Making a Joyful Noise: Faith, Beauty and Wonder
The late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel has written, "He who has realized that sun and stars and souls do not ramble in a vacuum will keep his heart in readiness...For things are not mute: the stillness is full of demands, awaiting a soul to breathe in the mystery that all things exhale in their craving for communion. Out of the world comes a behest to instill into the air a rapturous song for God, to incarnate in stones a message of humble beauty, and to instill a prayer for goodness in the hearts of all men."
Joy, gratitude and the urge to sing often go together. Just as faith, beauty and wonder often do.
Nature and the singing of birds capture my imagination and heighten my feelings of wonder and joy. I love to watch, listen to, and photograph birds. Among the many marvels of creation, and joys of nature, birds are beautiful, varied and fascinating. Nature, like love and friendship can also be very healing.
The songs of birds can be complex, and are distinct in meaning. According to The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior, birds can have up to a dozen or even more distinct calls and songs. These can be for many different purposes including calls which signal danger, serve to locate others, flight calls to keep the flock together, and mating songs to attract females. Songs of all kinds have special meanings and evoke many feelings.
Singing to the Lord a new song can stir within us a sense of new life and fresh possibilities, of exuberance and reverence.
From, "A Song of Thanksgiving," Macrina Wiederkehr has written in part,
"My heart proclaims a feast
I have come to sing you songs.
I sing of your warmth
The steady glow of your friendship
keeps melting the ice in my heart
bringing light to the core of my being
All too often I forget to tell you.
I won't forget anymore!
Given our busy lives and fast-paced world, it is all too easy to forget. And we can effortlessly forget all too often. Although sometimes it is not a matter of forgetting; it is because of intense sorrow. There was a long period of time when I could not even listen to music, much less sing.
Having been silenced by grief, I came to understand Proverbs 25:20 which says, "He who sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on a wound."
The hearing of songs can be painful and the ability to sing from a joyful heart can be for a time extinguished. I have a very gifted dear friend, who couldn't sing praise songs for a long period of time after she experienced a death in her family. While not a murder, as in the case of my niece, the devastation of her loss took her, like me, to an emotional brink. Thankfully, she is once again singing and recording, and is once again a blessing to many.
Speaking of recording, I have some experience with not being recorded. When I was serving as an associate pastor for a large congregation in southern California, the worship services were recorded every Sunday so that tapes of the service could be taken to shut-ins and church members who were in the hospital.
What you need to understand is that while I once again love to sing, I do it rather badly. I am one of those who instead of actually singing, joins in and makes a joyful noise to the Lord. Hey, I know all the words, its the, what do you call it? its the pitch or notes or something which I never seem to get. So I am all for expressing one's heart and proclaiming one's praises, but I admit that what I do can't really be referred to as singing.
This point was really brought home to me on those Sundays when I would preach for the church I mentioned above. You know, the one that recorded the service. I wasn't there too long before I found out that whenever I was in the pulpit and we got to that part where we were singing a hymn, the sound engineer would cut my pulpit microphone, so my voice didn't get recorded on the tape. Now if that isn't humbling, I don't know what is! I did however come to see it as an act of compassion. How much more humbling it would have been to actually be recorded and have every listener be subjected to....well, you get the point.
This is no doubt one reason I have become a big proponent of finding your own unique voice and exuberantly expressing yourself. I think it pleases God to receive our heartfelt expressions regardless of our technical abilities. At least I sure hope so.
I love choir and sacred music; and sometimes listen to the devotional music of Taize, John Michael Talbot (especially The Quiet Side, Master Collection) and my friend's band, Little River, at home. When driving I enjoy listening to the oldies. I have Satellite radio and love the 60's station. So I make a joyful noise, and it is new every time.
In The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (14:15), the Apostle is writing about the power and value of love and spiritual gifts. And in explaining the importance of understanding, he says something remarkable. He says, "I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also." I like that, and think my best songs are sung with my mind. It is wonderful to have a song, not only in our hearts, but in our minds as well.
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