Ancient Songs, Resounding Voices

November 10, 2013

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

Proper 25 – Year C RCL

Haggai 1:15b-2:9, Psalm 145:1-5, 18-21, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17, 16-18, Luke 20:27-38

This may be a bit unorthodox, but I have a confession to make to you today. For the past couple of months, something has changed in my life, and I want to get it out into the open, so here goes…

I’ve started listening to contemporary Christian music. I know… it’s a shock…

It all began quite innocently, really – shortly after I bought my new car in late August. You see, like most new cars these days, mine came with a trial subscription to Sirius XM radio. As I was flipping through the stations to program my favorite Country, Pop, and NPR stations, I came across Channel 63… The Message.

Although I’ve listened to Christian music from time to time over the years, it hasn’t been a main-stay of my music selection… but for some reason, a few weeks ago, I decided to save the station on one of the programmed buttons… just as a fall-back if nothing else worth listening to came on. Or at least that’s what I told myself.

Little did I know how much time I would spend listening to this Christian music. It caught me off-guard to find it to be so upbeat; so positive; so inspiring… so it kept drawing me back in.

Before I knew it, I was downloading Christian music to my iPad…

I’ve even been listening to it while I’m at work…

And, I really knew it was getting out of hand when I realized how it had permeated my subconscious.

You see, for the past few weeks now, when I wake up in the middle of the night , in that in-between state – not fully awake, but not fully asleep either – instead of hearing refrains from Pink’s “Blow Me One Last Kiss” or Maroon 5’s “I’ve Got the Moves Like Jagger,” I’m now hearing the lyrics of these contemporary Christian songs. Things like:Speak Life

  • “This is Amazing Grace. This is unfailing Love… ” OR,
  • From TobyMac’s “Speak Life” asserting that even in times of trouble, “Speak Hope, Speak Love, Speak Life…”

And now I’m wondering what I’m going to do when my Sirius XM trial period is over…
Pray for me.

But seriously… this recent experience has served to remind me just how penetrating the effect of music can be. If you were here last Sunday, you likely experienced this as many of us were pulled-in and uplifted by to the drum-filled beat as we sang Hallelujah! so boldly, leading us out into the world at the end of the service.

Music has an energizing power… it’s not a new phenomenon… it’s primal.

The Psalms of the Old Testament are evidence of this. They are the Hymns of the Israelites, and have been carried forward into Christian worship.

At the risk of bringing lightening upon us, or at least getting pummeled by the music-traditionalist among us, it seems like today’s Psalm could easily fit into the contemporary Christian music genre, with lyrics like:

  • “I will exalt you, O God my King, and bless your Name for ever and ever.” OR
  • “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; there is no end to his greatness…”

Not unlike the Hymns we sing each week in our liturgy which underpin our own faith, the Psalms were woven through Jesus’ teachings, and are an integral part of early Christian practice. To recall the first line of a Psalm would bring to mind the whole thing.

It makes me think of the old game show “Name that Tune,” where contestants would say, “I Can Name that Tune in 2 notes.” In the same way, Psalms were so familiar that a few words would recall the whole content.

This would have been particularly true for those who observed monastic practices. The chanting of psalms was integral to the daily worship and reflection. Prayer and devotion to God was central to their life. They would come together seven times a day to participate in the office prayers:

Before-dawn, At Day break, Mid-morning, At Noon, Mid-Afternoon, Evening Prayer, and Compline at Day’s end.

The lectionary was set in such a way that all 150 Psalms would be recited over the course of the week… EACH week all 150 Psalms would be chanted… and in doing this, they became inscribed on the hearts of those who prayed them… like hearing the same songs over and over… not unlike the contemporary Christian lyrics which so quickly entered my subconscious, these Psalms would have been a constant rhythm for early Christians.

These Psalms shaped them… they directed them… and formed these followers of Christ.

If we look at today’s Psalm more closely, the messages that stood out to me were:

“Every day I will bless you and praise your Name for ever and ever”… there is a constancy to our devotion and praise to God. We are to pray without ceasing.

“One generation shall praise your works to another and shall declare your power.”… we are meant to hand-down our knowledge and love of God. To care for and foster the learning of those who come after us. To find ways to make their journey in faith more meaningful.

“I will ponder the glorious splendor of your majesty and all your marvelous works.”… we are to seek and marvel at what God has made; in nature and the awesome works of those from earlier generations.
“The Lord is near to those who call upon him… he hears their cry and helps them.” we can trust in God, that God will be here for us, all we need to do is call upon God.

These are basic tenants of our faith, but they still must be taught.

One way we teach these things is through experiences. Explore what it is like to say the daily offices for a period of time, like those in monasteries of old. These monasteries were central to the missional work of Christianity throughout the European continent and Great Britain.

We’ve heard of St. Patrick’s missional work in Ireland. Later, in the 6th century, St. Columba left Ireland and founded a monastery on the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland. St. Aiden ventured from that region into England, spending part of his time on the Holy Island.

Iona and the Holy Island are just two of the places the J2A Pilgrims of Christ Church will experience next summer as we spend ten days retracing steps of early Christians.

Holy Island, England.

Holy Island, England.

The Holy Island in England will be our first stop after a long flight. Access to this small island is determined by the tide, and next June, at about 1:30 in the afternoon, the tide will cover the causeway and we will be captive on this stark, rocky island for 6 hours. While there we will explore a place so austere that Aidan and his twelve monks used it as their Lenten “camp-site” in the 7th century.

Having each learned a particular aspect about the Holy Island before our trip, while on the island each Pilgrim will teach one another during our time there. We will also participate in Evensong at The Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin – an Anglican Church, which stands on the site of the original monastery founded in the 7th century by Aidan.

The next day, we head northwest, across Scotland through the Highlands en route to Iona.

We will make one planned stop along the way… Entering through a small, unassuming building near a parking lot, we will descend 87 steps into a sacred cave site where Queen Margaret prayed in the 11th century. And, like her, we will have noon-day prayer at the depths of this holy place.

Later that day we will make our way by bus and ferry, across land and water to reach our primary destination, the Island of Iona. We will spend six days and nights as residents of the Abbey. Each member of our group will be assigned a task to help with the community life of the Abbey.

We will experience the daily liturgies, and also take time for own spiritual exploration and reflection. And throughout this time, we will continue to teach one another about this wholly unfamiliar place from our Christian heritage.

The hope of this Pilgrimage is to provide opportunities for individuals to experience what author and Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor calls thin places. In an interview she admitted the difficulty in finding adequate language to describe this phenomenon, but she said she was able to better articulate it after a trip to Ireland several years ago.

She said, “Thin places are transparent places or moments, set apart by the quality of the sunlight in them, or the shadows, or the silence, or the sounds… there is a luminosity, the way they light an opening between this world and another.” She went on to explain that these thin places “work to make you more aware of the thin veil between apparent reality and deeper reality.” (3)

In our Pilgrimage time, we are hopeful to provide opportunities for that veil to be pulled back for just a moment, so a deeper reality can be seen.

By leaving behind what is familiar, we are able to move beyond every-day life – and in so doing, perhaps create a spiritual encounter or a connection with our Christian tradition that is deeper and more meaningful.

Of course, there’s no guarantee this will happen, but, by going to a different part of our world, to eat, to sleep and t pray in the midst of ancient settings, to detach from the internet and the distract ions of life, and hear what silence and wind sound like… we increase the chances.

This time and place may provide a new lens through which to see the world and, perhaps a new lens through which to experience God’s presence in the life of the Pilgrim.
This is what Pilgrimage is about.

So, turning back to today’s Psalm:

  • It is a time to ponder, and call out to God
  • Every day to bless and praise God and marvel in God’s awesome works
  • And to allow the generations that came before to share their ancient story with the generation that will lead us forward.

As participants in the Christ Church family, you are also an important part of this Pilgrimage.

Please help us, and hold us in your prayers, and marvel at the wondrous things God can do in the lives of our Youth. While our faith journey never ends, we can find ways to enrich it by seeking out thin places that will deepen our faith and our vision of who God is in our life and in the world.

That is our prayer.

That is our song.

I invite you to sing along with us.




1) “This is Amazing Grace” by singer/songwriter Phil Wickham

2) “Speak Life” performed by TobyMac, Songwriters: James L. Moore, Toby McKeehan, Dale Ryan

3) Source:

One Response to “Ancient Songs, Resounding Voices”

  1. You and your message “put a song in my heart!”

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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