Monthly Archives: August 2010

“Let all earth keep silence before Him.”

“Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am He; I am the first, and I am the last.”

Isaiah 48:12 ESV

This morning I got up early to take my requisite daily walk.   I began with all my necessities: namely my tennis shoes, my dog, and my morning coffee.  I prayed as I walked, sending my morning babble to God’s ears.  I could have gone on like this for possibly infinite amounts of time.  But as I turned towards home I was possessed with the crazy idea that I should stop talking and let my Savior have a turn.  This was not the first time this idea had hit me – Christ gently chiding me (or not so gently as sometimes the case may be, “Stop speaking Nicki and listen.” Not surprising- I am sure my husband often desires the same of me.  What is surprising is that at times it seems almost impossible for me to do so.  This morning was one of those times.  I stopped praying and just tried to listen.  My mind wandered.  My ears began to concentrate on the rhythm of my steps, the sound of the air rushing past my ears with my each breath, the jingling of my dog’s collar- but my mind could not keep still, I could not keep silent and I could not listen.

Last semester, one of my professors would pray before the beginning of each class, beginning with a long moment of silence.  Until the class became used to the routine, the moment was met rather awkwardly, people unsure of just what was going on.   At Church each Sunday, our time of prayer is also preceded by a short moment of silence, which we get through and onto the spoken portion as swiftly as possible.  Why are we so afraid of silence? Why is it so hard for us to listen? Why is it so hard for us to “Be still and know that (He) is God”?[1] Why should it be a task to still our thoughts in the presence of the Creator of the Universe?

Last fall, I went to a Mass and a Vespers service at The Abbey of the Genesee.  The order of monks who make their home there used to be a silent order.  Now I guess they are what you would call an “almost silent” order, but still, talking is limited, and their services are very simple with long moments of silence.  I reveled in it.  It was the first time I had ever been part of such a service.  Sitting in communal silence waiting for God’s Word felt like a warm embrace.  Yet, there were many in the room whom after a time became fidgety and were obviously uncomfortable.   One of my fellow students remarked that he did not really see the point in sitting silently as a group of believers… we could do that on our own anytime.  But do we?  How often do I really sit in silence before the God of the Universe, the Savior of my soul?  Even when I succeed in shutting my mouth, the noise in my head refuses to be drowned out.   I cannot be still.  I cannot listen.


Let all mortal flesh keep silence

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High![2]

“But the LORD is in His holy temple.
Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

Habakkuk 2:20

[1] Psalm 46:10 ESV “Be still, and know that I am God.

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth!”

[2] Lyrics adapted by Gerard Moultrie from the 4th century Liturgy of St James.  17t century French carol melody (Picardy) added in 1864; Harmonization added by Ralph Vaughn Williams in 1906.

Being a music major isn’t fun…

Or at least, that’s not the point.  It’s not easy either.  Music is not a cop-out degree for people who want easy A’s- that may have been high school, but in college that attitude is not going to get you far.  The summer after my freshman year I worked for the music office at my school.  My main task was getting a large donation of music books and recordings cataloged and ready to be placed in the music library.  However, my non-official job description being “glorified gofer” I did a lot of other random tasks as well.  One of these included getting incoming freshman music majors registered for their placement auditions.  One of my favorite things to ask them was, “Why do you want to be a music major?”  You are always in for an interesting response.  Some were legit like: “Band was always my favorite class in school,” or “Piano is the only thing I’ve ever been really good at.”  Others sent out warning signals right away: “Oh, I just love music, I am just soooo passionate about it,” or  “I just love to sing, I feel like God is calling me to be a singer.” I would become especially concerned if they began answering the question in a sort of dreamy, sing-songy voice . . . generally these turned out to be the students who thought they wanted to major in music because they own an ipod, or once in junior high they got to sing a solo with the choir.  Many want to be music majors because they like the way music makes them feel, and they think it is going to be easy.   Don’t get me wrong, I love the way music makes me feel at times as well- I always marvel at it’s expressive capabilities.  But music as a pastime and entertainment is different than music as a study.  Before music is an art, it is a discipline.  To learn and understand it at its core challenges your body, mind and spirit.  It delves into the realm of kinesiology, philosophy, mathematics, physics, languages- you name it.  Really applying yourself to its mastery will require taxation on your psychological, physical, and emotional limits.  Fun is not the point.  How it makes you feel is not the point.  This is a discipline.  This is important- we’re not messing around.

Church isn’t fun either; or at least that’s not the point.  Like music, the Christian faith is first and foremost a discipline.  To delve into its richness is not easy- it is not something you start to escape other paths that seem more difficult.  You don’t commit to being a Christian as a pastime or hobby.  We are not here to play church.  Christ said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Luke 9:23.  In other words, really doing this is going to tax your psychological, physical, and emotional limits. It may even claim your life.    Fun is not the point.  How it makes you feel is not the point.  This is a discipline. This is a lifestyle.  This is a worldview.   This is important- we’re not messing around.

“In the Church today, nothing is so powerful in dividing believers than the songs we sing.  Worship wars are prevalent in almost any Church body over what we sing, how we sing, when we sing, and even why we sing.  It is commonly held that music is powerful, but the origin, attributes and effects of this power are disputed, or worse, disregarded entirely as unimportant.  It is imperative that the Church defines these things.  This lack of clarity has led to skewed notions of our relationship to God as well as gross abuses and hypocrisy among believers.  The lack of a theology of music has led to no end of misunderstandings of music’s role in our worship of the Creator.

We typically think of music as a response to God’s grace; an offering of praise we give to Him.  It is most closely associated with the emotions and in some Christian gatherings a temporary “high” given by the Holy Spirit.  Though it seems we are not trying to get into heaven through good works anymore, a visitor to any number of evangelical congregations may deduce that we are attempting to capture God’s attention with our skills in entertainment . . .” [1]

I think it is possible that one of the things playing into our church’s “worship wars,” is a general misunderstanding of what music is: its power, its importance- which, I am sure, is effected by and effects our understanding of what “church” is as a gathering.  It skews our understanding of what worship is- or should be.  I believe that the true worship war is not really over style- at the core it is a war over worldviews.  Things like ‘blended worship,” or churches at liberty to have both  “traditional” and “contemporary” services are valiant efforts to keep peace over this matter in the body. However, they seem to be only a temporary fix until the next musical trend sweeps through.  I believe what is really needed is for the Church to take a good hard look at what we believe music is in it’s essence and what it is in the context of worship.  We need a theological backbone for why and how we worship.  There needs to be a standard, a measuring rod.  It is the only way we will ever end this war.   It is the only way we will ever learn to worship with understanding.

[1] Nicole Jordan. “Dear Christians One and All Rejoice: Martin Luther’s Theology of Music.” in Crucible. Vol. 3 No. 1 November 2010. Melbourne, Australia. Forthcoming.