Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Old Hundredth

Psalm 100 (NIV)

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
   come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
   It is he who made us, and we are his;
   we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
   and his courts with praise;
   give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
   his faithfulness continues through all generations.
I am dipping back in the well on Psalm 100. In my defense, the lectionary repeats them too. In fact, Psalm 148 comes up every Friday. But I digress. My mind has been all over the place the last 36 hours or so, as was to be expected. So when I sat down to write tonight, I was hoping something from the lectionary would speak to me with some degree of clarity. And the lectionary delivered, indirectly, in the form of two wonderful hymns inspired by today’s readings.

The first was “God Be With You Till We Meet Again,” inspired by the Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV): “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ ”

While I always find that passage to be equally challenging and comforting, and while the message the hymn delivers is full of reassurance, I instead gravitated to the Old 100th, the name of the tune to which many Christian denominations set both the Doxology (dating to 1674 and the Church of England — thanks Wikipedia!) and the much-loved hymn “All People That on Earth Do Dwell” (stretching back to 1561, where it is found in the Anglo-Genevan Psalter, attributed to Scottish clergyman William Kethe).

The lyrics, while perfectly suitable and pleasant to sing, are not what inspired me tonight. Rather it was how listening to the melody — actually, just thinking of it — transported me to a place where I feel the kind of calm and peace that can’t be manufactured artificially: standing in a church (it doesn’t much matter which one), rising with the congregation as the organ plays the opening strains and singing, or listening, as believers join in worship. Hackneyed as the phrase may be, this is the music, and specifically the corporate experience, that stirs my soul.

I wish I could do a better job of using words to describe this feeling. Goodness knows I’ve tried a few other times. But part of what I enjoy about the sensation is that it surpasses words. Sometimes it’s good, especially for a person who expends so much thought and energy trying to define, rationalize and contextualize everything, to stop thinking and just feel. And when I am in these moments, in a way I feel God is using the music to speak directly to me, even if I don’t really know what He’s actually saying other than trying to make me feel loved.

It is my sincere hope that I am able to give my kids a similar sense — of being cared for and watched over — even though they are unable to understand words themselves or the degree to which a parent loves a child. The older they get the harder that becomes, because they have an ever growing list of needs beyond what a parent can immediately provide. I would not want them to be completely reliant on me forever. The fact Jack can make his own breakfast is a sheer delight.

But when each boy was a baby, and when I had fed and bathed and changed them, and then they fell asleep in my arms in complete contentment, I was endowed with a sense of accomplishment, of pride at being able to tend to every concern, of knowing I could take care of this little wonder. Sometimes I wish I could recapture that sensation with each son, even for a fleeting moment. But I know I can’t and shouldn’t be the center of their world.

What I can do, I suppose, is try my hardest to make sure they know they are loved. I will find my own ways to communicate that message, unique to each kid, with and without words. God does it for me; I need to do the same for them.

A prayer for August 4:

Lord, I come to you today with a cheerful voice. There is joy in my heart for the blessings you have given me, awe of your majesty and praise for your mercy and truth. I thank you for the gift of music, and the talented people who have crafted such beautiful works that reflect your holiness. You made me; I am yours. May my life completely and honestly reflect that sentiment. Amen.

• • •

(Here is a YouTube version of “All People that On Earth Do Dwell.” It is from the 2003 50th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey, using the same Ralph Vaughn Williams arrangement performed at the 1953 coronation. I don’t get worked up over royal pageantry, but the music soars.)

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