Lent 2023

Singing Our Faith: psalms, hymns and spiritual songs

In this Lenten season we are exploring ways that music helps us engage our faith, individually and communally.

Week of 3/26 - Watching and Waiting: Songs of Trust

Psalm 130; Lead Me, Guide Me; New Song (Psalm 40)

Our faith is rooted in memory. We recall the gracious acts of God in history, and in our own lives. This nourishes our hope and faith in times of struggle. What scriptures and songs give you patient hope and remind you of God’s goodness.

Orientation ~ Dis-Orientation ~ Re-orientation

As we engage our neighbors who are not connected to faith or faith communities, how might they relate to these phases and stages presented by Brueggemann? How might we learn to relate to them more on their terms, even as we are informed by the Psalms for our own lives?

Let’s start with accepting the premise that the author of Psalm 130 (and all the others) was already a person of faith prior to writing this brief testament. He [sic] was not seeking to persuade anyone of the existence of God, nor of the nature of God generally or specifically. He is, rather, giving voice to his own convictions and presumably those of the community he serves. Like hymns and other spiritual songs, Psalms were intended to enable people of faith to express what they already believed. Like when you read a great poem or hear any other kind of song, and your response is, “Yes! That’s exactly how I think / feel / believe! But I just couldn’t find the words. Or these words help add another layer of nuance.”

If people are not already looking for faith or doctrine, much less subscribing to it, then presenting it to them in this way is unlikely to be persuasive. It might be better to inquire about how they experience the three moves of orientation - disorientation - reorientation. When the world is coming unglued, when your back is against a wall, when you have come to the end of yourself and your ability to bring about change, then what? “Where do you turn?” (Which may itself be a nonsensical question.)

One of the places we turn is music. For people of faith (any faith, I suspect) the turn is often to religious music and other texts of the community. So we in the Christian communion would turn to hymns, praise songs and spirituals, among others. We might immerse ourselves in the great classical works which often carry religious themes. These can be moving even for people who do not subscribe to the content – as when we listen to a song sung in a language we do not know. Even without a translation, we can often be moved by the pathos of the writing and performing of a piece of music.

We may also turn to the “secular” music of our culture – i.e. that not specifically created by, for and within the faith community. This may be most effective by turning to the music of your adolescence and young adulthood. What singers and bands most spoke to you in those years? Which particular songs or albums moved you and move you still? Are you one who still loves to discover new artists, or do you prefer to stick with those you know by heart? As the scripture says, “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7) and “the spirit knows the Spirit” (Romans 8:27). There are deep connections beneath and beyond words alone.

As you think about the music that calls to you “in the depths” (Psalm 130:1) ask some of the folks around you for their answers to this same wondering. Then let’s talk. Share your reflections by posting them on Facebook, or by emailing them to mail@northwaychristian.org with Lent in the subject line.

Week of 3/19 - All I Need: Songs of Provision

Psalm 23; Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us; Your Grace Is Enough

Jesus introduces himself as a shepherd who guides, protects, and provides. When in your life have you experienced divine grace? What other songs and scriptures help you feel held in God’s care?

Psalm 23 is so familiar to many. For some it is one of the earliest scriptures learned, and often the last one recited or heard before death. The poet frames our relationship with God as that of sheep in a well-tended flock. We have our community, and we have our Shepherd. The Shepherd ensures that we have all we need to flourish, and provides protection and comfort when we are in danger. The naming of these provisions is an unspoken acknowledgement that their absence is common, if not likely. We may struggle to find the food and drink we need. We do walk through the valley of the shadow of death. What a beautiful image then to believe that we are cared for in this way – no wonder it is so popular. How can we lean even further into this hope, and where else do we find it expressed?

In popular culture there are songs and stories of care, provision, and protection. Many films and tv shows have this as a central theme. Sometimes these take the form of a loving parent or spouse. At times even a stranger may come to our aid – the most dramatic of these are our hero and superhero stories. Think about the times that the elements have been present in your life. When have you been hungry, thirsty, exhausted, and needed something or someone outside yourself to draw you toward the green pastures and still waters that restored your soul? What had depleted your soul to begin with? Was it the presence of circumstances, or the absence of nurturing habits and practices? What was the food and drink that restored you? Who were the companions beside you in the journey?

Each of us make multiple trips through the valley of the shadow of death. We lose family and friends. We encounter threats to our own personal health and welfare. The communities and cultures around us experience collective loss and sorrow. The psalmist does not say the Shepherd prevents these experiences. Rather, the hope is that God’s presence means we do not need to be afraid of the evils that may inhabit such valleys. It’s also ok to acknowledge sometimes we are more Psalm 22 – “why have you forsaken me?”

What songs and scriptures reinforce and amplify the promises of Psalm 23? Where else do you turn for hope of provision and sustenance? Share your reflections by posting them on Facebook, or by emailing them to mail@northwaychristian.org with Lent in the subject line.

Week of 3/12 - Prone to Wander: Songs about Forgiveness

Psalm 95; O How He Loves You and Me; I will Call Upon the LORD

It can be easy to loose our way, falling short of God’s best for us. We end up hurting ourselves and others in the process. AND, Jesus helps us find our way back. What scriptures and songs remind you of this promise?

Have you seen those "pet shaming" photos that some people take of their dog or cat? Some havoc has been wrought: toilet paper pulled off the roll, dinner pulled off the table, sofa cushion disemboweled. The owner writes a sign suggesting the animal is admitting guilt and apologizing for the sin. Can you relate - either to the owners or the pets? Have you done some things you regret? Perhaps something has been done to you. Likely some of both.

In either case, we move toward wholeness by seeking, offering, and receiving forgiveness. In the meantime, we may feel like we are wandering in a barren wilderness or a shadowed valley. Music can help get us through, and help us recover afterward. What hymns and songs help you live a forgiven and free life?

Often people in dire circumstances sing songs as a way to pass the time, lift their spirits and encourage one another. Whether its Marines doing yells while on a run, or prison chain gangs singing. What about the Seven Dwarves singing “Hi Ho! Hi Ho!” There’s a whole genre of music inspired by and named after these times of hardship: The Blues. How often are Country songs in particular caricatured by “cowboy lost his girl, his truck broke down, and his dog ran away”? Hardship and music go hand in hand.

Breakup songs and cheatin’ songs are endless. (Revisit this scene in Pillow Talk where Perry Blackwell sings “You Lied” to Rock Hudson about his relationship with Doris Day.)
But what about songs of forgiveness? TobyMac – Forgiveness. “The Apology Song” by Diego Luna from The Book of Life. Crowder – “Forgiven”. Kevin LaVar – “A Heart that Forgives”. “In Christ Alone” – Adrienne Liesching. Shane & Shane – “Come Thou Fount”. “O How He Loves You And Me” – Joyous Celebration. Petra – “I Will Call Upon The Lord”.

No doubt you’ve got other song’s and scriptures that help guide and hold you in a place of forgiveness for yourself and for others, and perhaps even for God. (Yes, sometimes we need to forgive God for not doing things our way. The Psalms include many examples of crying out in frustration and disappointment. That’s ok too.)

Share your reflections by posting them on Facebook, or by emailing them to mail@northwaychristian.org with Lent in the subject line.

Week of 3/5 - Thy Presence My Light: Songs of Vision

Psalm 121; O God, Our Help in Ages Past; Shout to the LORD

Jesus helps to see and know God. Jesus also helps us to see ourselves as God sees us – beloved children. What scriptures and songs help you see, love and follow Jesus into the arms of God?

Music helps us to be resilient and even reLENTless through the ups and downs of life. Depending on your generation, there are different pop culture songs about light, seeing, or vision that float in your mind. For some of us, it's "Future's so bright, I gotta wear shades" (Timbuk 3), "One Vision" (Queen), or "I wear my sunglasses at night" (Corey Hart). For others, it might be "Sunshine on my shoulders" (John Denver) or "Doctor my eyes" (Jackson Browne). "What a wonderful world" (Louis Armstrong)? "I only have eyes for you" (Frank Sinatra)? "See you again" (Wiz Khalid's ft Charlie Puth)? "Imagination" (Ella Fitzgerald)? For me it's "I'll be watching you" (The Police).

This idea of seeing and being seen is so powerful in our imagination. What does it meant to see God, to be seen by God, and to have God help you see the world with divine vision? What songs stir your imagination? Listen to some of these songs – both the ones you already love and maybe those you’ve never heard. See what you discover.

We talk about being able to truly see the reality in front of us “with eyes wide open”. We also stretch our imaginations to “see” the world as it could (should?) be. Both are essential to the faithful life. If we don’t see things (and people) as they truly are, so much pain and suffering will ensue. Yet, if we only see what “is” and don’t see “what could be” then we will be stuck in that suffering and not move forward. We and others might become defined by the worst things we’ve done or that have been done to us.

Think of and share a song that has helped you get “unstuck” and be reLENTless because it either helped you be honest with yourself, and/or helped you imagine a new and brighter future.

What scriptures help you to “see” God, self and others? What helps you see who you are “in Christ” and how that might be a word of hope for others?

Share your reflections by posting them on Facebook, or by emailing them to mail@northwaychristian.org with Lent in the subject line.

Week of 2/26 - Beautiful Savior: Songs about Jesus

Psalm 32; It is Well with My Soul; You Are My Hiding Place

Jesus is our starting place in the Christian Faith. What scriptures and songs help you understand who Jesus is and enable you to follow Him?

As we consider what it means to be relentless in our faith, perhaps we begin by reflecting on how Jesus demonstrates God’s relentless pursuit of us. We learn John 3:16, which tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him will have eternal life.” The love of Jesus for God and for Us is demonstrated in how he lived his life, in his willingness to be faithful even through death. Jesus did not turn away from the suffering of the people around him because it was uncomfortable or inconvenient. He did not turn away from his own suffering either. He entered fully into our human experience, knowing our joys and sorrows intimately. This is the definition of love.

In this week of “Songs about Jesus”, we are invited to reflect on the ways that music shapes our faith, understanding, and relationship with Jesus. As one old hymn declares, “More about Jesus let me learn. More of His Holy will discern. Spirit of God, my teacher be. Showing the things of Christ to me.” (More about Jesus”( Listen to it here.)

We might also be drawn to the songs from the Nativity, including those of Anna, Simeon, and of course Mary.

The Song of Mary – “The Magnificat” – Read here in Luke 1 starting at vs 39

Songs of the Angels, Simeon and Anna: Read here in Luke 2

One of the first songs we learn as children in the church is “Jesus Loves Me” which reminds us that we know this “because the Bible tells us so.” As children, we are more likely to know and understand this song than we are the passages to which it refers.

How have you experienced the Love of Jesus in your own life? In what situations and relationships? In what seasons have you encountered this loving presence of Jesus as the immediacy of God’s love for you?

Perhaps you are not one who “feels” your faith in this immediate and personal way. Perhaps instead you are more likely to “think” about how Jesus demonstrates and models for you what it means to live in love. There are many ways to encounter and understand Jesus. Listen and open your heart to the experiences of others, and of your own varied journey of faith. Try not to judge yourself or others, but simply to be open to what the Spirit might do in you and through you this Lenten season.

Share your reflections by posting them on Facebook, or by emailing them to mail@northwaychristian.org with Lent in the subject line.