Rev. Emily’s Weekday Wonderings – January 18, 2018
Lullabies and Hymns for us all.
During last September’s interview, I was asked what Bible stories I planned on sharing with the baby first. It’s an interesting question, but over the last month, I’ve been thinking that another question was more urgent – what hymns did I plan to sing to the baby? During the Songs & Psalms series in late October and early November, we spent time thinking about how music is a window into the sacred. Sometimes people create an arbitrary separation between sacred and secular, when actually all music can speak to the larger questions about life, touching our spirits and not just our ears. So we spent some time hearing lyrics to songs that were not written primarily to be shared in a church, and exploring the meaning they offer our faith (and you can hear those sermons online if you are interested). Since then, I’ve been thinking about the other side of that relationship – the ways hymns and refrains that we sing together in church then spill over into the rest of our lives, as we find ourselves humming the tunes, or remembering words or phrases.
The first time I was changing Neil, I found myself instinctively wanting to sing something to try to comfort him. The lullaby that jumped into mind was “Hush Little Baby,” but as I started singing it I was quickly dissatisfied. First of all, I found myself unable to remember what “Papa” will buy after the looking glass should break. But then, I wondered what kind of a message the song was giving: be quiet and we’ll buy you things. And when something goes wrong with those things, just buy more things…
Well, it started me thinking about what’s behind what we sing, and the next song I chose was “O Beautiful Gaia” from More Voices. A hymn about the beauty of the earth, the Canadian landscape, and our call to responsibility. The hymn is also beautiful when sung slowly, perfect for a lullaby. What makes a hymn a good lullaby? Or, for everyone not seeking lullabies right now – what makes a hymn a song that can stay with us, and feed our spirits during the week? Here are a few thoughts: a tune that can be remembered and sung again; words that can be remembered (the repetition in “O Beautiful Gaia” or “Peace for the Children,” which we sung Nov. 12th, is perfect for this); and ideas that have both a certain depth and a certain simplicity. With these three elements a hymn or refrain can be carried with us into our daily lives, grounding us in times of worry or anxiety, comforting us in times of sadness, expressing our moments of joy and thanksgiving. Spending some time finding the hymns that speak to us can enrich not just our worship together but also many other moments in our lives.
Take “Peace for the Children” for instance. This hymn expresses a deep hope, a deep longing, for the world – that we might experience peace. We also hear about the role of our faith in this longing (“Following the path of One of Peace”) as well as our own personal responsibility (“We work for healing, we work for peace”). Because we can call ourselves followers of Jesus, who is called One of Peace, we are called to work for peace. Peace comes out of wholeness, coming together, our effort. It is something active that we are called toward. As I sing these words to Neil, I can tell him “we know the One of Peace as Jesus. As you grow, I’ll tell you about him.” And for now, I can hope these words and these notes bring peace – “Peace for our little Neil, peace, peace. Peace for our little Neil we pray.”
With blessings, Rev. Emily Gordon