Different Voices, Many Songs, One God

The great medieval feminist and Christian mystic, Hildegard von Bingen, composed a famous choral work, entitled “Ordo Virtutum.” It is really more of a musical narrative in which she weaves sublime choral and instrumental music punctiliously around ominous interjections of a sinister speaking voice, that of the devil, who utters hateful words towards the Almighty. As such she makes the metaphoric statement that all of God’s creatures were created to sing God’s praise.  However, only the enemy of God is denied the gift of song.  As God’s beloved creation, we are all a part of God’s redemption song in Jesus Christ.  Melody bespeaks our common humanity.  It defines our existence.  It narrates our story.  It proclaims God’s story.  It enshrines community and it is the food of glory.

Certainly, for many years choral music has played a central role in the worship life of the church.  It has been so in my own spiritual journey.  I credit Bach’s “Wedding Cantata”, his Brandenburg Concerto #2 and Anton Bruckner’s “Ave Maria” for creating the emotional backdrop for my own conversion.  As a young boy I enjoyed singing with the Children’s Choir of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (the place I also learned to play the bagpipes – forgive them, they knew not what they were doing!).  I submit that a majority of folks on the faith journey would share similar sentiments regarding their own connection with music especially as it relates to worship.

I’m delighted to serve a rather odd Presbyterian church as music director; odd because we have determined not to divide ourselves up along preferential music lines based on consumerist ideology. Instead, for good or ill, we have journeyed together down the long and winding road of a single “convergence” worship service (I first heard this term used by Dr. Tom Long in his book, Beyond the Worship Wars). I actually prefer “eclectic” worship since “convergence” can feel a bit like someone hit the puree button on the music blender that spills out some indefinable ooze of congregational sludge.

We’ve sung everything from Bach to contemporary praise song arrangements to “Down to the River to Pray” from the movie, “Brother, Where Art Thou?”  We have sought to re-envision ourselves.  We have had many tough conversations together.  We have laughed and cried and prayed together in our quest to dwell under one roof, at one time, on one day, for one purpose: to bring honor to God by our common voice –  different voices, many songs, one God.

What this means is that we will never really be able to commit to the full on praise band since, to do so would immediately alienate those for whom such worship language would be far too big a challenge. It also means that our organist will always be under-utilized and over-anxious because she never gets to play as often as she would like and in ways that are most conducive to her own musical proclivities. Everyone sacrifices something to be together as a single family, albeit with a slightly higher baseline of discontent!

The joy and camaraderie of voices raised in harmonious praise is something that must be experienced for oneself. The shared sacrifice required to offer one another room for divergent but unique voices to be heard and appreciated is the true stuff of heaven. It is singularly Kingdom driven and really difficult to pull off. But it’s the best struggle I’ve been a part of thus far.

So, dear Hildegard, I’m inspired by your musical picture of God’s Kingdom. It is a Kingdom where everyone can sing together but where the enemies of God and God’s community are forced to bellow, grunt, wheeze and whine instead of joining that single, great choir called from every corner of the globe to worship this God. I leave you with these words from Hildegard: “Your Creator loves you exceedingly, for you are His creature, and He gives you the best of treasures.”

Music is just one of those.

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