Devotion: Praying Through Music
Prior to last week's rehearsal (11/17/15), NLC alto Hope Kelsey shared this devotion about praying through song. Is it a "Sound of Music" week for you? Or maybe "Amazing Grace" has been running through your mind?
Every other year, [my employer] holds a big sales meeting, which happened to be the first part of last week. It is a time of networking and education - so among other things, many well known speakers are brought in to share insights to the attendees, which add up to about 1600 people or so.
The first big speaker on Monday morning was Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. I was thrilled that we were starting off with him, using music to talk about the concepts from his book, The Art of Possibility. He radiated this positive energy and made everyone understand and love Chopin - and helped everyone sing the most rousing version of “Happy Birthday” that I’ve heard for some time.
The next speaker was Mark Batterson, a pastor and author, whose message was around praying continuously and giving generously. Batterson shared some really interesting ideas about prayer, talking about how prayers don’t have an expiration date - a prayer for a small child could still come to fruition many years later, even if the one who prays is no longer there. He also talked about how prayer has power, using an example of dominoes. Apparently the force from one small, normal-sized domino could, if you lined up subsequent larger ones appropriately, knock over the Washington Monument with about 12 dominos. (I’m taking his word on this, as I am not a physicist or mathematician.)
Now, I don’t know about you, but I sometimes struggle with prayer. I know it’s important to have that ongoing conversation with God, but I find that if I sit down specifically to try to pray, I get distracted. I start thinking about work, chores to be done around the house… you name it. It’s hard for me to shut off my brain to focus on talking to God. So while I found Batterson’s ideas interesting, I was struggling with it a bit.
So the meeting wrapped up and the week continued on. On Thursday, I went to a book club discussion with some people from my church. Our pastor was talking about a set of videos online called "Manna and Mercy," which will be the focus of our future discussions - because like most book clubs, we’re not that good at actually reading our assigned book. I haven’t viewed any of them myself yet, but our pastor referenced one of the videos that spoke about the Lord’s Prayer, and how it’s not just a prayer, but it also teaches us about the very nature of God.
Hearing about the video and reflecting on the meeting, it all started coming together for me. The week’s themes started to mesh together… music and prayer. You see, while I don’t think I’m good at sitting down and praying, I think I’m pretty good at finding a song to express my feelings. During the first All Saints program, I couldn’t stop thinking about a dear friend during "Hear My Prayer, O Lord," as she awaited news on the latest scans and tests related to her lymphoma. I was praying for her through those words. And the following week, when she found out that, at least for now, things are stable and not worse, which was the best possible news for her at this point, songs of joy and thankfulness flooded through me.
So maybe you’re like me and find music to be a better way to pray. When things are good and we feel thankful and blessed by our lives, we might hum the "Hallelujah Chorus" or maybe we’re "Walking on Sunshine." When it’s a lovely sunny spring day, maybe we think of Vivaldi or maybe we’re singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music." When someone has been unkind, maybe we’re cranking up "Shake It Off." Maybe a moment brings a scripture passage that comes alive through song: I lift up my eyes unto the hills.
For me, music can channel my thoughts and feelings to better communicate with God. There’s always a song that comes to mind to fit any situation (and an episode of Friends, but that’s a different sort of thing entirely) that I can use to share my worries, my joy, or my thankfulness to God.
And we, collectively as a choir, get to both express feelings but also show who God is - that second purpose of prayer talked about in the video - through the songs we sing. During this upcoming program, we share the mystery and wonder of the Advent and Christmas season. “The calf and the young lion shall grow up together, and a little child shall lead them”… “The Word was made flesh and lived among us”… “I asked the tree, tell me about God. And it blossomed."
Through our work together, perhaps we can be like one of those dominoes. We can use music to amplify the words of the songs and bring them to those who listen… and perhaps they will use our words as their prayer and be empowered in their journey with God as well.
Please pray with me.
Almighty God, you tell us that the Spirit intercedes for us, even when we don’t know what to pray for. Tonight, hear our prayers. Hear our prayers for peace and the end to violence in places all around the globe and in our own communities. Hear our prayers for family and friends who are hurting. May our music tonight praise you and bring those who hear it closer to you.