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On grace and grumbling

It is hard in this time to know what to do. 

Each day brings news that further divides us, scares us, confounds us, frustrates us.

Cleaning, compliance, checklists are words now associated with gatherings and worship while familiar rituals like the shared cup and plates and peace and songs are firmly on the “no no” list and pose a proven threat to the health of our communities.

Here in our little patch out in the country in a country with the space and resources to manage this pandemic quite well, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the global death toll is approaching 700 000 people – mere numbers to us but each one was knit together and named by and known to God who grieves along with the friends and family members that they are now lost to – often without a final goodbye or a familiar hand in theirs as they have taken their last breath. 

It cannot be business as usual; life as normal. We know this. And, over the past few months, we have moved in some ways – to online worship which transcends our geographical boundaries, and less cluttered calendars and diaries, and, maybe, a greater degree of mindfulness of and friendliness towards our neighbour. 

But, sometimes, it feels like we’re just holding our breath and waiting for it all to be under control or for a vaccine to be available and then, THEN, we can go back to how things were … because we like life with its familiar routines and rituals and rhythms, even when that life has locked us in to a narrow way of thinking and doing and being.

In the conversations that I’ve had in recent weeks about moving towards using church spaces again in worship, one of the consistent responses to this crisis and its implications for our community life has been grief and frustration at the fact that there can be no singing. “If we can’t sing, what’s the point in coming to church?” or “If you cut out the songs, you lose half the service!” have been common reactions. 

I acknowledge that pain. There is something about our music that connects us to the cacophony of all creation and the creativity of God. Beloved hymns and songs ignite memories, offer comfort, root us in our traditions, and make us feel as though God is right here beside us. And, often, our songs are the only way in which we – as individual worshippers – have a voice during the course of a traditional Sunday service.

So, for the next five weeks, we’re going to focus on the songs that we find in Scripture and in our stories of the people of God on the way and, perhaps, they will invite us into other practices that embed our life into the rhythm of Divine Love that permeates our every day work and our Sabbath rest.

Read below a few verses from that great and bloody liberation story in the book of Exodus in which Pharaoh set the enslaved Israelite nation free, then changed his mind, and had his army pursue them across the Red Sea. This is the song of Miriam, Moses’s sister, in response to God bringing her people to safety. 

When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. 

Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.”

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

Exodus 15:19-24 (NIV)

Reflect: 

  • How does this song compare to the songs you like to sing?
  • Why do you think it is significant enough to appear in Scripture?
  • Do you find anything about the song challenging or confronting?
  • What is interesting to you about what happens next in the story?

***  

In and through and beyond our songs, God invites us into a rhythm of grace as old as time itself, yet new every morning. 

It’s a rhythm that takes us beyond words – into movement and relationship and freedom and spontaneity and simplicity and creativity. 

It’s a rhythm in which every member of the community can find their voice, their gift to offer, their time to lead, their connection with every other member. 

It’s a rhythm that is raw and honest and personal and allows space for difference. 

It is a rhythm that should endure beyond the song – in our living, our loving, and our journeying, yet we know that we can lose track of it when our focus shifts to other things and become bitter and full of grumbling.

May you seek the rhythm of love in your life this week – and let it move you!