Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Singing Together

I have attended a lot of meetings over the past couple of weeks. Since my life revolves around the church so much, these meetings have all involved:

1. church folk
2. eating
3. sung grace

Now, I am a singing person. I love the fact that I belong to a denomination with a sung theology. So you would think that when we sing thanksgiving to God for the food we are about to eat, I would be perfectly happy with that.

But lately I have found that I am not only dissatisfied, I'm downright worried.

Typically, when Methodists get together, when we sing the grace before meals it's a version of "The Wesleyan Grace".

Be present at our table, Lord
Be here and everywhere adored
These favors bless, and grant that we
May feast in fellowship with Thee. Amen.

Ignoring the controversy that has come up over whether "favors" in the third line should really be "mercies", this text and tune (OLD 100TH) have been linked together and to my entire history growing up in the United Methodist Church. I love gathering in a circle and singing together because the voices that are not as strong blend in and gain courage from the others. It always sounds like beautiful harmony as well, which is where, in the end, we get into trouble.

What I have noticed lately is that we start off strong with a good tempo. The words mean something and then we're proclaiming them with notes to go along.

But then we get enthralled with the sound of the harmony, self-involved with the sound of our own voices and we begin not proclaiming, but performing. I think it's indicative that by the end of the song, we've slowed down and are singing more for the sound of our voices in harmony than for the God who created the sound and our voices to begin with!

I was made aware of this the first summer I attended what is now the Church Music Summer Seminar at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. Jane Marshall, whose sung theology is some of the best I know, told us to never let the tempo drag because it would drag us down into the idolatry of ourselves.

Even if it doesn't get into idolatry, I do wonder if it isn't an indication that we pay more attention to what's going on in the inside of the church...rather than what God is doing with the whole of God's Creation. Next time you sing thanks to God, it's something to think about.

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