Friday, October 16, 2020

Open Hymnals Part 7


We wrap up and wind down another week.  There is much more we could continue to explore around our hymnal as a prayer book, theological textbook, and story it seeks to tell us.  But it is good to take a breath and hold lightly where we have been this week.

Over the few posts, we built upon truths that we can pray our hymns.  We have leaned in, listened to what hymns are telling us about God.  And we begun to look at how our hymnal is telling a narrative. 

What is one truth you learned this week?  Something new or something that you knew but have reclaimed?

How was praying one hymn every day?  What did that do?  Did you find yourself saying the hymn when stopped at a red light?  Or repeating it as a refrain to order your day?  Do you want to keep praying that hymn or choose another?  There are no “right” answers, just what your soul says, “Amen” to right now.

What other creative ways can you engage your hymnal?

You could randomly open the hymnal every day, read the hymn – slowly and prayerfully – or be brave/bold to sing it.  Then, pause to ask yourself, how did that action make a difference?

You could start at the beginning of the hymnal, read one hymn each day.

You could make a prayer practice of calling someone to read hymns to each other.

You could sit with the same hymn for weeks on end, turning it slowly, slightly every day listening deeply to what the marriage of tune and text are saying.  

You could go to YouTube and listen to as many different versions as you can find!

In the coming weeks, I will expand in new directions in these morning meditations, but I will always offer you one day when there is a “Hymn of the Week”.  This hymn will shine and share a light on the reflections and keep grounding us in this prayer practice of holding our hymnals with open hearts.

I pray you continue to let the One who is still singing in our lives and causes our lives to flow on in endless song to accompany you in these days.

Prayer: Praise to the living God, the God of love and light, whose word brought forth the myriad suns and set the worlds in flight.  Whose infinite design, which we but dimly see, pervades all nature, making all a cosmic unity.  Amen. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Open Hymnals Part 6


This morning, I want us to slow down and savor one single verse of a hymn, “Be Still, My Soul”.  The verse goes:

Be still, my soul: for God will undertake to guide in future days as in the past.  Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake; all now mysterious shall be clear at last.  Be still my soul: the waves and winds still know how Jesus’ power rule them long ago.

Truth be told, this is not one of my favorite hymns.  Some of the verses challenge me and certainly don’t align with my theology/understanding of God.  I don’t always think I should ‘bear patiently the cross of grief or pain,’ as the first verse of this hymn says.  Sometimes I need to be angry or cry or just grumble about how 2020 has left us all feeling exhausted.  I need to get that out, because pain that isn’t processed gets passed along.  Yet, sometimes my grumbling, griping takes me down a negative cycle where nothing is right and everything is wrong.  I see only the obstacles, not the opportunities.  I hope you see that hymn lyrics can awaken so much to talk about.

But the second verse above reminds me that God guides (which is a verb I really find helpful in thinking/talking about God) the future as God has down in the past.  You could lay the words above alongside the hymn, “O God our help in ages past” to see the way these two hymns sing to each other.  The verse goes on to remind me that my hope is built on nothing less that God’s love and all other ground is sinking sand.  And to be still in these days is a wonderful invitation.  It can be tempting to keep watching for the latest breaking news or constantly be in motion.  To stop, to be still, is what my soul needs to hear today. 

How does this hymn align with the hymn you are praying every day this week?  Where is there harmony in your prayer hymn and the one above?  Where is there dissonance?  Take time to read the lyrics both to the hymn you are praying and “Be Still, My Soul,” then be still to listen and let God move in your midst.

Prayer: Be still my soul and sing to me, O God, I pray. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Open Hymnals Part 5


Our hymnals are prayer books and theological textbooks.  Our hymnals give us words to sing and teach/tell us truths that soak/saturate our soul every time we draw a breath to let the tune and text married together fall from our lips.  

What is one hymn this week you could return to everyday as a prayer?

Maybe initially you think of the classics ~ What a Friend We Have in Jesus or Sweet Hour of Prayer or I Need Thee Every Hour.  If you laid those three hymns side-by-side or sung them one-after-another, you would start to hear the theological threads that connect them.  Prayer is a rhythm, routine, where we take our ‘trials, temptations, troubles, to God”.  Where we do this every hour, especially now as the new cycle churns chaotically every time we turn on the television, radio, or refresh our newsfeed.  As Sweet Hour of Prayer preaches, proclaims, “In seasons of distress and grief, (I am looking at you, Year of 2020!) my soul has often found relief and oft escaped the tempter’s snare by your return sweet hour of prayer.”  Such a sentiment is echoed in I Need You Every Hour, the third verse, “I need You every hour, in joy or pain, come quickly and abide or life is vain.”  

I pray you are starting to sense the power of hymns.  They are not just interludes to break up the spoken words of worship.  They are more than entertaining, hymns engage our mind, body, and soul.  Hymns cause the synapsis of our minds to stir in ways that spoken words struggle to accomplish.  When you sing, you engage your whole body.  And our souls spark with feelings of being strangely warmed.  

When we read hymns – slowly and prayerfully – some of the same effect can happen within us, especially if we read the hymns out loud.

What is one hymn this week you could return to everyday as a prayer?

Not just to read in your silently, but aloud.  Perhaps you can read the hymn aloud inside, or go outside to tell the trees around your home.  You may want to whisper like you are saying these words to the deepest part of your heart or shout time as if directing all the energy in your body toward making these words a reality.

The hymn I will return to this week as a prayer is O Grant us, God, a Little Space (#516 in the New Century Hymnal).  I find especially verses two and three singing to my soul today:

“Around us rolls the ceaseless tide of business, toil, and care, And scarcely can we turn aside for one brief hour of prayer.”
“Yet this is not the only place your presence may be found, On daily work you shed your grace, and blessings all around.”

I commit, covenant to coming back to these words several times today and throughout the week.  To let these words teach me; try to sing the melody; and sit with what stirs within me.  I pray you will find a hymn that can ground and guide you this week prayerfully and faithfully.

Prayer: Conducting God, open my ears to hear and heart to be warmed by the marriage of tune and text as I pray the hymnal this week.  Amen.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Open Hymnals Part 4


Only the Spirit’s power can fit us for this hour: come, Holy Spirit, come! Unite, instruct, inspire and fill us with your fire: come, Holy Spirit, come!  Let Every Christian Pray by Fred Pratt Green (#261 New Century Hymnal)

I pray this rhythm of leaning into and listening to hymns is meaningful and making a difference, especially because I am going to continue this series of Morning Meditations next week. I hope you just said, “Yay!!”

Two simple thoughts to wind down and wrap up this week. First, I love that the above hymn speaks of the Spirit as uniting, instructing, inspiring and filling. Notice that those are verbs. The Holy is not a noun, but an activity in our lives. The sacred is not something we can control, but seeks to conspire, collaborate in holy ways with us. When I say that hymns teach and tell us about God, it is verses like this that shine a light on this truth. If we ask, “What is God up to?” God is uniting, instructing, inspiring, and filling us in life-giving ways. Secondly, I wonder what would happen if over the next three days you prayed the above verse several times each day? How would these words work in your life to be in concert with the holy by returning to them prayerfully at regular intervals throughout the day?

What if we tried praying this verse three times today? Right now, at lunch, and in the evening. How do these words sound differently at 8 am when compared to 8 pm? Does the light of the day change how you experience the words? Do you find yourself hearing the words differently, especially when you return to them tomorrow...and the next day...and the day after that?

I invite us as a church to be open for the Spirit’s power, fitting us – forming us – shaping us – filling us for this hour. Right now. Right here. Come, Holy Spirit to inform and influence how we live and what we say this day.

Prayer: God, thank you for words this week from our prayer book/theological textbook/hymnal. Thank you for the authors whose words this week have caused our hearts to feel strangely warmed. Help us continue to sing, even to ourselves, with full voice and with open spirits. Amen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Open Hymnals Part 3


Praise to the living God, around, within, above, Beyond the grasp of human mind, but whom we know as love. In these tumultuous days, so full of hope and strife, May we bear witness to the Way, O source and Goal of life. "Praise to the Living God" by Curtis Beach, (#8 New Century Hymnal).

If, our hymnals are both prayer books that provoke and invoke the spirit; if our hymnals are theological textbooks that engage our minds/hearts/souls, the words of hymns can cause questions to stir within us. Who is God in this verse above? Where is God? What imagines and ideas of the holy are awoken in reading these words?

Go back. Read them again. Slowly this time.

What does a word like, “Praise” awaken within you?

How can God be around and within and above? It doesn’t make rational or reasonable sense, does it? Yet, somehow, I know those words to be true and trustworthy.

How does that tension of naming that ‘these [are] tumultuous days, so full of hope and strife,” challenge me? Am I only seeing the strife and not the hope?

I hope you are starting to sense the profound power our hymnal as both a prayer book and theological textbook brings forth.

And if that verse didn’t stir your soul, read with me the third verse of the same hymn,

Praise to the living God, who knows our joy and pain, Who shares with us our common life, the sacred and profane. God toils wher-e’vr we toil, in home and mart and mill; And deep within the human heart God leads us forward still.

I think any hymn worth its salt needs to use the word, ‘Wher-e’vr’. Secondly, how did hearing the verses our of order do for you? We get so accustom to hymns one way, but the beauty of a hymn is that sometimes reversing the order of the verse can provoke and invoke something new, different.

Whatever hymnal you have handy open to the section on God and read the hymn. Or Google, “Hymns about God,” and read the words of a hymn online. Does the hymn offer an understanding of God that you agree with or that causes you to shift uncomfortably in your chair? Not every hymn needs to be beloved! Sometimes hymns we don’t like can teach and tell us much too!

Please keep reading, praying, and opening your hymnal in these days.

Prayer: Singing, stirring, swirling Spirit, speak through the hymns we read we pray this day. Amen.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Open Hymnal Part 2


Great, living God, never fully known, joyful darkness far beyond our seeing, closer yet than breathing, everlasting home; Hail and Hosanna, great living God!  Brian Wren, “Bring Many Names,” (#11 New Century Hymnal)

Our hymnals are not only prayer books, they are theological textbooks. Make a list of the hymns you love.

Go ahead. I’ll wait!

Now, try to make a list of sermons you remember and love.

My hunch is one list is a lot longer than the other! My grandmother didn’t quote sermons when she was baking bread, she hummed hymns. And given this reality, we take the next logical, linear step which is to say that when we are singing, we are learning about who God is, why Jesus came, and the calling of the church. Hymns teach and tell us a lot about faith and prayer and life.

Every hymnal I have ever held in my hands has organizing structure. Maybe it is the liturgical year, where the hymnal starts with Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter. Or maybe the hymnal starts off by trying to help us define and describe musically our faith. Our New Century hymnal starts with section on God (39 hymns); and then moves on to Jesus (15 hymns); and next to the Holy Spirit (9 hymns). Two conclusions from just this quick glance: one, the Holy Spirit really needs a few more hymns; second, that is sixty-four hymns about how we as humans encounter and experience the holy hovering/hanging around our lives.

Look back at your list of favorite hymns. How many are about God? Jesus? The Holy Spirit? What if we spent time studying and discussing about the images, the words of these hymns? What might we uncover and discover in such a dialogue? So often, our discussion of hymns starts and stops with our favorites. That’s often it. But we can do more. Consider this, if every Sunday we sing three hymns that means over the course of a year you are singing over a thousand hymns. Plus, you hear anthems. And we haven’t even talked about what you are playing on your headphones when you go out for a bicycle ride in the morning!

This is why I am trying to encourage and invite you to pay attention to the music and the meaning it is inviting. I love that Brian Wren, in the hymn quoted above, invites us to “Bring Many Names” for the holy in our lives. I love that Wren uses male/female and the whole age spectrum to describe who God is. I love that Wren’s theology (talk about God) is expansive and evolving. You get done reading this hymn and there is the unsung/unwritten eighth verse where you offer the name for God you bring. This is the power of hymns to teach and tells us about the holy.

I pray today you might randomly open your hymn to a page, slowly read the words, and pay attention to response/reaction what you encounter, what the words do to your soul.

Prayer: God of melody that bring forth meaning, open our hearts, imaginations, and whole lives to the ways hymn-writes have shaped our faith.  Amen.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Open Hymnals Part 1


Sing Lustily – and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half-asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. [And] Sing spiritually – have an eye to God in every word you sing.  Two of the seven directions for singing from John Wesley.

Music is one of the most powerful and profound ways to communicate.  Music has a way of evoking emotions and invoking the holy in ways that spoken words cannot.  Music is woven into our memories and helps us make meaning of life.  Music lingers and leaves an impression upon us.  I may not remember much about my ordination day 19 years ago, but I do recall we sang one of my favorite hymns, “Won’t you let me be your servant?”  Or I have a vivid memory of planning my mom’s memorial service and talking about how we had to sing a Christmas Carol because that was my mother’s favorite holiday. 

We know that one of the harshest and hardest realities of the pandemic is that we are not able to sing together.  I do believe, deep in my heart – to quote the spiritual “We Shall Overcome” – that if we could sing together right now, it would be like a balm in Gilead to heal our sin-sick souls.  I do believe, deep in my heart, that our lives flow on in endless song; sometimes the song is in a major key; other times a minor key; still other times just feel like banging on the piano keys!  God is both the composer and conductor of the symphony of creation.  I believe, deep in my heart, that to sing is to pray twice. 

This week, I want us to hold our hymnals close to our hearts.  I acknowledge and affirm this is difficult.  I grieve that are sanctuary walls are not being soaked each Sunday with the sound of your voice.  I grieve and miss the communal first breath of the opening hymn that tells us we are conspiring (which means to ‘breathe together) to glorify God.  I grieve the holy hymns that bring us a sense of unity in midst of diversity. 

Yet, I don’t want our hymnals to sit on the shelf collecting dust.  I do believe, deep in my heart, that we have an opportunity unlike anytime before to see our hymnal as a prayer book.  To read the words of the hymns.  To pick up the hymnal every day as a way to God is still singing and ministering to us in such a time as this.  I invite you to focus not only on beloved hymns that make you want to sing out with gusto…or sing lustily as Wesley advices and admonishes us to do.  But to dig deeper and dwell in the second, third and fourth verses of hymns. 

In fact, there is a hymn, “In Solitude” (#521 in the New Century Hymnal), that if you read the words, they are so profound and powerful.  The author, Ruth Duck, says that this hymn was, “An expression of her ‘deep-rooted southern spirituality’.”  In the second verse of this hymn she writes, “Whe-e’er the world is troubling me, and stress is all around, I seek the presence of my God, and healing light is found.”

Hold those words.  Breathe them in.  They are so beautiful. 

In the third verse, Duck writes, “In seasons of perplexity, in times of deep despair, I light a candle in the night and turn to God in prayer.”

Go get a candle, light it, say these words again for they are a prayer.

If you happen to have a hymnal handy at home, I encourage you to get it down.  I invite you in the coming weeks to read through hymns.  Slowly.  Savor each word, letting it sink deep into your soul. 

Image when we come back to worship and can sing, how much more we might be able to proclaim God’s presence because the words we sing will be written upon our hearts.  That to me sounds like a holy way to start each day.

Prayer: God who inspires and conspires with hymn-writers over the centuries, open our ears, hearts and whole lives to You as we pray our hymnals in these days.  Amen.


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