Wisdom by Singing
A reflection by thom bower
For June 5, 2016, Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Based on Psalm 150 & Colossians 3:12-17
In 25 years of my academic work, a common theme has been wisdom: attempts to describe wisdom, explanations of why wisdom is central to the teaching ministry of the church, explorations of the interrelatedness of wisdom to healthy communities of faith, proposals of how to cultivate wisdom. I think our educational models would greatly change if we shifted from how much we know or even in what ways we know to focusing on how we are wise.
Wisdom focuses on discerning the most appropriate behavior. Wisdom doesn’t dismiss that we need to use our rational cognitive abilities, we need good information, we need viable methods of inquiry but wisdom calls us to use more than just our intellect to make decisions: we must also use our emotions, we must use our spirituality, we must use tools from our heritage, we must use the skills that are available.
Wisdom is difficult to teach because, unlike math, there is not a single right answer. Wisdom asks us to discern what is the best option. So learning wisdom is less like math and more like painting, or poetry, or music. What song would be best to sing at this time? What tempo shall we use? What happens if we change the key? How does that affect the mood?
There’s some common phrases associated with wisdom, such as “walking in wisdom” and “growing in wisdom”, but I had not thought about singing our wisdom. It’s been right here in front of me, right here in this passage from Colossians: “Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Common English Bible) I simply missed it. But it makes so much sense.
Music is so much more than what we’re thinking at the moment. When we listen to music, we are more creative, more relaxed, more wholly engaged. Study after study shows that music reduces our pain levels. Music affects our moods and behaviors, which is why almost every store plays music: they have experts selecting music to shape your purchasing behaviors.
And music is part of every religion, because music reaches into the most essential components of the human spirit. Singing uses so much more than our mouths and ears: quality singing well is an entire-body activity, from the way we place our feet to the way hold our shoulders; from the way we breath in and out and the intricate ways we can move our spinal column. Like wisdom, singing and music are about using all our resources to discern what is the best option in this moment.
We now mark some endings of music. Today is the final Sunday of Choir Season. Just to be clear: choir season is very different than deer season or duck season. Choir, thank you for another year of service, another year of helping Lyonsville reach toward God with our spirits, another year of assisting us in our activities of worship.
And today is the final Sunday where Penny Duke is our organist. Penny, your music has moved us in many different ways. You have helped shaped the emotional tone of Christmases and Easters, of baptisms and weddings, of funerals and celebrations of the church. Thank you for the dedicated ways you have shared your gifts.
We will thank Penny again in our prayer time and then downstairs. Let me assure you that Penny is not going to just disappear: we have already begun plans to include Penny on some special Sundays in the fall. Nevertheless, I do want to acknowledge that Penny vacating the organ console does mark a significant transition for Lyonsville, just as Bob’s vacating this pulpit marked a transition.
Before you now lies a very important discussion exploring what you expect from worship, what you expect from the musicians who help lead worship. It is an opportunity to be more purposeful in the shared activities which move you from being a bunch of people who happen to be at the same place at the same and transform you into a cohesive congregation united in your service to God.
The process of finding Penny’s successor is one that will require diligence and wisdom; it is less like a math problem with one correct solution and more like an art appreciation essay where you must explain your interpretation. t will be a process of discernment that in many ways is rehearsal for discerning and calling a settled pastor. Just as you have worshipped in new ways with my leadership, you are going to sing in new ways, and through our singing we will find wisdom, wisdom that will help us all seek God’s presence with greater authenticity.
One example of such wisdom is within our reflection hymn. Listen to how the words of this hymn describes how our relation to Christ create the rhythms of our lives together.
The Church’s One Foundation
The church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
we are his new creation
by water and the Word;
from heaven he came and sought us
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought us,
and for our life he died.
Called forth from every nation,
yet one o’er all the earth;
our charter of salvation:
one Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name professing,
and at one table fed,
to one hope always pressing,
by Christ’s own spirit led.
Though with a scornful wonder
the world sees us oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up: “How long?”
and soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.
Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of our war,
we wait the consummation
of peace forevermore,
till with the vision glorious
our longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.
We now on earth have union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may live with thee.