How Can I Keep From Singing & COVID-19

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(Miss Pam’s sits at the piano with her choir and orchestra, with Beckie conducting.)

What does singing praise in church look like as we come out of quarantine? For that matter, what will choirs and music academies do without the gift of song being united in vocal artistry? While none of us know that answer, we do know that Germany, in coming out of quarantine, has temporarily prohibited places of worship to sing due to the aerosol particles  that are projected when a person uses proper technique in singing. There is sufficient scientific evidence to show that six feet apart is not enough when projecting your voice, as one does in singing. Orchestras, places of worship, choral groups, praise groups, and bands are all scrambling to find new solutions to sharing and performing music.

Music is an integral part of the human design. The hymn writer Robert Lowry asks, “How Can I Keep From Singing?” (This rendition of the song by the young people of the A Cappella Academy is particularly wonderful.) In every part of the world music, both song and instrumental, plays a role in soothing the weary soul, in praising God, and in creating communities formed by the love of both creating song and those who appreciate listening to song. Some of us would argue that a world without music would be void of one the greatest gifts God has created within the human capacity of creativity.

As a theologian, I would also argue that music is also pleasing to God, the giver and creator of every living creature. From the beginning to the end of the biblical witness we see that music is used to praise God. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) Moses sang a song of praise when the Israelites were delivered from slavery, the Psalms themselves are meant to be sung, King David was notably one who regularly created music and sang songs of praise and lament to God. Isaiah the prophet, when he had his vision, was transported to the heavenly courts and witnessed the seraphim singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God.Nehemiah had a music festival dedicated to God when the wall was rebuilt, and David danced before the Lord with no shame as to his lack of dress. The minor prophet Zephaniah also remind us that God rejoices over us with singing!

When we move into the New Testament, we see music continues to be used by God’s people to worship God. James says, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” Paul and Silas were praising God even when they were in jail when a mighty miracle–an earthquake occurred to release them from captivity. Paul tells disciples, “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.” Music is pleasing to God.

In my own experience I have heard God speak to me when I was caught up in praise songs to God. One time was during a men’s Emmaus time of closing. The church was packed with men singing songs from the heart to God, and I heard the voice of God speak to me in my personal situation. Another time when I was leading worship, the choir was singing God of Heaven, and God clearly spoke to me and told me to move my place of residence into the town where I was serving as lead pastor. The voice was clear to me, and I began to cry, all from hearing God during a time of praise through music. When we are focused on praising God through song, our hearts can be softened to hear the voice of God! It has happened to me, maybe it has happened to you!

What are we to do with the potential paradox of not being allowed to sing in worship and the fact that music and singing songs to God give pleasure to the Lord? How do we put these two contrasting ideas together? We remember that the Israelites, when they were captives in a foreign land were tormented and cajoled to sing, and yet they stated, “by the rivers of Babylon we hung up our lyres and wept. How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

We might feel that way too. Corona Virus has turned our known world upside-down. The obstacles are many; We cannot meet in person for school, concerts, movies or worship. Some are facing economic challenges and lost jobs, others are experiencing shortages of food, some are fighting for their lives, and others are on the front lines as essential workers doing the fighting. Some have lost loved ones, and experienced deep grief. How can we keep on singing?

And yet, (there is always an “and yet”). And yet, the prophet Isaiah, speaking to those who are weeping by the rivers of Babylon says, sing to the Lord a new song. Isaiah gives hope for the future, hope of something new, hope that God has not abandoned, and a promise that God is still with us. We can claim those promises too. And we, too, can look for hope even among the devastating times we are currently experiencing. How do we do that?

First, we remember that we can use songs to praise God while in our own homes and in our own personal lives. It is important to do so, even when we do not feel like praising God. We praise God in the midst of the storm. If you have not done so, try to sing or play a song of praise right now. Maybe this one will speak to you, as the song writer says, “Even when it hurts I will praise you!”

Secondly, while we cannot gather in person, we can join in the many different ways offered to gather virtually on-line. Choose one or two or three worship services to attend, and when they offer up songs in worship, sing with all of your might right where you are seated–you can even stand in place and sing. I have personally enjoyed the smorgasbord of worship every weekend, and I sing right along with all those who are praising God in all the many formats that are offered. Sing to the Lord! The people gathered together, even virtually, give glory to God.

Thirdly, while we recognize that music is a great gift to use in worship to praise God, we also recognize there are other elements used in worship. Right now one of those elements might be silence. Can you hear God speak to you in the silence? It was the prophet Elijah who listened for God in the wind, rain, earthquake and fire on Mt. Horeb, but God spoke in a gentle whisper. God spoke in the silence of the mountain. Silence is one aspect of contemplative practice. Could it be that right now we are called to hear God in the silence?

Fourth, we can listen deeply to all of creation singing praise to God. In particular, Jesus says to those who try to stop his disciples from praising him, “If the people stop the very rocks will cry out.” Psalm 148 states that all the earth will praise God, to include the sea creatures of the ocean. Right now the birds are singing, listen to them, and join in praising God. Pastor Louie Giglio has a great teaching about the stars, the whales and the symphony of all creation singing praise to God.

Finally, in the deepest part of my heart, I know this to be temporary. Music is so integral in the life of God, that I cannot believe that the music in our hearts used to praise God in community, from song to instrumental, will be silenced to eternity. Use this time to pray to God to lift this pandemic from us. Personally, I believe in a God of miracles. We know that the God who created all of creation can also lift a pandemic. Lift your voice in song, and your heart in prayer as we repent for not trusting God, and join in the cacophony of all of creation in singing a new song to the Lord. Pray that all the heartache felt around the world from this virus will be lifted. And, when that lifting happens, remember to give God all the praise and glory. How can we keep from singing? We don’t have to, while we wait and pray, we can simply learn to sing praise to God in a new way.

Growing in our Relationship with Jesus

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She can read!

My eldest granddaughter is an emergent reader. Recently we were on vacation together, sitting in a tourist tram, and I asked her to read the words in the front of the tram. I waited, figuring I would have to help her with the more difficult words. Yet, slowly but surely, she read the entire sentence! “Come as guests, leave as friends.” I was surprised, yet excited for her.

It is a thrill to watch this 5 year old have a new world open up to her as she grows in her ability to read. New opportunities are now at her fingertips.

I realized the same is true of us in our relationship with Jesus. When our knowledge of God moves from head knowledge to heart knowledge, an entire new world opens up to us. When we realize that Jesus, God in the flesh, desires nothing less than a personal relationship with each of us, we begin to see and understand that new opportunities are available to us. Those opportunities were available all along, but now they can grow and be nurtured in new ways, because Jesus has just become real to us.

Just as my granddaughter is an emergent reader, so, too, many of us are emergent followers of Jesus. We are just discovering what lies ahead. She has to continue pressing on to read well, and we have to press on, in the words of Paul, to grow in our faith. This is a time to continue your discoveries. This is a time to seek out growth, seek out going deeper in this relationship with Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of Life. What are you doing today to help you grow in your relationship with Jesus?

And, if you are one who has not discovered this reality, that Jesus is real and wants a relationship with you, this can be a time to seek him out, to allow emergent discoveries to become a reality in your life.

Just as my granddaughter is discovering that reading is so exciting, you will be amazed at the exciting path that lies before you when you allow Jesus to be central in your life.

Spiritual Renewal~Chârtres

Spiritual Renewal~Chârtres

I was 16 when my eyes first saw the magestic spires, one roman and one gothic, of Chârtres. Chârtres made a huge impression on me, even at that tender age. It was a birthday gift to be able to travel to France with my beloved high school French teacher. A love for France and its people has remained with me. But somehow in that first trip, I missed the labyrinth and the importance it would eventually make in my life. Walking a labyrinth would eventually become an important part of my regular spiritual renewal plan.

I have returned to Chârtres several times, but the labyrinth was never empty of chairs, until today. Today I had done my research, and I had the honor and privilege of walking and praying through the oldest inlaid labyrinth in France. It dates from around the 1200’s.

If you have never walked a labyrinth it might be something you want to try. (We will put one up again a few days this summer at Middletown UMC). They come in different shapes and sizes, many are copies of the pattern found at Chârtres.

As one walks, one can use the experience for several things, one of the most “popular” is to enter into the presence of God, the middle representing being in the center with God, or being in the center of what you are seeking. Sometimes one might repeat the words “Come Holy Spirit” or “Come Lord Jesus.” Sometimes one might pray the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” As it has been said, “Pay attention to your experience, without judging it. It can serve as a mirror for what you are experiencing elsewhere .”

Today, I was one of the few who took my shoes off. Since it was inlaid stone taking your shoes off was not a requirement, but for me, if we are trying to walk into the presence of The Holy One then we should show respect by taking off our shoes. After all, Moses was told to take off his shoes when God spoke to him through the burning bush as he was on “holy ground.”

Some impressions from today’s labyrinth prayer walk: The stone was cold to the foot. That had never been part of my previous experiences. Some folks, from many nations, came in to see the cathedral and were oblivious to the fact that many were walking the labyrinth. (Even though it was blocked off with chairs) Perhaps many go through life in the same manner, oblivious to the fact that there is something more and we are called to be all that God created us to be; Each person goes at their own pace, and we pass many on the journey; interacting with some, not necessarily with all, but we are always trying to show kindness; Some intentionally changed the atmosphere. There was a wonderful group of women visiting who stood in a corner and sang a capela. One such chant was “Kyrie Eleison,” Lord have mercy on me. It was a lovely enhancement for my journey of prayer; Someone else had gathered some tiny leaves from an outside bush and had dropped them along the path of the labyrinth. While I thought that it was probably meaningful for them to leave those leaves on their journey, whoever has to clean them off and get them out of the old cracks and crevices of the stone might not think so. (The story of Hansel and Gretel did cross my mind.) Finally, since I have walked this pattern of Chârtres in other places, I sort of know the way. Yet even in knowing the way, there is an inner yearning for the center and in coming out, you know the end is near, yet what are you going to do about the end looming near? How does this walk correlate with our daily life journey?

If you have never walked a labyrinth it might be something you want to try. Google will show you where one is located near you. In Mariottesville, Md the sisters of Bon Secour have a lovely outdoor labyrinth that you can use anytime. May you be able to experience this journey too, and may your labyrinth journey bring you closer to God!

The Greater Family Win! (And 5 ideas for new wins.)

The Greater Family Win! (And 5 ideas for new wins.)

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Life is a balancing act, and so is parenting. When the kids are young, if we can be lucky enough to have some play time, get dinner in them, not have any tears and get them to bed on time it feels like a win! When they are teenagers, if we have gotten everyone to the right places, managed to watch the kid’s games, made sure the homework was done, get them dinner, not have any meltdowns and to bed, it can be a win. A question for the family win column is, “Have we added any spiritual direction to that list of family wins?”

Parents, you are responsible for your children’s spiritual health. Part of the very core of our being is spiritual. Part of raising our kids is to give them a healthy understanding of who God is and how God acts in the world. This is not something to hold off on or to “wait until they are older.” Rather, this is something they can participate in for the present time, no matter what their age. Just as a small child is learning about balance, and movement and talking and sharing, so too they need to learn now how to know God and how to participate in things that bring us closer to God. If part of their core being is spiritual, are we feeding their spirituality from a young age? If a child grows physically faster in the first 18 months, should not learning about God be a top priority during this time of intense learning?

Here are 5 things you can do now, no matter their age to help them grow into who God created them to be.

  1. Obviously prayer should be at the top of the list. Teach them to give thanks to God for meals and thanking God for the day and for family at bedtime are core wins. Teach them to pray to God at times of hurt. Teach them to talk and listen to God. Model that prayer time so that they can see you praying too.
  2. Story time can include a children’s Bible that tells them God’s stories. Whatever your bedtime rhythm might be, consider including a chapter each night from a children’s Bible that they can understand. (The Beginner’s Bible, or the Jesus Storybook Bible .) Bible story time began with my children when they were six months old. Now they are modeling that same rhythm of life for their own children. When kids are older this can be a time of reading the Bible together.
  3. Teach them the rhythms of the church calendar year. Today was the first Sunday in Lent and our Associate Pastor asked the children what season we were in. Lent is an easy four letter word that children can learn, and it is great teaching tool for young absorbent minds. They can learn that this is a season when we try to grow closer to God by doing something special for God. Pastor Beth suggested giving away a toy that we no longer need to someone who will need it. Maybe it can be a season to collect food for the hungry or maybe it can be a season to write love note to those in nursing homes. There are so many ways that a child can serve the world. Teach them about these times, especially Lent and Advent, that are designed to draw us closer to Jesus.
  4. Our children are never too young to teach them to serve others. Jesus calls us to serve the least of these. How do we help our children understand that we share our blessings with others. How do we teach them to have hearts that can break for the things that break God’s heart.
  5. Take advantage of teaching moments and show them what God is calling us to do in situations that could be major decision moments. When I was given too much change from the local cashier I stopped, showed the extra money to my kids and asked them what I should do. While it took a few extra seconds in the line, everyone saw that it was a moment to teach the kids the difference between giving back what was not mine or being dishonest and pocketing the extra money that I was mistakenly given.

Obviously, in addition to these practices at home, children will continue to grow spiritually if they are deeply connected to a church family; a place where they can go to worship, go to Sunday School and learn what it means to be a young disciple of Jesus. What spiritual practices can you add for your children today? What would you add to this list?