Christian hymns invite us to delight in God's presence, not merely think about him. Music awakens us to God's matchless power, beauty, and transcendence – his sheer otherness. Music can simultaneously make us feel God's grandeur and our smallness compared to him. This is why, whenever a worshiper approaches God – as seen in Isaiah 6:1-5 or throughout the Book of Revelation – the worshiper invariably resorts to symbolic language, image, and song to describe the uncanny experience. These are the "tools" of the worshiper to suggest the unsearchable, ineffable nature of God. "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Romans 11:33). p147
It is possible that the quest for the ideal hymn perfectly performed could obscure the goal of meeting God in worship. George Ives was a church musician and the father of the great American composer Charles Ives. The father taught his son to respect the power of vernacular music. Concerning a stone-mason who sang irritatingly off key, the father instructed Charles: Watch him closely and reverently, look into his face and hear the music of the ages. Don't pay too much attention to the sounds–for if you do, you may miss the music. You won't get a wild, heroic ride to heaven on pretty little sounds.
In the so-called "worship wars" too many people, trapped in futile debates about the "pretty little sounds," have sadly missed "the wild, heroic ride to heaven." If we would be but more patient and flexible, recognizing that our singing is our gift to God (and therefore not primarily about our tastes or what we like), then it would matter less whether the song selection matches our personal preferences. Christian music is first and foremost a simultaneous offering of our voices to God, a receiving of God's word to us, and a statement of our faith proffered to the world. If we must err in one direction, a missional attitude is prudent. In the spirit of Luther we should advocate music that wins the hearts of the young and the untaught. p154
Monday, May 21, 2007
Singing: The Way to Heaven's Door
One of the books in my stack to get to is Darryl Tippens' book on spiritual formation, Pilgrim Heart. The 12th chapter addresses singing, and was distributed in booklet form at the Pepperdine lectureship. Here are a couple of excerpts to ponder...