Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: May 2010

Singing Your Song

The drive to school took about 45 minutes in our VW bug. I’d lay in the back seat, singing goofy little songs.

I still make up goofy little songs.

I believe we were made to sing. In fact, I might go so far as to suggest that each of us is a living, breathing song.

We don’t tell our heart to beat in rhythm. It simply beats. As we join the constant pulse of our hearts, we clap, dance, jump, and sing. Step outside and we might discover a tree, a sun, and even a breeze reminding us to sing (and maybe skip).

At times in life, I’ve lost the song. Too busy trying to be grown-up and look grown-up and respected as a genuine, successful grown-up, I’d forget to sing. Sometimes I’d be too serious, too important, too spiritual, too busy or too depressed to sing.

All sorts of odd folks and experiences help me to remember, help me to hear, help me to start singing again. Sometimes the laughter of birds startled it forth. A walk around the neighborhood, a funny little story, a Psalm of David. And of course, my wife has always been able to stir up a song in my heart.

One of the most profound stirrings of song in my heart came when I began baptizing my imagination in the stories and poems of Celtic Christians. With hearts and pens tuned to the rhythms of the psalmist, the Celtic poets sang the praises of God as they meditated upon His Word, as they beheld His good gifts in the trees, birds, books and people around them.

They praised their friends, their leaders and their loved ones. Yet as one 13th century Irish poet proclaimed,

To praise man is to praise
the One who made him,
and man’s earthly possessions
add to God’s mighty praise.

All metre and mystery
Touch on the Lord at last,
The tide thunders ashore
In praise of the High King.

Their words and hearts were tuned to sing of the great High King Jesus. Even as they sang, they invited the world around them to join in the song:

Glorious Lord, I give you greeting!
Let the church and the chancel praise you,
Let the chancel and the church praise you,
Let the plain and the hill-side praise you,
Let the world’s three well-springs praise you.
Two above wind and one above land,
Let the dark and the daylight praise you.
Abraham, founder of the faith, praise you:
Let the life everlasting praise you,
Let the birds and the honeybees praise you,
Let the shorn stems and the shoots praise you.
Both Aaron and Moses praised you:
Let the male and the female praise you,
Let the seven days and the stars praise you,
Let the air and the ether praise you,
Let the books and the letters praise you,
Let the fish in the swift streams praise you,
Let the thoughts and the actions praise you,
Let the sand-grains and the earth-clods praise you,
Let all the good that’s performed praise you.
And I shall praise you, Lord of glory:
Glorious Lord, I give you greeting!

The more I’ve read, the more I discover a people immersed in prayers and songs. They had prayers for waking up, prayers for sweeping the house, prayers for making the bed, prayers for milking the cows and even prayers for talking a walk.

My walk this day with God,
My walk this day with Christ,
My walk this day with Spirit.
Ho! Ho! Ho! The three-fold all-kindly.

A certain playfulness spills over in many Celtic prayers. In this playfulness a dance with the Creator. God is not away on some far off planet. He is present. Ever present. Fully present. I need to be reminded of a Savior who near, not far:

May Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ to my right, Christ to my left, Christ where I lie down, Christ where I sit, Christ where I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me, Christ in every eye which looks on me, Christ in every ear which hears me.

As I listen to the steady cadence of these prayers, these songs, I hear the music in my ever beating heart.

We live in a world with many images but little vision, many sounds but few true words, many jokes but little deep joy. There is suffering all around us and often within us. There are troubles in life we cannot explain. Our dreams and hopes do sometimes whither and fade.

But our heart keeps beating.

We may take a cue from the old pumper and tap a toe, whistle a ditty, make up a song, and then make up another song. We might actually discover music that the good Lord put inside us that we never even realized was there.

As we sing and rejoice in His goodness, we might be surprised how music, like oxygen, rejuvenates, refreshes, and tunes us to the sweet Lord Jesus who ever prays (and sings) over us.

Catechism and the Power to Speak

I’ve been lingering in Telford Work’s Brazos Commentary on Deuteronomy. His midrashic style invites slow rumination. He introduced the term “apochesis” when discussing Deuteronomy 4:25. He says,

“The apostasy is not just a failure of parent to catechize their children (cf. 6:7). It is a life of ‘apo-chesis’ in which parents train their children away from purity. Apochesis is endemic in our day when tradition is mistrusted, cultural revolution exalted, experimentation treated as expression, and youth glorified for its own sake.”

Work has adapted the term catachesis. This word comes from an ancient Greek term, katēcheō, meaning “to sound from above”(Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3, Page 637) or to “teach by word of mouth” (Encyclopedia of Christianity, Vol 1, p 360). Two Greek words from this word, “kata” meaning according to, after, against, in, down (Strongs, 2596) and “echos” meaning sound and sometimes used to speak about the roar of the waves (Strongs, 2279).

This word was originally used as a dramatic term. The actors spoke down from the stage to the audience. The Scripture uses the word to mean instruction in the word or way of Jesus. So the idea of sounding from above captures the sense of an echo the resounds both in our instruction and in our reflection. The Word of Jesus resounds through His people and in His people. This word is instructing, guiding, opening our eyes to the Gospel and the way of the Jesus.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy says the speech is the power to create the future. Using his understanding of speech, we might see catechism as the way resound the Gospel and thus create the future. We remember, we rehearse, we resound the Gospel. The Gospel is a past historical event in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a present encounter in the Living Person of Jesus Christ we meet in and through the Spirit, and a future kingdom will be fully unveiled in the days to come. It seems to me that catechism capture all three tense: past, present and future. Thus we speak, proclaim, declare Christ is King even in the midst of corrupt and ruling powers.

With this in mind, I return to Work’s use of the word “apothesis.” Work is talking about a generation that choose not to speak, has forgotten to speak, has abandoned the power of speech. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote in the 1940s that he feared we were entering a “speechless future” (The Christian Future). We live in a world where the prevailing norm is a loss of real speech, words that create the future.

Apothesis seems an apt description to me of a people who have abandoned the future by abandoning the past. They have no power to resound the Word of God and thus they simply make sounds, or as Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy said somewhere, we use words for chatter (from one of his lectures). We are surrounded by chattering voices, sounding off bits of data stripped of vital life. Now more than ever, let us relearn to speak by listening to the Word made Flesh and resounding the Word made Flesh.

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