laughter and loud singing, and look forward with great anticipation to Bright Sunday! You might be wondering what in the world I’m talking about. What’s Bright Week and Bright Sunday?

Well, just in case you didn’t know, Bright Week and Bright Sunday are real. genuine. bonafide things. Many Christian churches celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Bright Sunday, a day for joyful celebration. In fact, the entire week following Easter, called Bright Week, was set aside for the celebration of the Resurrection according to the 66th canon of the Council in Trullo:

. . . from the holy day of the Resurrection of Christ our God until New Sunday (or Bright Sunday) for a whole week the faithful in the holy churches should continually be repeating psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, rejoicing and celebrating Christ, and attending to the reading of the Divine Scriptures and delighting in the Holy Mysteries. For in this way shall we be exalted with Christ; raised up together with Him.

The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom, including the intriguing idea that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. “Risus paschalis – the Easter laugh,” the early theologians called it.

For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter Sunday, including “Bright Sunday,” the Sunday after Easter, was observed by the faithful as “days of joy and laughter” with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang, and danced. Can you even imagine such hilarity in some of our most traditional churches?

Yet, theologians wrote about holy laughter. While languishing in a Nazi prison, Protestant theologian Jurgen Moltmann became fascinated by the ongoing celebrations of Jesus’ Resurrection by the early Christians that continued long after Easter Sunday. He called it “the laughter of the redeemed.”

And yet, we Christians are often viewed as offering a joyless and humorless Christianity.

Where is “the laughter of the redeemed?”

We have a Savior who, knowing that he was about to be betrayed, tortured, and crucified, told his disciples before his arrest:

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)

So where is our joy? Where is our laughter?

With great fondness, I remember the youth ensemble at First Baptist Church of Arab, Alabama singing an amped-up version of “Sunshine in My Soul,” lively, syncopated, full of unbridled joy! With a big smile on every face, the group sang this spirited, exuberant song about their sheer joy in Christ. Always, their offering of “Sunshine in My Soul” was a joyous event. I can hear it in my memory right now.

There is sunshine in my soul today.
It’s a glow so warm and bright.
That shines in any earthly sky
For Jesus is my light.
Oh, there’s sunshine, beautiful sunshine,
When the peaceful, happy moments roll.
When I look with love into my brother’s face, there is sunshine in my soul.

What a bright and joy-filled song! A perfect song for Bright Sunday.

Laughter, joy, fun, rejoicing!

I hope that during this Bright Week you will find sunshine in your soul. I hope that you will laugh hard and long during Bright Week, that you will pass joy along to those you love, that you will sing a song of joy or two, using your biggest, strongest outdoor voice. After all, it is Christ’s resurrection that we celebrate!