Pastoral Series

Church Matters: Song

   There are not many clubs or venues where you show up and sing with other people. The Churchill Society might sing “God Save the Queen,” and you might chime in on the Star-Spangled Banner at a ballgame. But at church, we sing, together, several times each week, and lots of different songs.

I realize that not everyone enjoys singing hymns together. But a remarkable percentage of our folks actually join in. I suspect that something in us is wired to want to lift our voices with others in song. It appears that in heaven, there will be a good bit of singing – so when we sing now, is it something of a rehearsal for when we find ourselves in that great chorus of saints and angels praising God forever?

Debates have gone on for a long time about the style of music we should sing at church. Many folks feel we should give people the style of music they prefer. For me, out in the world, I prefer Led Zeppelin or the Beatles, Chopin or Bach, Joni Mitchell or Carrie Newcomer. None of those have the slightest resemblance to the hymns we sing in my church. There’s a special music we sing, and it’s not for us so much as it’s for God.

But I wouldn’t want to say that music in church is for God and all other music isn’t. In the marvelous play (and then film) Amadeus, Salieri is envious of Mozart’s music. Salieri strove to be prayerful and pious, but his music was a bit flatfooted; but then Mozart, utterly flippant, unholy and given to debauchery, produced stunning music. When Salieri heard Mozart’s Adagio in E flat, he mused, “It seemed to me that I had heard a voice of God.”

If we offer music to God in church, I wonder if we might then learn through it to hear the voice of God in all the other music – maybe a Johnny Cash ballad or a James Taylor folk song, a Bob Dylan ditty or even something from a rapper. God loves music – all kinds. And different kinds of music speak into the soul, and deeply – even when it’s not religious music.

This is what our program this Sunday evening is all about. The Martha Bassett Band (featuring my daughter, Sarah Howell-Miller!) will perform various kinds of music (including from their new album, “Hot Pepper Queen”), and then share how they hear God through secular music. Join us at 6:30! And keep an ear out all week to the music you love, or happen to overhear. God hears it. Is God in it in some surprising way?

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