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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!

Tune in on Thursdays

Shared by Jan B.

“Seek, O seek the Lord” is probably my favourite hymn. We had it at our wedding and I will possibly have it at my funeral when the time comes. It was sung at our wedding at St Stephen’s Macquarie Street by the choir of Cleveland Street Boys’ High School where I was in charge of Music at the time.

It is not a long hymn but the words touch the heart – I particularly love the last two lines: How can we love God – and not each other? (in the original and in the Catholic Hymn books the last line reads “and not our brother”).

The hymn is written in a particular form for a particular reason. It is written in an antiphonal form which really means two choirs, but which can be thought of as verses with a repeated refrain or even ‘call and response’. The particular reason was that it was written, along with quite a lot of others, to introduce congregational singing into the Catholic Church following the liturgical reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

Seek, O seek the Lord, while he is near;
trust him, speak to him in prayer
and he will hear.

1. God be with us in our lives,
direct us in our calling
break the snares the world contrives
keep us from falling.

2. God, increase in us the life
that Christ by dying gave us
though we faint in mortal strife
his blood will save us.

3. Strengthen in our hearts
the love we owe to one another
how can we love God above
and not each other?

TiS 464 music by Richard Connelly, words by James McAuley


I was first introduced to ‘Seek, O seek the Lord’ and Richard Connelly when as a young high school music teacher, I was invited to St Brigid’s Marrickville Church along with a close group of musician friends (mainly Catholic) to record an LP of ‘Songs for the Year of Grace’ a short book of songs written and produced by Richard Connelly.

All these songs were written to be sung with a cantor singing the verse and the congregation singing the antiphon or refrain. These were to be sung in English and not Latin. Catholic congregations were used to having the Mass sung in Latin and this was a very new concept. There are ten of Richard’s hymns in Together in Song and all except No.622 are in this form. Yvonne used one of them for the Easter period in the services leading up to Easter at Pilgrim last year.

***

May call and response be the rhythm of your day –
each moment an invitation 
to be open to God’s voice, 
to seek God’s face
and to dance in step with God’s Spirit.