December 15, 2014

Singing Songs of Love

            It is the music that makes Advent and Christmastide so memorable for me.  Of course, I like the fragrance of candles, things baking in the kitchen (little of which I produce), and the variegated lights all around.  Yet, it is the music that holds primacy in my memory and spiritual practice.

            Yesterday I made the trek to Oklahoma to spend some time with the Marshall clan, so I had time to listen to lovely carols, Gregorian chant from favorite monastic choirs, John Rutter’s Gloria, parts of Handel’s Messiah, and a few selections from the Canadian Brass for good measure.  (This ensemble has a great tuba player, whom I keep recommending to my colleague Dick Olson for his own improvement!)  Even though the instruments are great, choral music remains my favorite expression of the season’s glad tidings.

            As we move toward the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we turn to one of the alternative readings, Psalm 89.  It opens with these words:
I will sing of your steadfast love; O LORD, forever;
            with my mouth I will proclaim
                        your faithfulness to all generations.
As St. Augustine reportedly wrote, “When we sing, we pray twice.”  The embodied spiritual practice of singing, where breath and word come together—as in God’s own activity of creation—call us to reflect on God’s new intervention in human history, coming as one of us.  Even those who sit silent, with arms crossed during congregational singing, can usually manage to hum along with the memory-laden carols.

Several Christian traditions have released new hymnals in recent months, among them the Presbyterian Church USA and the Community of Christ.  The latter group, located in Independence, MO, has written: “We believe what we sing and we sing what we believe.”  The hymnal committee intentionally selected hymns that would assist the church in singing its way into peace and justice.  Hymns in different languages prompt the church to humility as they fumble through unfamiliar words; hymns from around the world remind them of the church’s expansive reach.

As I write, I am listening to a young woman’s voice singing the Magnificat, Mary’s Canticle of wonder and astonished joy.  She echoes the Psalmist’s gratitude for God’s merciful attentiveness across the generations.  Luke’s Gospel models her poetic declaration of faith after the prayer of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10), and clearly it begs to be sung!  We also can sing her song of love in the many renditions that the centuries provide. It will be good for our souls.

            Molly T. Marshall

              Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

December 9, 2014

Weeping, Sowing, and Rejoicing

            During this Advent season I am focusing on the Psalms that are selected to accompany the other seasonal readings of Year B.  Psalm 126 is one of my favorites, for it has allowed me to interpret past experiences of personal suffering through a prism of grace, which is God’s own faithfulness. 

            The Psalmist writes:                       
      May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
     Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,                                   
             shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
I return to this word of hope this morning for guidance and comfort as Kansas City deals with yet another hate crime.  Only the promises of God can help us in such times.

            This past Thursday a disturbed and angry man ran over a Somali teen, severing his legs.  The fifteen year old later died.  This occurred at a mosque where resettled Muslims from a war torn country worship and forge sustaining relationships in their new land.  They came to the US to flee such violence, but hatred sabotaged their peace. Their community is bowed down with grief, weeping for this grievous loss.  They are sowing tears.
            The driver’s SUV displayed anti-Muslim graffiti, reading, “Quran is a virus disease (worse) than Ebola.”  Clearly, he intended to do harm.

            Many in our day sow seeds of hate, fearing the “other.”  This is not only true of the rampant racism that stalks our nation, but is too often found in the religious sphere, also.  The news report of this vicious attack suggests that the driver, supposedly a Christian, was seeking revenge against Muslims.
            It is the responsibility of people of good will to bear seeds of hope, solidarity, and comfort for those who weep.  Crimes like these awaken the larger community to the urgency of sowing peace through coming alongside our suffering neighbors.
            Mahnaz Shabbir, an articulate leader in the Islamic community of Kansas City, invited me to attend the funeral.  I regret that I was away when it occurred, for I would have been there.  It is important that Christians build bridges to religious minorities for the sake of justice and reconciliation.
            Advent illumines the promise that weeping will eventually turn to joy.  Advent calls us to renew our commitment to follow the Prince of Peace, who draws near to all who weep.  May God’s comfort assist this community as they seek to absorb this loss and, ultimately, be able to rejoice.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.