When Branches Are Flimsy and Songs Cannot Be Sung

I have a certain fondness for sparrows and the spiritual stories we have ascribed to them. That my blog is named “God of the Sparrow” is no accident. I have aspired many times in my life to live like the sparrow lives. I wanted my human, adult, mature and seasoned self to know, beyond any doubt, that God is watching over me. I do not live the simple, sparrow-like life I always hoped to live. But my unshakable faith has always told me that the God who watches over my every moment is also the God of the sparrow. I remember well the words written in the Gospel of Matthew . . .

So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 
— Matthew 10:41 NRSV

Such a comforting passage of Scripture! Yet, its message to us often pales in comparison to all the things that so frighten us. The state of the world that surrounds us in these days seems to have even more power over us than Matthew’s words about our value to God.

How is it that we are valuable to God when God does not act to protect us from all of life’s slings and arrows? Yesterday in my blog post I listed our world’s bad and scary things, so I won’t list them again today. But I will venture a prognosis that many, many people are suffering in many ways in this confusing season. I am one of those suffering people, feeling a bit of hopelessness in these days of racial unrest, coronavirus unsettledness and political divisions.

I heard a moving choral performance this morning. Its text lifted up my helplessness before me and turned it into a prayer so attuned to where I find myself.

God of the sparrow, sing through us
Songs of deliverance, songs of peace. 
Helpless we seek You, God our joy, 
Quiet our troubles, bid them cease. 

Jonathan Cook

I need the sparrow’s God to sing through me. Perhaps you do, too. I need that God-given song because my own music seems to have become quiet, my singing turned to mourning. (Amos 8:10) But this week, I took hold of that mourning. With strong intention, I spent most of one day this week singing my heart out. 

You need to know that I had to choose a day when my husband would be away so that I could sing loud, with abandon. Why did he have to be away? That’s a long story, but in a nutshell, my singing is awful these days. Probably my vocal cords have lost some of their youthful elasticity and, on top of that, I did not sing at all for more than a year. Serious illness took my music.

When I (literally) came back from the dead in 2015, I realized that I had lost so many of my former abilities. Singing was one of them. It felt strange to me when I realized I could no longer sing. My former life was filled with song. Since childhood, there was never a choir I did not join, never a solo I did not sing.

Acknowledging my inability to sing was difficult, just as my life after kidney transplant and this coronavirus is difficult. My isolation has been lengthy, most of nine months, and it is taking its toll on my spirit. Prayer has become both a burden and a grace to me. My singing was my prayer for so many years, and I really need my singing in these hard days. I need to sing my praises to God. I need to sing my lamentations. I need to sing like the sparrow who doesn’t worry about her vocal chords. I need to be like the sparrow who sits on her branch — without fear, without worry — because she knows that if she happens to light on a flimsy branch that does not hold her, her wings will lift her. 

The end of this story is that I need the God of the sparrow to sing through me once again — to sing through me in shadowy days, in times of trouble, in isolation, in fear, in hopelessness. That’s what God does, after all. In a troubled and despairing soul, God creates music, tucking it into every crevice, filling it with songs that can sing out both mourning and celebration. As an added bonus, I have it on good authority that God also turns mourning into dancing.

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Psalm 30 11-12 NRSV

So as you sing, dance to the new rhythms of your soul! Because you can!

Thanks be to God.

Please spend your meditation time today listening to this beautiful song with text written by Jonathan Cook and music by Craig Courtney. The video follows the text.

God of the Sparrow

God of the sparrow, sing through us,
Songs of deliverance, songs of peace.
Helpless we seek You, God our joy,
Quiet our troubles, bid them cease.
Alleluia.

God of the sparrow, God of hope,
Tenderly guide us, be our song,
God of affliction, pain and hurt,
Comfort Your children, make us strong.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

God of the sparrow, care for us.
Speak in our sorrow, Lord of grief.
Sing us Your music, lift our hearts,
Pour out Your mercy, send relief.

God, like the sparrow, we abide
In Your protection, love and grace.
Just as the sparrow in Your care,

May Your love keep us all our days.

Amen.

I Think I May Have Lost My Music


I think I may have lost my music, and I’m not sure exactly when I lost it, or how. I can probably get away with blaming it on the coronavirus. After all, choirs cannot really sing right now, at least not safely.

The coronavirus has stolen so many things from us all — important things and things that are not so important. For me, one of the stolen things that affects me deeply in my soul is music.

When I hear music, the melodies and rhythms often reach into my soul. Music is my muse. Losing my music is one of my most troubling losses. I know, of course, that I can listen to Pandora or Spotify.  Or I can listen to quality music on National Public Radio and find hundreds of concerts on YouTube.

What I am missing most is being inside my church sanctuary listening to the music of the pipe organ and anthems from our choir. Part of it may well be that I’m missing the people who offer their gift of music every week. Part of it is probably nostalgia when I contemplate the decades I spent singing with choirs and other groups. Part of it is missing my many years as a soloist. Part of it is missing my last ministry position as minister of worship at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. Part of it is having to leave my piano when we moved in 2015. Part of it, I am certain, is that I can’t really sing anymore, at least much of the time. After my illness in 2014 and its very long recovery, I lost my voice. This was such a profound loss for my soul.

For some reason, all of this was on my mind this morning when I had a serendipity moment. I received an email with a brief thought for the day. I receive it every day, but today it happened to include a passage of Scripture closely related to my present thoughts. This is what it said:

But now, get me a player of music, and it will come about that while the man is playing, the hand of God will come on me and I will give you the word of God: and they got a player of music, and while the man was playing, the hand of the God was upon him.

— 2 Kings 3:15

Haven’t we all heard someone singing and playing music when we were touched and changed? All creativity and beauty in this life are but a small reflection of the master musician, our Creator. Listen with your heart and be glad.

John Gaudreau

Music can be our soul’s joy or our heart’s expression. Music can lift us from sorrow’s depths and raise us to higher planes of grace. Music can be our most lavish praise to God. Music can open our spirits and create in us expressions of gladness, even in times of trouble. May God make it so. Amen.

Let me end without any more words, just music. “Listen with your heart and be glad” and hear this beautiful anthem, “Through Love to Light” with text written by Richard Watson Gilder, 1844-1909.

Through love to light! O wonderful the way That leads from darkness to the perfect day; From darkness and from sorrow of the night To morning that comes singing o’er the sea! Through love to light! through light, O God, to Thee, Who art the Love of love, th’ eternal Light of light! Amen.

My Constant Friend

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Transplant Day Nineteen
November 30, 2019

Sleep would not come easily last night. It occurred to me that I would probably struggle all night to get to sleep, and I began to hope for the coming of daybreak. As I drifted slowly into sleep, I did what I often do on sleepless nights. I began to sing a hymn, under my breath of course, careful not to disturb Fred’s sleep. I began to sing a Gospel hymn Fred and I used to sing many years ago. In our church, or in concert at other churches, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” was one of the favorites every time we sang it. It was certainly one of my favorites and last night while experiencing a little pain, it came to mind that God was indeed watching over me and, as the hymn says, “Jesus is my portion, my constant friend . . .”

Of course, I also began whispering the Scripture text that inspired this hymn.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

— Matthew 10:29-31 New International Version (NIV)

And then the hymn:

Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart feel lonely and long for heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is he.
His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.
His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.

I sing because I’m happy.
I sing because I’m free.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.

Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw still closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy.
I sing because I’m free.
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I love learning the stories behind the hymns we sing. This is the writer’s story behind “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”

Civilla Martin was born in Nova Scotia in 1866. Her husband was an evangelist who traveled all over the United States. She accompanied him and they worked together on most of the musical arrangements.

In 1904 Civilla was visiting a very ill friend. Although discouraged and sick, her friend remembered that God was watching over each sparrow and would certainly watch over  her. She shared with Civilla the words in Matthew 10: ” . . . don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Civilla was a poet and thought this would be a perfect idea for a poem. She jotted down the idea and by the end of the day, had completed “His Eye is On The Sparrow.” The entire poem was sent to a well-known composer of that day, Charles Gabriel. His lovely music has carried it all around the world in small churches and great crusades.

And then there is my story behind this hymn: that I learned it decades ago and sang it often; that it spoke comfort to me back then, just as it did last night when sleep would not come; that God has given me the gift I call hymn memory so that every time I need encouragement, the text of a hymn — usually every word of the hymn — comes to mind to comfort me.

For this gift, I give thanks to God. Daybreak did come this morning, but before that I was led by the message of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” into a restorative night of sleep. And I know this truth in all my deep places: “Jesus is my portion, my constant friend.”

I hope you will take a moment to enjoy this video of the hymn.

Stitched Together

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At the moment, I am literally stitched together after a kidney transplant. I know everyone likes to tell how many stitches they have, but I can’t give you that detail because I can’t see my incision well enough to count them. It’s just as well. Those stitches don’t matter all that much. They certainly don’t matter as much as being stitched together by song lyrics, book quotes, adventures . . . and moonlight. What matters most is that I am pieces of all the places I have been and all the people I have loved.

For my Sabbath yesterday, I played hymns on Pandora. As I listened for hours, I heard music that reminded me of places I have been over the years, from the single traffic light in Reform, Alabama to the rugged beauty of the Mountains of the Moon in Uganda, East Africa. And I heard hymn texts that reminded me of people I have loved, from beloved seminary professors to people I served as pastor. I sang along much of the time, singing hymn texts that ranged from “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” to “I’ll Fly Away,” and everything in between.

The hymns portrayed the story of my faith with Gospel songs that marked my conversion and my early years to the Great Hymns of the Church that expressed my faith in my later years. I could see myself singing in many different choirs, as a pastor leading congregational singing, as a worship leader at national gatherings, as a missionary in a mud hut and even as a teenager sitting on the back row of the church, inappropriately close to my boyfriend.

Each hymn I heard yesterday reminded me of those times and told the story of my faith journey. Indeed, I envisioned myself as one who truly is pieces of the places I’ve been and the people I have loved along the way. For at least a few hours, I was able to lay aside my physical pain, forget about my surgical stitches and give thanks that I am stitched together by hymns and people and adventures and hope on my journey of faith.

Being a part of a community of faith is one of God’s gifts to us, stitched together with sacred threads that remind us continually who we are. Being stitched together as a faith community is beautifully described in this passage from the book of Acts.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

— Acts 2:42-47

Interesting — and one of God’s very special gifts — that when we are stitched together, we discover that we are whole.

“I Can Do This Hard Thing!”

I can do this hard thing, this recovery from a kidney transplant. But sometimes I need to shed some tears about it all. Tears do not come out of weakness. In fact, tears are the mark of power. Called “the soap of the soul,” tears can help diminish the angst my soul clings to so tightly. Unfortunately, I tend to fight back tears as if they will hurt as they slip down my cheeks. I also nurse the irrational desire to not let anyone see my tears. After all, someone might consider them a sign of my weakness.

Yet, God has another thought about our tears. God counts our tears, keeps up with them, gathers them up and stores them in a bottle. I can imagine the scene of a loving God gently catching every tear and preserving it as a precious elixir worth saving.

Still I avoid weeping at all costs, portraying a false, less-than-honest strength — especially if someone might see.

Today, I am so aware that if I could just cry, the hard time I am going through would feel easier. If I could cry, my tears would cleanse my heart and help minimize my physical, emotional and spiritual pain. If I could just let my tears fall, I would be reclaiming my power.

The truth is that I did not fully understand how hard it would be to endure a kidney transplant and the very, very difficult aftercare regimen. Nor could I have ever imagined the range of emotions I would experience. This is one of life’s hard things.

Last night though, a dear friend sent me a video of a song she chose just for me, just for this moment of my life. I had never heard the song before, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. A mesmerizing tune and simple lyrics written and performed by Carrie Newcomer, “You Can Do This Hard Thing” brought me to tears, tears that really needed to flow.

You can do this hard thing.
You can do this hard thing.
It’s not easy I know,
But I believe that its so.
You can do this hard thing.

My faith tells me that I really can do this hard thing, although most of the time I don’t feel that I can. The friends and family who surround me with love remind me that I can. My heart tells me I can do this, but my rational mind tries to convince me that I cannot. I am reminded by the hymn writer that grace for this hard thing comes from God . . .

God giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater;
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

So perhaps it does require our tears, our lament that humbles us before our God of grace. The writer of the Book of James seems to suggest that grieving and weeping brings God near and that our mourning actually strengthens us to live through hard things.

God gives all the more grace . . .
Submit yourselves therefore to God . . .
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you . . .
Lament and mourn and weep.
Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection.

— From James 4 (NRSV)

It doesn’t make much sense that mourning is a good thing, that flowing tears actually cleanse the soul. But I need to see things this way: Life brings changes — hard changes sometimes. Along with the miracle of my kidney transplant comes the end of one season of life and the advent of a new season of life. While I do celebrate the transplant and the ways it will be life-giving for me, I must also grieve the loss of my previous life that had become so comfortable, so easy.

I will call out to my buried tears. I will open up my heart’s pain, grieve my losses and let my tears fall freely down my cheeks. It seems to be the best way to make sure I can do this hard thing.

Surprised by Light

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Transplant Day Seven
November 19, 2019

Today, I am singing in my mind a sacred hymn that often speaks hope to me. The
text was written by William Cowper (1731-1800) and the music by William Howard Doane (1832-1915). In the darkness of the past week, I have been surprised by light.

Sometimes a light surprises
The child of God who sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining,
God grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after the rain

In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s’ salvation,
And find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it may.

Tomorrow can bring us nothing,
But God will bear us through:
Who gives the lilies clothing
Will clothe His people, too:
Beneath the spreading heavens
No creature but is fed;
And God Who feeds the ravens
Will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the fields should wither,
Nor flocks or herds be there
Yet, God the same abiding,
God’s praise shall tune my voice;
For, while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

It is so true that “sometimes a light surprises the child of God who sings.” The surprise is almost magic. Surely the light is miracle, and I thank God for the miracle of this new day. The miracle, I think, is that I am able to look at this day in a way that leads to gratitude for life.

I am determined that this will not be a day I describe by pain, but that I would declare this day a day of healing. Today, I want to lean into healing, not suffering — faith, not fear. I am convinced that this is God’s desire for me.

There is no doubt that I have walked through darkness in the past week. It is also my truth that light really does shine out of dark places. My pondering light and darkness this morning brings up a Scripture text I have leaned on many times in my life. I love the New Century Version of this text.

God once said, “Let the light shine out of the darkness!” 
This is the same God who made his light shine in our hearts by letting us know the glory of God that is in the face of Christ.

We have this treasure from God, but we are like clay jars that hold the treasure. This shows that the great power is from God, not from us. 

We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. 
We do not know what to do, but we do not give up the hope of living. 
We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. 
We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed.

— 2 Corinthians 4:1-11 New Century Version (NCV)

How accurately this text describes my past few days! How true it is that I have not known what to do about the pain and suffering, yet I refuse to “give up the hope of living.” This is as it should be. This is God’s desire for us — to never give up the hope of living and to cling to the good hope that light really does shine out of darkness.

Sometimes a light really does surprise us when we sing. Singing beats weeping every time. Singing drives out darkness. I have heard often that only light can drive out darkness and I believe that truth. In fact, when I find myself in the middle of darkness, I am convinced that darkness is precisely the place where I am able to see the light at its brightest.

Thanks be to God.

When Our Souls Play Their Music

 

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Stellar Babies: Infant stars are glowing gloriously in this infrared image of the Serpens star-forming region, located approximately 848 light-years away in the Serpens constellation. NASA

Who am I? Of course, I know the origin of my physical body, but from where did my soul emerge? How did it become what it is, what it feels, what it knows? Where were my dreams born, and the longings of my being? How do I awaken to all that I am meant to be?

The point is that our souls must be tended and nourished, but in order to do that, we must know them. We must know what our souls need to thrive and we must know intimately the Healer of our souls. I want to share a beautiful song for your time of meditation, Healer of My Soul by John Michael Talbot. Find a comfortable place and spend a few moments in silence before playing the video:


I often wonder about my soul and what it holds so deeply. I search it and find it impossible to reach down far enough to understand the wonder that is the soul. For years I have heard the admonition, “Search your soul,” I always wondered how exactly to do that. What spiritual discipline might help me search the depths of my soul? I remember the words of one of my favorite Psalms.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.

— Psalm 139:1-10 (ESV)

What stunning words the Psalmist uses to describe how intimately we are known by God. Our challenge is discovering how to know ourselves. And so we plumb the depths of our being, seeking to know what dwells in the soul so that we might live life based on the soul’s longing.

It is true that this soul thing is a mystery, always eluding us and calling us to deeper understanding. And so I come full circle from the beginning of this post? Who am I? And what is my soul’s deepest yearning? Does my soul guide my life? I recently stumbled upon these words:

We are slowed down sound and light waves, a walking bundle of frequencies tuned into the cosmos. We are souls dressed up in sacred biochemical garments and our bodies are the instruments through which our souls play their music.

— Albert Einstein

I love the last thought that our souls play their music. Would that we lived and moved always to our soul’s music! Would that we might see our music creating life and hope and new dreams? When our souls play their music, everything is transformed — within us and around us. That soul music is our gift to the world.

 

 

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On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant as early as November 6th. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

“Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

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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?

The Great Silence

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I struggle with the life of contemplation I most desire. I long to stand on the Holy Ground of God’s presence. And yet, I often fail in my attempts to enter that spiritual space. My mind is filled with thoughts, words, concerns, plans, worries. And with so active a mind, I am hard pressed to meditate on the divine presence of God. I simple cannot seem to find a way to enter the great silence that enables me to hear the whisper of God I so desperately need to hear.

In a recent meditation, Richard Rohr spoke of “the great silence” as he described the prayer of the contemplative. This is his thought:

The prayer of the contemplative is, essentially, an attention to the omnipresence of God. God is omnipresent not as a theological doctrine, but as the great silence that is present in every moment—but from which we are usually distracted by an overactive mind that refuses to wait in a humble unknowing for a pure wisdom from above.

As always, he nailed it, describing the kind of waiting in silence we must do if we are to encounter an omnipresent God. Certain ways of being can move us more fully into the great silence. 

The beauty of nature, the sound of a gentle breeze, the patter of a soft rain can lead us on the contemplative path. Intentional prayer, journaling, experiencing the healing of music, walking the sacred path on a labyrinth — all of these can encourage us into a more contemplative life.

Most of all, we need the longing, our deepest soul desire, to encounter God. The Psalmist expressed such a longing.

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God . . .

— Psalm 42:1-2 (NRSV)

The People of Uganda: The Music of Abiding Faith

 

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Ugandan Women at the River; Watercolor by Kathy Manis Findley

I tell my story best when I tell the stories of the people that God has placed in my life. Quite often, my heart recalls beautiful memories of a people that became an important part of my life. They are a people who touched me beyond measure when my husband and I served as missionaries to Uganda, East Africa.

The Ugandan people captured our hearts quickly and completely. We saw the great need and set about our work in village after village, doing whatever we could to promote self sufficiency and good health. We worshipped in their churches and learned about the amazing resilience of their Christian faith. Perhaps we helped make their lives better in small ways. There is no doubt that the Ugandan people made our lives better in big ways. It was so many years ago, but I remember it as if it happened yesterday. The two of us stepped off of a plane in the Nairobi airport to begin a new life. As very young missionaries, we had no idea what we would face in the days to come.

Getting to Uganda from Kenya was a long, dusty ride through the most beautiful places we had ever seen. Through bush country and savannah, through banana groves and rain forests, through tea plantations on the mountainsides and the deep waters of Lake Victoria, we were getting acquainted with this continent.

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Ugandan Crested Cranes; Watercolor

The terrain was ever-changing, and the way was marked by the majestic beauty of elephants, giraffe, cape buffalo, gazelles, flamingos and Ugandan crested cranes.

The most moving sight of all was the people, barefoot and downtrodden, wearing rags and carrying heavy water containers. Yet, the sight of women at the banks of a river dipping their water jugs to carry to their families was a portrait of beauty and community. In spite of the toll the war had taken, these women retained their pride and dignity, and their joy. They wore basutis (native Ugandan dresses) of many vibrant African colors. In spite of the fact that their basutis were torn and tattered, they caught the rays of the equatorial sun and were bright with the greens, oranges, burgundies blues and yellows that mirrored the Ugandan landscape. The women stood together in the river, at times laughing and talking to one another, and at other times singing, in spite of their ominous sociopolitical world.

Their country had all but been destroyed by the evil dictator Idi Amin, who orchestrated the genocide of 100,000 to 500,000 Ugandans. Churches were burned to the ground, schools pillaged, roads were in shambles. Children were left orphaned in a country of widows. Their faces showed the wear of grief, their bodies the mask of mourning.

They were why we had come, sent by God to comfort a grieving people. The days ahead found us digging water wells, distributing agricultural tools and vegetable seeds, giving out books, bibles, blankets and sewing supplies, bringing in simple medicines and vaccines.

I can never think of the Ugandan people without recalling Lamentations 5, a scripture passage that was read in a church service to describe the plight of the people. As the reader read through her tears, the entire congregation wept, mourning so many losses. I offer the text here in its entirety:

Remember, Lord, what has happened to us; look, and see our disgrace.
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners.
We have become fatherless, our mothers are widows.
We must buy the water we drink; our wood can be had only at a price.
Those who pursue us are at our heels; we are weary and find no rest.

We submitted to Egypt and Assyria to get enough bread.
Our ancestors sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment.
Slaves rule over us, and there is no one to free us from their hands.
We get our bread at the risk of our lives because of the sword in the desert.
Our skin is hot as an oven, feverish from hunger.

Women have been violated in Zion, and virgins in the towns of Judah.
Princes have been hung up by their hands; elders are shown no respect.
Young men toil at the millstones; boys stagger under loads of wood.
The elders are gone from the city gate; the young men have stopped their music.

Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head.
Woe to us, for we have sinned!

Because of this our hearts are faint, because of these things our eyes grow dim for Mount Zion, which lies desolate, with jackals prowling over it.You, Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.
Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?

Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old
unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.

— Lamentations 5, New International Version

That worship service in the Church of Uganda (Anglican) sanctuary was unlike any I had ever experienced. The people wept freely and openly, grieving the loss of husbands, children, parents. Once described as “the pearl of Africa” by Sir Winston Churchill, Uganda was a land of incomparable natural beauty that now had been ravaged by war.

As the reading of the scripture in Lamentations came to an end, one woman with tears flowing down her cheeks began to sing and dance. The congregation joined her, singing with great fervency, “Dance then, wherever you may be. I am the Lord of the Dance said he. And I’ll lead you on wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance said he.”

The aisles of the sanctuary filled with dancing and weeping all at once.

Their mourning had turned to dancing. The inner joy of a people was not, and could never be, destroyed. Their hearts, so filled with the music of their faith, could not be silenced. They could sing. They could dance. Even through their tears. That is the music of abiding, persistent faith.

How grateful I am to God for choosing us to enter into community for a time with these wonderful people.